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JessAnne Collins

11 Exotic Edible Treats from South Australia

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JessAnne Collins

Sure, Australia is home to adorable creatures like koalas, kangaroos, and platypodes, but that's not the only reason to visit. The continent also has its fair share of delicious treats. Here are a few we tried—and gratuitously instagrammed!—on a recent trip to South Australia.

1. Kitchener Bun

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Imagine a fat, holeless donut, sliced in half and stuffed with whipped cream and jam and then dusted with powdered sugar and you’d have something like the Kitchener bun. If it seems vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s a cousin of the Berliner. In fact, this South Australian specialty was known as such until World War I, when it was re-christened after the British secretary of state for war, Horatio Lord Kitchener, as a matter of patriotic duty.

2. Farmer’s Union Iced Coffee

Order an “iced coffee” in many coffee shops in Australia and what you’ll get, in fact, is an iced coffee with a scoop of ice cream floating in it. Which is pretty awesome. South Australians like the combo so much it's inspired a convenience product. Farmer’s Union is like a grown-up chocolate milk—it tastes like coffee ice cream and pairs ideally with a Kitchener bun.

3. Kis Affogato 

The affogato—a scoop of ice cream doused in a shot of espresso—is Italian in origin, but the Australians evidently have a special fondness for it. The tiny distillery Kangaroo Island Spirits raises the bar substantially with its hyper-local iteration. In pairing espresso with ice cream made from Kangaroo Island honey (more on this below!) and homemade Honey & Walnut liquor,  KIS has taken dessert to a whole new level of caffeination. 

4. Pavlova

Take strawberry shortcake. Now, remove the flour from the biscuit so that it's more like a puffy, melty meringue. Inject with whip cream. Then, add the flavor explosion that is passionfruit to the mix. Voila: the eminently graceful pavlova. This Australian classic (which arguably originated in New Zealand) is a graceful affair befitting its namesake, Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. This particular work of fruity beauty is courtesy Umberto's restaurant in Coober Pedy.

5. Quondong Pie 

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The quondong is the native peach of Australia, common in bush areas across the continent. Denser and more intensely flavorful than the peach we know, the fruit is petite and brilliant red, and grows on stout bushes. A staple of Aboriginal diets and a scurvy deterrent for European explorers (they're super high in vitamin C), these days they're commonly preserved in chutneys and baked into one of Australia's favorite food forms: the pie.

6. Wattleseed Ice Cream

A member of the acacia family, the wattleseed is an interesting native Australian plant. Historically, the seeds were milled and made into coarse flour and used to bake a type of bush bread. (They're low in glycemic value, so today they're used in lots of products for diabetics.) In the 1980s, Australian cuisine expert Vic Cherikoff refined the seed into a commercial spice: it has a delicate, nutty flavor that's likened to coffee, chocolate, and hazelnut (and to me seemed almost like toasted sesame). It's used in a variety of savory dishes but also in desserts and ice creams, like this one, served alongside chocolate-mint and local quondong at the insanely remote outback watering hole the William Creek Hotel. The dish was subtle and sophisticated, as you'd expect any wattle worth it's salt would be.

7. Banana Bomboloni

You can get a bomboloni in a lot of places—namely Italy, where it originated. It's kind of like a more sophisticated version of a stuffed donut hole. But the one at Andre's Cucina—a creative polenta bar in Adelaide—is something singular. This one is a chocolate-filled banana donut, served in a nest of coffee custard. Even after the entirety of the decadent five-course tasting menu, you still won't be able to stop at one.

8. Lamington

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Soak a square of sponge cake in a thin chocolate icing and then smother it in coconut flakes, and you have the ubiquitous Australian lamington. (Sometimes they're sandwiched and filled with cream or jam.) It's thought that they were named for an early Queensland Governor, Lord Lamington, who reputedly did not appreciate the honor of being affiliated with "those bloody poofy woolly biscuits." Today they're popularly whipped up for "lamington sales" at churches and schools—the Aussie twist on the bake sale.

9. Ligurian Honey

In the 1880s, Bologna, Italy sent a shipment of Ligurian bees to Kangaroo Island, a Puerto-Rico sized outpost off the coast of South Australia which was then on its way to becoming a sheep-farming mecca. Thanks to the political foresight of the island's beekeepers, Kangaroo Island was declared a bee sanctuary—limiting the import of other species—which means that today the bees on the island are one of the last pure strains of bees in the world, and that it's the only place the pure Ligurian bee lives. In addition to producing delicious local honey at Clifford's Honey Farm and other local apiaries, they play an important role for scientists studying how to protect bee populations elsewhere in the world suffering from disease and colony collapse.

10. Tipsy Marmalade

Americans tend to shun marmalade, thinking it the tart terrain of stuffed British bears. But what if we told you there was a marmalade that was less like orange-juice concentrate and more like a mimosa you can spread all over a hot buttery scone? The Clare Valley's Evilo Estate makes a Tipsy Marmalade that changes everything we ever thought about Paddington.

11. Choccy Froggys

The Adelaide chocolatier Menz has been producing an iconic line of fruit-and-chocolate candy cocktails for the past 150 years, but Choccy Froggys are by far the most adorable. Chocolate on the outside, chewy (like a frog!) on the inside.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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