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This article first appeared in Cravings magazine.

Feel like turning up the heat? Check out this article I did for Cravings magazine on the science of chillies.

They send your body wild and keep you warm at night. They leave you red-faced and panting. They’re chillies, and they’re red hot.

Spicing it up

Munch down on a chilli and you’ll do more than cause a meltdown in your mouth. Chillies can boost your metabolism, control your cholesterol, reduce fat deposits, and lower your blood pressure. And they taste great too.

Turning up the heat is a natural chemical called capsaicin, which works by aggravating pain sensors in your mouth. The pain sends your entire body into overdrive, opening blood vessels, increasing blood flow, and flooding your system with endorphins.

Endorphins are your body’s natural painkillers and are also associated with that feeling of pleasure after orgasm. Regular chilli-eaters become addicted to the endorphin release, but must eat spicier chillies to trigger the rush.

Hot for healthIMG_7430

Chillies have twice the vitamin C of citrus fruits, and also contain vitamin A, vitamins B1, B2 and B3, beta-carotene, folic acid and potassium. Studies have shown that capsaicin reduces the amount of fat stored in the blood cells, reduces fat deposits in the liver, and helps you burn more calories after a meal.

Chillies have been used to treat coughs, colds, asthma and laryngitis, and creams containing capsaicin have been reported to reduce the pain associated with shingles, arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy.

Yale University School of Medicine has even devised a chilli candy to help ease mouth pain in cancer patients. There are also reports that eating chillies can assist with cold sores, cold feet, nosebleeds and varicose veins.

Turning up the heat

Not all chillies are created equal.

In 1912 a chemist named Wilbur Scoville invented a way to determine just how hot different chillis could be. The test involved a panel of tasters sipping sugared chilli juice until their tongues stopped burning. The unit for chilli spiciness, the Scoville unit, was named after this brave chap.

How hot? Ordinary capsicums rate a lacklustre zero; Jalapenos hit you with around five thousand Scoville units; Cayennes are around ten times hotter than Jalapenos, and Habaneros provide up to 350,000 Scoville units of fun. To put this in perspective, one teaspoon of Habanero chilli should be mixed with 1.75 litres of sugar water for you to avoid its heat.

Did you know? Capsaicin is used in pepper sprays, which rate around two million Scoville units. The hottest chilli in the word is rumoured to be India’s Naga Jolokia, at a fiery 855,000 Scoville units.

Hot tip: Reduce firepower by removing chilli seeds and the veins that attach them to the chilli pod.

Cooking with chillies

Beware! Chillis may put a love-buzz on your tongue, but they cause deep regret when near your eyes. Always wash your hands, chopping boards, knives, and immediate vicinity after handling chillis.

Hot tip: Need protection? Wear gloves or coat your hands with cooking oil before handling chillis.

Overdosing on chillis won’t kill you, but if the pain is all too much, try a nice glass of red. Capsaicin will wash away in fats, oils or alcohol. A glass of iced water won’t make any difference because capsaicin won’t dissolve in water.

The seeds of love

Want to grow your own? The secret is a good soil: “Lots of sheep and cow manure,” says chilli connoisseur Claude Micale of Herbs R Us. “Also full sun, a weekly feed of seaweed solution, and an organic fertilizer…high potash will help them fruit more”.

“Chillis need to be outdoors, especially in our climate, and they won’t grow through winter. You can pick them while they’re green, or wait till they go red. If you pick them regularly they’ll flower and fruit through spring, summer and autumn.”

“I’m not a hot chilli person so I go for the anchos and the anaheims. Big Jim is an Anaheim-type chilli that grows about a foot long and 3-4 inches wide, excellent for stuffing and then roasting.”

Claude’s chilli tip: “Leave chillies in the sun until they’re crunchy dry, then put them in a bag and roll them with a rolling pin. You can also put them in a coffee grinder or food processor; it’s better a bit coarse than too powdery.”

IMG_7428What to look for

There’s more to chillies than heat. Start to explore the sunny colours and sparkling flavours, and you’ll find a whole garden of tastes just gasping to get on the plate.

