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Calendula

I don’t like orange. When I was a child, I even used to pull the orange-flowering plants out of my mother’s garden. She loves orange (and any other bright colour) so she was less than amused…

Over the years, my attitude has mellowed a little, to the point where I could plant some Calendula, for medicinal purposes. Even then, I hoped for yellow or apricot hues rather than orange. As the flowers matured over the winter, I would cut them off and dry them between paper towels on a rack on top of my fridge. It worked perfectly– and I didn’t have to look at them for long. A few weeks ago, I started infusing the petals in apricot kernel oil.

After that, I was very happy to pull up all but one of the plants and plant peas and things. I ignored the remaining plant until today, when I decided to go dead-head it to encourage more blooms– as everywhere in internet-land told me to. I discovered that the spent blooms were pulling an Alien and growing blooms out of their middles:

So weird. I’m sure I didn’t dry all the flowers over the winter but haven’t seen this before. So I will forgive their orangeness in favour of their mutantness. For now.  Also, they will make a good companion for the tomatoes that are flourishing on my windowsill, waiting to be planted out.

Soon I will make a skin-healing-promoting salve out of the infused oil and the circle will be complete 🙂

Best Lint Brush Ever!!!!

When I was in Germany last year, I apparently admired my sister’s lint roller. I don’t really remember this, but it certainly sounds like something I would do. I am always aware of the Cat-Hair Conundrum. We have a black cat and a cream cat. It seems we have gone out of our way to make sure the cat-hair colour-combo that exists in our little house is impossible to hide. The main perpetrator is William.

I often ask (rhetorically) whose idea it was to keep him, anyway, on account of all the FLUFF. My sister ignores the rhetorical nature of the question and reminds me that the keeping of William was totally my idea.

A while ago, we were chatting with our Germany-based sister on Skype, when she waved something at us and said she’s found the lint-roller that I liked in the supermarket and she’s send it over.

Lo, in due time, the parcel arrived. Yesterday, in a fit of enthusiasm, we began our spring-clean by de-fluffing things. It was fun, and I decided that this deserved a blog post. Here’s what I like about it: (Please excuse me while I go all Suzanne Paul for a minute.)

1. It is designed to be used in both directions, so you don’t accidentally unload all the lint onto what you are trying to clean.

2. It is self-cleaning, and does this each time you change the direction of use, so you can use a scrubbing motion indefinitely.

3. It collects the lint in the back, so it is mess-free.

I love this lint-brush. If I knew where to find more, I’d import them and make my millions 🙂

Opinion: Poetry, Art and The Emperor’s New Clothes

The starting point for this post is that I have been thinking about Florence and the Machine, and her new-ish album Ceremonials and how I don’t enjoy it as much as her other effort, Lungs. I have been thinking about what the difference between the two albums is for me. I have decided that, apart from employing an appalling number of clichés in the lyrics in this album, Florence simply takes herself too seriously. Gone is the fun; gone are the little songs full of sly dark humour and now there are just what I call giant set-piece tracks. I like sweeping drama and complex orchestration and odd instruments and whatnot– as evidenced by the fact that my favourite band is the British Iona (they’re so clever)– but by my reckoning, Florence has gone and fallen into The Trap.

When I was at Art School, I saw The Trap illustrated when my family would come to view our school art exhibitions. They would look at the work of the senior students who had nailed a doll’s head to a plank or thrown toilet paper at a canvas or piled up a mish-mash of junk and just kind of blink.  Afterwards, my brother would carefully balance a pen on top of a coffee mug and, pointing at it, grandly declare: “That’s ART, that is.” And we would all laugh, because, yeah, it was about as ridiculous as what we had just seen in parts of the exhibition. I would point out that the artists had been through a thought process and were probably expressing something deeply meaningful to them through their work. I would also agree with them that I didn’t see such expressions as ART, though, because they excluded the viewer.

I like to experience the creative endeavours of others and I always feel free to interpret them in my own way. Sometimes I want to know what the creator was thinking; sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t matter if it says fifty things to fifty viewers. The important thing is that the work speaks.

"Everywhere"

My most non-figurative painting to date. It’s basically a branch and flames and a word- ‘everywhere’ . Inspired by Rich Mullins’ song ‘Everywhere I go I see You’ (meaning God). I was thinking about Moses and the burning bush, among other things. I was also experimenting with what I know of colour theory.

