Monday, 3 March 2014

Nippers and Sweet & Healthy Carrot Muffins

Well, it's officially March 1 as I type this blog which means it's now Autumn down under. In the US, seasons follow astrology with the solstice and equinox so seasons begin on the 21st of that quarter. In Australia and some European countries, the seasons begin on the 1st of the month. So today is the beginning of Autumn not Fall as most Australians do not use the term 'Fall.' I like that the seasons begin on the 1st of the month. It is easy to remember; the 1st of any month is a reminder for me to take care of things - clean the fish tank, fertilise the african violets, put Frontline treatment on the dog, etc. With too much in my hard drive, the first of the month is a good date in my cluttered mind for a new season to begin. I am hoping we'll still have some hot beach days. The ocean temperatures in Sydney are the warmest all year for the next 2 months.

Unfortunately, March signals the end of Nippers season. Our club finishes next Sunday. When we moved to Sydney, one of the first things my husband did was sign the girls up for Nippers. I didn't know what Nippers was and the word, 'Nippers,' sounded like a bad word - "have another nip of my drink"...."did you see the nippers on that girl?" Drinking and breasts cannot be appropriate for kids, I thought. Where have I moved and what is this funny name? This was just the beginning of a new form of language with new words and expressions. Nippers are pliers, pincers, or a similar tool for gripping or cutting. In informal terms, nippers are also known as ankle biters, children, and junior lifesavers. Most Australian children will be a Nipper or at least try Nippers at some point during their childhood. I don't know how they went from a tool to a kid to an ocean activity but that's Aussie slang for you. I continue to learn new Aussie slang words regularly. Last week, I heard that an American can also be called a "Seppo." You know a 'Seppo' is an American because Seppo means a septic tank which rhymes with Yank which means an American. I don't like that one.
Aussie slang for 'Nipper'
The Australian Surf Lifesaving Organisation saves and protects life at Australian beaches. They are a national organisation that oversees paid and voluntary lifeguards, community education, training, research, search and rescue, and international development. Nippers is a junior program of the SLO that introduces children from 5 to 13 years old to ocean lifesaving. The goal is to teach the children about lifesaving and better understand varying ocean conditions so that they are comfortable and confident in the water. Every surf life saving club around Australia offers a Nippers program, all with various styles and sizes. The season usually runs from October-March and the Nippers meet at their local lifesaving club as a group on Saturday or Sunday and sometimes for additional training on weekdays. The kids are put into co-ed age groups and practice ocean swimming and sand running. And what would an Australian sport be without a competition? Clubs meet and compete in carnivals - beach sprints, relays, beach flags, surf swims and board events. Some clubs are super competitive and expect their Nippers to also train during the week and compete at carnivals. In fact, this weekend was the state Nippers carnival; a big event.

Ocean safety is a must in Australia. After all, it is a big island and 85% of people live within 50 kms/30 miles of the coast. The beach is very accessible to those living in Sydney, with many inlets, nooks and crannies that the city is built around so many more beaches than just a straight coastline. I think much of the Australian attitude of enjoying life can be attributed to coastal living. As you've may have seen from the photos in my last blog, the ocean here is beautiful with many shades of blue, and lots of marine life right off the beach. The beaches can also be very dangerous with unpredictable conditions - big waves, strong currents, riptides, jellyfish, etc. In looking again at the Surf Lifesaving homepage (highlighted above), from July 2013-June 2014, there were 8,288 ocean rescues and 24,199 people needing beach first aid. It is really important for kids to learn about the ocean through Nippers.
Our club is the North Steyne Nippers. It is in the centre of the long strip of coastline in Manly. There are about 400 Nippers in our club which is small compared to some other nearby clubs. Our group is friendly, social and more laid back than other clubs just down the beach from us. There is encouragement but no pressure on the kids to compete in carnivals if they don't want to. I like this attitude as we've had friends join other Nippers clubs with a huge membership and pressure for all the kids to compete in carnivals. This pressure and competitiveness sometimes puts new kids off Nippers and some leave early in the season and never return again. Nippers has been great for our family. My daughters are now confident swimmers, aware and able to handle the changing conditions of the ocean. As an ex-pat, Nippers was a great way to meet new people and it has become our Sunday morning family ritual. The girls and my husband, who helps with water safety, head to the beach for training (practice). I take a long walk there and then sit on the beach and watch them train in the sand and surf. I have met some nice women so we often hang out on the beach, drink coffee and have a 'chin wag' (chat). Our family usually goes swimming afterwards, eats a a traditional sausage sizzle and then heads home for the afternoon. It's a nice relaxing way to spend the morning. The only negative is the funny swim caps. They look like condoms to me although I know they're needed for safety when hundreds of kids are out swimming in the ocean during training. Do you see the bumblebee condoms below or is it just me? Poor kids. (I am going to get in trouble for this comment but I just couldn't hold it's my blog after all :))

Professional Aussie surfer Sally Fitzgibbons with some Nippers

North Steyne Nippers - our club photo:

The recipe for this blog is Sweet & Healthy Carrot Muffins. I am tired of all the packaged and processed food choices for school lunch so I've been baking more muffins lately. This recipe came out of my little nippers loving my carrot cake cupcakes.  I significantly reworked my carrot cake cupcake recipe so there was less sugar, less fat and more carrots while still tasting good. This recipe can be customised by adding raisins/sultanas, dried cranberries and/or nuts.

Sweet & Healthy Carrot Muffins

2 cups Carrots, grated (about 3 medium sized carrots)
(avoid prepackaged grated carrots in store, they're not sweet)
1/2 cup Dark Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 teaspoon real Vanilla Essence/Extract
1/4 cup of Vegetable Oil
1/4 cup of Applesauce (apple puree)
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Allspice 
1 cup of Flour*
2 teaspoons of Baking Powder
(*see note below on Self Raising Flour)

Optional Add-Ins: 1/4 cup raisins/sultanas, dried cranberries or chopped nuts

1) Preheat oven to 170C fan forced or bake 350F. 

2) Peel carrots, cut off tops and ends and grate them until you have 2 cups, loosely packed. Set carrots aside.

3) Place brown sugar, 2 eggs and vanilla to mixer. Beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until caramel coloured.

4) Add vegetable oil and applesauce and beat on medium for another 2 minutes until well blended.

5) Add grated carrots and all spices. Mix on medium speed for 1 minute.

6) Add flour and baking powder and beat on low speed until just combined. *Note: I have not tried this recipe with Self Raising Flour. I had not heard of this type of flour until I moved to Australia so I am most comfortable with Plain Flour + leavening agents. I looked up the ratios and I think you could substitute 1 cup of Self Raising Flour with of course no leavening agents.*

7) Add-ons = 1/2 cup of raisins or sultanas or chopped nuts. Fold through batter, scraping down the sides.

8) Line 12 muffin/cupcake tray with baking cups or spray with canola oil. A 6 jumbo muffin pan can be used, just add 10+ more minutes to baking time. I find a 1/3 cup measuring cup is great for scooping and measuring out batter. It is much easier than a spoon which takes longer and can be sloppy.

9) Bake for 20 minutes and take out and cool in pan. (Keeping and cooling muffins in their pan for 10+ minutes is always a good way to 'set' the muffins and keep their shape)

Special design for SuzyQ Under Down by GeCe