Fresh chillies should have a shiny smooth skin; dried chillies should be flexible enough to bend without breaking.

Scrumptious chillies to look out for include:

  • Anchos: Just a whisper of heat and a sweet mellow flavour, these chillies are great in mole sauces to add body and texture.
  • Anaheims: Large, mild, and perfect for stuffing or roasting, they make delicious stews and sauces; usually eaten green.
  • Arbols: Add some zing by popping one of these punchy numbers into an entire soup or stew; don’t forget to remove before serving.
  • Birds Eyes: Great in Thai and Asian cooking; super-hot so use sparingly.
  • Black Princes: Some say these look too good to eat; black fruits that mature to red with a mild, crisp flavour.
  • Cayenne peppers: Hot, sweet and best eaten red, they are great in Hungarian and Mexican cuisine, or can be used whole in Szechwan cooking.
  • Habaneros: Proceed with caution, these may be the world’s hottest chillies; best fresh rather than dried.
  • Jalapenos: Small, fleshy and packed with attitude, these old favourites are great raw in salsas or salads, or cooked in sauces and soups.
  • Serranos: Similar to Jalapenos but with more bite, these meaty chillies also suit salads and salsas, and are also delicious when roasted.

Hot cooking tips: Oven roasted chillis are easier to peel if you leave them to cool in a closed bag for ten minutes after roasting. Peel from the tip to the stem. Escape any threat of exploding chillis by stabbing a small hole into the side of each chilli before roasting.

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Royal Ice first appeared in Cravings magazine

It’s way too freezing for icy treats, but this was too delicious not to share.

I wrote this article for Cravings magazine, and am also sharing some of their amazing photography. Delicious, right?

So let’s get one thing straight: Gelato is not icecream.

Get that bit wrong, and Carmelo Messina, a gelato artisan with 39 years of experience, will really give you an earful.

Gelato is an Italian word that roughly translates to “icecream,” but only because we have nothing but icecream to compare it with.

Gelato has more form than icecream, more texture. It’s richer, denser, and creamier, but contains less fat.

And it’s an authentic Italian experience now increasingly available on Perth’s streets.

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We’re all one, we can all eat gelato!

“People want to rekindle their memories of traveling in Italy,” says Izzi Messina, son of Carmelo and co-founder of the Perth-based Gelatino gelaterias. “People want to experience the Italian way of life.”

“In Italy there’ll be about ten gelaterias right next to each other,” explains Melissa Romano, his business and life partner.

“They’re open till ten, eleven at night. We have gelato kiosks on the beach, with little buggies driving around selling it. It’s a lifestyle.”

Izzi and Melissa launched Gelatino in 2005, and Carmelo’s sumptuous gelato is already sweeping the state. “In summer in Freo we’ll stay open till twelve or one,” says Melissa. “We’ve gone through 4800 litres of gelato in one week. At the Rottnest store people will queue for 45 metres in the summer.”

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“Normally the fat in icecream lines your taste buds, so your absorption of flavour isn’t as strong. Gelato is on average 94% fat free, so you get the true flavour” Izzi Messina

The couple buzz with passion for their families, for Italy and its culture, for its lifestyle and its gelati.

“We’re very proud of being Italian,” enthuses Izzi. “My family has been in the food industry since day dot. They had a gelato bar in Catania and a bar in Augusta. Dad’s still got my grandfather’s recipe book.

“Its pages have gone brown, it’s marked with egg white, with sugar; its pages are stuck together. I would be destroyed if Dad lost that.”

Ask for their favourite flavour, and they erupt into mouth-watering debate.

Melissa opts for donatella (“hazelnut with nuts wrapped in chocolate”) while Izzi favours passionfruit sorbet. Other favourites include coconut, tiramisu, blood orange sorbet (“that’s a real Sicilian favorite!”), and real banana (“see how it’s gray, not yellow”).

“Dad’s really creative,” says Izzi. “We’ve done a lemon, lime, basil and vodka flavour. He’s done beer sorbet. He’s done wine, fig…he’s done prickly pear and Parmesan…prickly pear is a hard one to make. But he’ll do it all by hand. He’ll roast his own pistachio nuts. His crusher is at least 30 or 40 years old.”