Sometimes the work simply says I know something you don’t and you are excluded because you don’t belong and you’re not smart enough or educated enough and, anyway, I am enjoying feeling superior. That shows an artist who has fallen into The Trap. Their work is not ART because you can’t have a conversation with an egomaniac; all artistic expression is, at its core, a two-way conversation.

Poetry is a type of creative expression that is problematic for me– to the extent that I do my best to avoid reading most of it at all costs. I think I just don’t have the right kind of brain to appreciate poems. I once offended a woman because she wanted me to read her poem and tell her what I though of it. I refused, explaining that I probably wouldn’t appreciate it and she probably wouldn’t like my opinion of her little creation. If I read a modern poem, I usually want to throw up my hands and ask why I broke my rule and wasted minutes of my time when I know better.

There are poems that are very famous and are just a collection of words that don’t mean anything to anyone except the poet (probably). Further, there are rafts of academics who have (somehow) secured funding to analyse these creations and then bore us with their findings. All I can think of is ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. The Very Superior Poet is probably laughing in and toasting the gullibility of the ‘elite’ who are pretending to see where there is nothing at all, for fear of appearing uncultured.

Some poems I do like, however. Most of them are by Lewis Carroll and are in Alice In Wonderland or Through The Looking-Glass. They are kind of rambly and kind of nonsensical and a bit silly but are not without meaning. I don’t know if what I get out of them matches Carroll’s (opium influenced) intent, but it doesn’t matter. Here ends the post, officially, but if you feel like it, read my favourite poem– tis quite long. Read it aloud. Go on 🙂 (I had a bit of formatting trouble, so verse-breaks are indicated by the change to and from italics.)

The Aged Aged Man (or A-sitting on a Gate) by Lewis Carroll

I’ll tell thee everything I can;

There’s little to relate.

I saw an aged aged man,

A-sitting on a gate.

“Who are you, aged man?” I said.

“and how is it you live?”

And his answer trickled through my head

Like water through a sieve.

He said, “I look for butterflies

That sleep among the wheat:

I make them into mutton pies,

And sell them in the street.

I sell them unto men,” he said,

“Who sail on stormy seas;

And that’s the way I get my bread —

A trifle, if you please.”

But I was thinking of a plan

To dye one’s whiskers green,

And always use so large a fan

That they could not be seen.

So, having no reply to give

To what the old man said,

I cried, “come, tell me how you live!”

And thumped him on the head.

His accents mild took up the tale:

He said, “I go my ways,

And when I find a mountain-rill,

I set it in a blaze;

And thence they make the stuff they call

Rowland’s Macassar Oil —

Yet twopence-halfpenny is all

They give me for my toil.”

But I was thinking of a way

To feed oneself on batter,

And so go on from day to day

Getting a little fatter.

I shook him well from side to side,

Until his face was blue:

“Come tell me how you live,” I cried

“And what is it you do!”

He said, “I hunt for haddocks’ eyes

Among the heather bright,

And work them into waistcoat buttons

In the silent night.

And these I do not sell for gold

Or coin of silvery shine,

But for a copper halfpenny,

And that will purchase nine.

“I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,

Or set limed twigs for crabs;

I sometimes search the grassy knolls

For wheels of Hansom-cabs.

And that’s the way” (he gave a wink)

“By which I get my wealth —

And very gladly will I drink

To your Honour’s noble health.”

I heard him then, for I had just

Completed my design

To keep the Menai bridge from rust

By boiling it in wine.

I thanked him much for telling me

The way he got his wealth,

But chiefly for his wish that he

Might drink to my noble health.

And now, if e’er by chance I put

My fingers into glue,

Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot

Into a left-hand shoe,

Or if I drop upon my toe

A very heavy weight,

I weep, for it reminds me so

Of that old man I used to know —

Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow

Whose hair was whiter than the snow,

Whose face was very like a crow,

With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,

Who seemed distracted with his woe,

Who rocked his body to and fro,

And muttered mumblingly and low,

As if his mouth were full of dough,

Who snorted like a buffalo —

That summer evening long ago,

A-sitting on a gate.

Book Review– Wendly Nissen’s Supermarket Companion

I’ve been making some of Wendyl Nissen’s ‘Green Goddess’ recipes for home cleaning and back-to-basics kitchen-y things for a while, now. I read, several months ago, that she was putting out a book about food additives in supermarket food and that it would include an index explaining the mysterious ‘numbers’ in food additives. I immediately thought: Ooh, must get that. Then, last week, a blogger mentioned that she’d received her copy in the post and that it looked nice in the bookshop, too. I went against my usual MO of wait-for-the-special-or-buy-2nd-hand-or-online-for-cheaper and went to the mall and got it.

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Nissen intends for us to take it to the supermarket in our voluminous handbags so we can check things. To this end it is quite a compact book, if quite a fat one. It weighs 432g, (so a quick comparison reveals it weighs just a bit less than Catching Fire, the second Hunger Games book -paper back edition) so it is quite heavy. I found the binding very tight and had to firmly hold it open while I read it. For supermarket reference, I would prefer a phone app, honestly. Not that I have a phone that can run apps at this point… but, if I did, it would be more convenient than a brick in my handbag. Also, I don’t carry a handbag if I can help it.

As previously stated, I primarily bought the book because of the index at the back. The rest of the book sets out things to look out for in packaged food– The chapter headings include Meat, Chips & Nibbles, Milk & Other Matters, Dips & Spreads, Breakfast, Bread, Meal Solutions, Cakes & Biscuits, Treats, Drinks, and Sugar. Nissen has taken an anecdotal approach to her topic, which saves us from both the overly technical or dramatically breast-beating approaches one can find elsewhere, while making the book very readable as well as entertaining. I have read a number of Nissen’s other books and feel confident that she has done her research, thus saving me a lot of legwork that I would never get around to. She also includes a reading list, should we feel like reading further on these things. I judge it to be well worth the $30 I spent.

Now, as a lifelong (and I mean lifelong– beginning before I could talk) migraine sufferer, over the years I have worked out what I can’t eat and drink. As a general rule, anything brightly coloured or with too many ‘numbers’ in it is not good for me. I never drink soft drinks and I don’t like tea or coffee or alcohol or most fruit juice, so I am severely limited in the beverage department. One thing I do like is ‘Ovaltine Light Break’. It has nineteen ingredients, including eight ‘numbers’ (not counting the two either/or numbers). I usually have one or two of these drinks a day. I was dreading looking up everything in Nissen’s Very Useful (colour coded) Index, as I knew that, should it prove to be full of Bad Things, I’d never drink it again and I’d be left with apple cider vinegar and honey. That’s quite nice, but not very indulgent.

So. Today I got on my Big Girl Pants and got out a piece of paper and listed all the ingredients. I worked out that there is about 11% of every serving that is not milk solids, malt and barley extract, glucose solids or cocoa. Of the eight (or ten) ‘numbers’, all are under ‘no known adverse effects’ except for 951, which is aspartame, an artificial sweetener, and should be used with caution if it can’t be avoided (said me). It is third-to-last on the list, so there must be just a wee bit in there. I can live with that. So I breathed a sigh of relief and blessed my Supermarket Companion for letting me find out I’m not slowly murdering myself with my one indulgent beverage.

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After that, just for kicks and giggles, I had a look at my food colouring. I have three- a red, a yellow and a green. They are for colouring icing on cupcakes, occasionally. Very occasionally as it turns out, as the first thing I noticed was that, while they are all expired, they are all nearly full. The second was that all of them- sourced in the baking isle at the big yellow supermarket– are made of Very Bad Numbers.

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Some might say that the one or two drops used in icing or whatever won’t hurt and they could be right. However, as a voracious reader of recipes everywhere, I’ve been reading Red Velvet Cake recipes and, just recently, Red Velvet Cheesecake. I’ve never made one simply because Red Velvet Cake contains at least 15ml of red food colouring and the Red Velvet Cheesecake called for two one-ounce bottles of red food colouring. I got my OMGs on over that. I could be wrong, but if a cup is eight ounces, one ounce is one-eighth of a cup, and that is two tablespoons or 30 ml, so two of them is 60ml, which is a quarter of a cup. OMG indeed. You would want to be very sure that your chosen food colouring wasn’t 122, 124, 127, or 129. Even 120, which is cochineal and is made of crushed beetle wings and is therefore relatively natural (if a bit gross) is linked to hyperactivity. Plant ones seem to be the better options, but probably won’t give the intense colour these people seem to think is necessary. Why must the cake be violently red, anyway?