A scoop of Italy

Sicily, say the couple, is the world’s premier gelato destination.

“It’s the jewel of the Mediterranean. The Sicilians are famous for their desserts, hands down. Sorbet is very, very popular down there. We manufacture gelati differently in different regions. It all comes down to the artisan.”

“It’s all made by hand,” says Izzi. “Each artisan has little tricks that differentiate their products. Dad’s been making gelato since he was 14; that’s four generations in my family, all Messinas, all making gelato.”

IMG_7427By the bucket!

Certain flavours or new gelato experiences can rekindle old memories, says Izzi.

“As kids we used to sit on a wall my grandfather built, eating gelato from plastic cups. In Italy we would drive about 15 kays to a gelateria up in the hills, and all of us would sit, eating our gelato.”

“In 1996 I stayed in Sicily with my grandparents, we lived in Catania, with Mount Etna directly behind us and snow-capped…at night sometimes the lava used to flow. In the morning a little van would come past, ringing its bell, selling brioche for breakfast. A brioche is a sweet bread, split in half and stuffed with gelato…for breakfast!

“Everyone would come out on to their balconies and send down a bucket. What’s the point of going downstairs? Put the money in, send down the bucket, and then pull up your breakfast! Every morning.

“They still do it today…what a lifestyle! We want people here to experience some of that.”

You say gelato, I say…

‘Gelati’ is the plural of ‘gelato’, which comes from the Italian word ‘gelare’, meaning ‘to freeze’.

  • Gelato is made from milk, sugar, fresh fruit and other goodies, all whipped up to contain only around 35% air, leaving you with a denser, creamier texture. At around four percent fat, gelato doesn’t qualify as an ‘icecream.’
  • Icecream must contain more than 10% fat and can contain around 90% air.
  • Sorbet is a non-dairy water-based version of gelato, containing more sugar and less fat.
  • Granita is a flavored slushy ice that must be churned before serving, usually made from sugar syrup and fruit juice.

Yum! So why wait for summer?

I’m heading to Rottnest this month for a winter writing retreat… I think a little gelato goodness might be in order.

IMG_7035YAY SOLAR IMPULSE!!

Last year I had the amazing chance to chat with Solar Impulse pilot André Borschberg. I found André to be an incredibly inspiring guy: brave, dedicated, visionary, charismatic but also humble…and did I mention brave?

His team’s incredible solar-powered plane is right now breaking all kinds of records and changing the way we think about ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’

Below is some of the article that came out of my interview with André, first published in CSIRO’s awesome Double Helix magazine. I hope you find his words as inspiring as I do!

(Interested in science? Want to inspire your kids or grandkids? Subscribe to Australia’s Double Helix mag.)

SEEK THE SUN: Adventures in solar

By Cris Burne for Double Helix

IMG_7036On 9 March 2015, Solar Impulse took to the skies in an attempt to fly around the world.

The plane’s pilots will need courage, speed and endurance…but not a drop of fossil fuel. Because this plane doesn’t need heavy petrol tanks, noisy engines or polluting fumes. What it does need is sunshine.

Solar Impulse’s impressive wings are covered in solar panels: light-weight versions of those you see on rooftops. Silicon in the panels absorbs the Sun’s energy, booting electrons into motion and creating electricity.

We had to build an aircraft that uses very little energy, so we can fly [at night] with batteries that we charge during the day,” says pilot and engineer André Borschberg.

This aircraft is a demonstration of ways we can save energy, and how best to use the energy we have available,” he says.

We can do this not just in aviation, but in everything we do … in the way we build homes, cars, washing machines, refrigerators.”

From problem to opportunity

Solar Impulse’s round-the-world trip is split into 13 stages. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. The team had planned to fly from China to Hawai’i in June, but bad weather forced a landing in Japan on the way.

When they resumed the flight from Japan to Hawai’i, disaster struck. The plane’s batteries overheated and needed repairs. With winter in the northern hemisphere approaching, Solar Impulse was grounded until sunnier days.

Fortunately in Hawai’i we have the perfect infrastructure in terms of hangar, airport, people who are welcoming … the problem turned into an opportunity,” André says.

We can always get something out of difficulty. People who fail are already much more advanced than people who have never tried.”

The flight from Japan to Hawai’i took five days and nights of non-stop flying, earning it the world record for longest solo flight without refuelling. It’s also the first time a solar plane has crossed an ocean.

Very often we set our own limits, because people tell us something is impossible,” says André.

People say the Earth is completely explored, so what can we do?

“I think for the new generation, what they can do is to develop ways for us to live better, to live with less energy, to live in a way that better protects the wonderful environment we have received. That’s where they can explore.”

IMG_7033Inside Solar Impulse 2

  • From wing to wing and down to the tail, the plane sports 17 248 solar cells
  • The plane weighs 2300 kilograms: about the same as a small car and less than one per cent of the weight of an A380 Airbus
  • Lithium-ion batteries take up a quarter of the plane’s weight and store solar energy
  • Four battery-powered engines receive about 340 000 watts of power each day: enough to drive a motorcycle.
  • Daily rations include 2.5 litres of water and 2.4 kilograms of nutritional and mushy meals.

 

 

RiAus-Ultimate-Science-Guide-2016-1-228x300.pngI recently had the pleasure of working with RiAus (Australia’s national science channel) on their 2016 Ultimate Science Guide.

USG2016 is a free magazine distributed to every school in the country, with the aim of inspiring teens to consider aiming for an awesome science and/or tech career.

My article (It’s Not All Rocket Science)(aha ha) showcased careers in space science and was incredibly interesting to research and write.

(I think if I’d read this article as a teen, I might be a space scientist now :-))IMG_6934

So, if you’ve ever wanted to engineer suits for astronauts, design Mars rovers, listen for radio waves from the dawn of time, or even write a best-selling space-science novel that could turn into a best-selling hit movie…check it out.

IMG_6935The mag is available for free online or you can ask to see a paper copy at your local school.

Because seriously: someone gets to be an astronaut. Why not you?

 

Rainy day? Stuck at home, wondering how to entertain the kids? Simple!

Grab a packet of mini-marshmallows and a box of toothpicks, and issue the challenge: Who can build the tallest tower? The best geometric design? Whose will be strongest? Whose will be longest? And who will show the most perseverance? It’s harder than it looks!

Thanks to the kids, parents, organisers and sponsors of the 2016 Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival for these great snaps of creative minds in action…

Yummmm….anyone hungry for marshmallows?

marshmallow-tower

Shukran, Sharjah!

Sharjah-socialI’m having an incredible time in the United Arab Emirates for the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, but already it’s time to pack and head home…what happened to the time?

As you can imagine, it can be quite intimidating to arrive at a festival knowing Literally Noone, but one of my favourite parts of writing for children is traveling to new places, meeting new people, attempting new challenges, speaking for and learning from new audiences…

So on Day 1, I try to remember that everyone feels just as lost as me, and I ignore the little voice that says “Hide” and instead listen to the shaky voice that says “Let’s rock!”

It works for me:-)

Cristy-Burne-in-Sharjah

So thank you to all my new friends.

Thanks for the laughter, the honesty, the support and the adventures.

Thanks for yoga on the early morning beach and dinner by the late night waves.

Thanks for music and hospitality and amazing food and constant generosity.

Thanks for sharing stories and coffees and kind words and inspiration. I’ve had an absolute ball.

 

 

sharjah-300x225Hi everyone in Sharjah! I’m so looking forward to meeting you!

I’m super-keen to meet and chat with book-lovers and reading fans from across the globe at this month’s Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, held in the United Arab Emirates.

The Festival is enormous –the world’s fourth largest book fair!

To give you an idea of the scale, I’ll be presenting just five of the more than 1500 events happening over the eleven days.

I’m going out to schools, universities and presenting at the massive expo, which attracts 130 publishing houses from all over the world.

I’m so grateful to everyone at the festival for hosting me, and for organising such an important event: it’s just an amazing opportunity to inspire children (and their adults) by sharing our stories from around the world, and by showcasing characters and tales from different countries and different cultures.

I can’t wait to be a part of it!

SCRFs

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