So I am left with trying to find a spot on my bookshelf for a very informative and well set-out book– it even has nice illustrations throughout. It is a worthwhile resource for anyone trying to make sensible choices at the supermarket.

Did You Know… Common Foods That Poison Dogs

Those of us who have, or have had, dogs, know that most of them will eat anything. ANYTHING. We had a dog who used to eat heaps of gravel, and another who routinely ate balloons. Yet, even knowing this, I somehow had the thought in my head that dogs would have some kind of instinct that would stop them actively poisoning themselves. They really don’t, though. Dogs are related to wolves, they say, and ‘they’ (meaning here sources that I can’t remember) further say that dogs are like wolf pups, eternally stuck at a juvenile level of maturity. I don’t know if that is true or if, being true, that makes a difference on an instinctual level. I don’t know, for instance, if an adult wolf would sniff at a block of the best Whitaker’s 72% cocoa dark chocolate and have some instinct inform his or her wolfy self to leave it alone, and if a pup would eat it, much as dogs do. Not that any of this matters: I just wonder these things.

My portrait (pastel pencils) of Ma Cherie, who was a very cool dog with no observable instincts when it came to That Which Dogs Should Not Eat

I tend to follow obscure trails here in cyber land and, being interested in additive-free and good-for-you homemadeness, I often read recipes. Sometimes they are about homemade dog treats that are supposed to variously render your pooch healthy, happy, flea-free and smelling gorgeous. That’s a lovely thought and I’m all for additive-free, lovingly prepared doggie treats. But some of these well-intentioned animal lovers would do well to first educate themselves. Not all people-food is good for dogs. Some people-food is really poisonous– usually in a cumulative way. So I’ve decided to compile a bit of a list. I’m not talking about things that could cause obstructions and need surgery to remove (corn cobs and peach stones) or things that we all know aren’t good for dogs (alcohol and sugary food). My list is about (mostly) ‘healthy’ people-food that is harmful to dogs.

The first on my list is Onions and Garlic.

Basically, Onions and garlic contain stuff that destroys red blood cells, causing anaemia. Onions– raw, cooked or powdered– are worse than garlic. If you dog is suffering from anaemia, they may be very flat, be vomiting, and be breathless. I guess their gums would be pale, too. So miss the garlic out of any recipe that you might be making for your beloved poochie and read the baby food label before feeding leftovers to the walking rubbish bin: apparently the savoury options often contain powdered onion.

The next one is Raisins, Sultanas and Grapes.

I’m sure we’ve all heard of dogs who habitually rob the grape-vine but my sister-in-law (vet nurse and animal fact go-to girl) says that a cup of raisins can poison a German Shepherd. A very flat, vomiting dog who has eaten a lot of grapes or raisins could be suffering kidney damage for their trouble. Nasty. So keep your Christmas Cake and your Christmas Mince Pies out of reach, and no sharing the leftovers!!

Raw Eggs

I don’t feel like getting technical, but too many raw eggs will, over time, lead to skin and coat problems and make dogs deficient in some kind of B vitamin. (Google it if you care why 🙂 ) 

Chocolate

O Whittaker’s you do make the best Chocolate mmmm… But, as gorgeous as chocolate is, most of us know that chocolate is poisonous to dogs. Chocolate contains cocoa, which contains theobromine, which affects the nervous system and the heart. Pure cocoa is the deadliest, and of chocolate, the darker it is, the more deadly it is to dogs (and humans, incidentally. However, we would need to eat a whole lot of chocolate to do us any harm as our systems can process the theobromine a lot faster than dogs’ can.) The list of symptoms is quite long and scary. There is the vomiting and the staggering and the breathing and heart problems and the comas and the falling down dead. Not nice. The ready-fire-aim AmStaff of my SIL (the vet nurse) once got hold of a block of gorgeous Whittaker’s 72% cocoa chocolate that technically wasn’t even within reach and, when it was discovered, the dog was then made to ingest a quantity of charcoal under vet supervision. It seemed to do the trick, but it was a very stressful day!!

Speaking of the staggering and whatnot, here’s a story from my childhood that ties in with our accidental poisoning theme:

This is not Baby, but she pretty much looked like this when she was young and had eyes. When we had her she only had one eye and it didn’t work and her coat was hardly ever this short…

My mother had a dog that she adored whose name was Baby. She was an American Cocker Spaniel and was kind of inherited from my Nana. Through no fault of her own, Baby had developed some really disgusting personal habits that, being irrelevant in this context, I won’t go into here. One of her milder habits was eating flour. If Mum left the lid off the flour bin when she was making bread, Baby would plunge her bad black head into the flour and come out looking considerably whiter. One day Mum left pita bread dough rising on her bed in the sun and forgot to shut the door. Baby was stone-blind but her nose worked fine and she, unseen (and unseeing haha), got up on the bed and had a good chew on the dough. We don’t know how much she ate, as the dough was rising, but we noticed the signs on the dough that advertised Baby’s transgression. I actually remember this day really well, because people who had been our next door neighbours when I was a pre-schooler turned up unannounced while my older sister was cutting out her dress for highschool graduation and Mum was smoking out the house burning oil while trying to cook pita bread and the dog was staggering around the front lawn, abdomen swelling and (we soon realised) getting really drunk from the yeast turning to alcohol in her stomach. Mum took Baby to the vet and it turned out she had alcohol poisoning and had to stay overnight and have fluids via IV. Mum never attempted pita bread again. We still laugh about that day but, ooh, poor Baby!

Other people-foods that dogs shouldn’t have are Avocados, Macadamia Nuts and Raw Fish.

All of the parts of the avocado plant can be toxic for dogs; macadamia nuts affect the nervous system; and raw fish can lead to a deficiency in one of the B vitamins while fish like trout and salmon can transmit parasites to dogs that can kill them in a fortnight. To avoid this, alway cook the fish.

This is by no means a definitive list: I just got a basic list from my SIL and then did a quick online search for specific symptoms and things. I compiled my information from these three web pages:

WebMD , Rising Woods and Entirely Pets

 

How To… Make Fresh Pasta!!

Last year, my sister and I went to Germany to spend some time with our other sister and her family. She has lived there for 15 years and it’s the first time I’ve managed the trip. In the past I’ve been too busy being a student and being poor and stuff. As it is, I’m still paying them back for my ticket…

Anyway, while we were there, we frequented the local bakery and tried local stuff at the beergarden and enjoyed my sister and her husband’s brand of cooking, tho they both have the metabolisms of hummingbirds so we learned to plate up our own portions, otherwise we would have had to buy an extra seat for the trip home!

Bavarian breakfast of white sausage, sweet mustard, pretzel and some kind of beer. Yeah I don’t make a very good German, btw…

My sister asked if there was anything we’d particularly like to make while we were there and I went: Ooh, Fresh Pasta! I’m not sure why, but I knew that she knew how to make it. I’ve read recipes, but I’m a visual creature, and I wanted to see how it was done.

Having looked on the interwebs about this, I know there are many ways to make pasta. There are different egg-to-flour ratios, some people add olive oil and some don’t, some use tipo 00 flour and some don’t. Most people use a pasta machine for the rolling, but I’ve heard of draping the dough over the edge of the bench and holding it in place with your stomach while you roll the other half (sounds like too much hard work. Pasta dough is very springy). So what follows is my version, which is pretty much the same as what my sister showed me.

The basic rule is this: 100g of tipo 00 flour and a large egg per serve. I recommend sourcing the right flour for this– you can find it in bulk bin stores. You can use 110g per egg and add some oilve oil, if you like. Most of the recipes that I’ve read expect us to weigh our flour and then dump it on the bench, make a well in the centre for the eggs and then get cracking. MESS!! CLEAN-UP!! AARGH!! I never do that. I use a large bowl, like a sensible person:

I used two eggs and a pinch of salt and some olive oil with 220g of tipo 00 flour here. Then you take a fork and whisk the eggs together in their little well in the flour. When the eggs are whisked up, start gradually whisking in the flour from around the edges of the well until you have gathered it all in. Obviously you won’t be using the fork towards the end. If the flour really won’t go in (smallish eggs or whatever), add a few drops of water. When it’s all together, it will look something like this:

See? Mess Contained and Eliminated

Then you knead the dough on a lightly floured surface (bench or board) for ages and ages (said my mutant wrists) until the dough is really springy, and when you pinch it, the marks quickly fade:

Then you wrap it up in cling-film and leave it alone for half an hour.

Once the dough is rested, it’s time to roll it out. I always do this bit with my rolling-pin, because I’m good at breaking pasta machines and I like the one I have at the moment. I do the rolling like this: Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1cm thick. Then fold it in thirds (so three layers are stacked) and then roll it out again. Repeat this for a total of three times.

For this two-person batch, cut the rolled-out dough into quarters and flatten a little more with the rolling-pin. Impatiently trying to make too much dough go through the machine at once will break it (cue innocent whistling…) so a conservative approach is best.

Pasta machines have a dial that lets you set the distance between the rollers. Choose the widest setting (usually 7) and run each quarter through the machine, keeping the dough pieces lightly dusted with flour to stop them getting stuck in the machine, and ensuring you have enough space to lay or drape the sheets on clean, dry surfaces. Next, adjust the dial to the next setting and run each sheet through again. Repeat until you get to the desired thickness which, on my pasta machine, is 3 on the dial. Before I run the pasta through the second to last setting (4 on my machine), I cut each sheet in half to make them easier to handle.

Fresh pasta sheets are quite versatile. I’ve used them in lasagne, drastically reducing the baking time. You can use then for cannelloni. You can make those little parcel thingies with stuff inside. Usually, we can’t be bothered with the fiddly parcels, so we just make fettuccine, which are flat noodles. Spaghetti noodles come out well, too. Here’s my pasta machine with the fettuccine and spaghetti attachment on it and a little pile of fettuccine (obscured) in the background. I always deputise my sister as handle-turner at this point, as I need at least three hands or it doesn’t go well. That could be just me, though…

Some people say it’s best to let the sheets dry out a bit before this step. We tried that and it didn’t go well for us. We find straight away is best. We toss the fettuccine in plenty of flour after they go through the machine to stop them sticking together.

The timing for fresh pasta meals is different from when you use dried pasta. All you need is a large and deep pot of boiling, salted water (Nigella says ‘as salty as the mediterranean’ but whatever to that. To taste, as always) Pasta is cooked when it floats to the top. It only takes a few minutes. You should taste test, just to be sure.

To arrest the cooking, take the pan off the heat and some cold water– but if you’re organised and can plate it up straight away, that is better. Always reserve a couple of ladles of the cooking water to help things move and mix and whatnot– dry cooked pasta is not nice stuff. Follow your favourite recipe and enjoy!

Carnivore Corner: Schweinebraten

When my paternal grandmother was alive, she would ring us about once a month and invite us to Sunday Lunch. She always served roast something with lashings of roasted veges, and peas.  Oh, how we looooved her roast veges. Everything was cooked to death in lots of lard or something and the potatoes were these little rigid buttery cases that could ping across the room if you hit them wrong with your knife, with a bit of fluffiness inside. Heaven! Not good for you, but once-a-month amounts to a sometimes-food, so it didn’t hurt us. My sister tells me she didn’t eat the meat, though. She majored firmly in the potatoes. I had a fortunate fondness for Grandma’s mixed pickle, so I used to pile that on and eat the meat quite happily.

If memory serves (and this was a while ago, now) Grandma used to do roast pork quite often. We all know that pork can kill you if it’s undercooked. Grandma’s roasts were Never Ever Undercooked. Never. Grandma apparently took food safety quite seriously. Everyone in her generation did. The end result was a bunch of grandchildren who were violently underwhelmed at the prospect of roasted pork. A big slab of unimaginatively roasted pork is just blah.

BUT THEN my family was delivered forever from a world of blah when my brother-in-law-to-be joined our ranks. He comes from Austria and had probably didn’t even know pork could be blah until he got to New Zealand. He was probably horrified at what happened to pigs in the kitchens of our country and quickly introduced us to Schweinebraten, which is just German for roast pork. I was talking of heaven, earlier… O Schweinebraten. We do not thank Germany/Austria for the wars, but we should, and my family does, thank them for their roast pork.

I spotted a bit of shoulder pork on special in that Large Yellow Supermarket and, tho I prefer to eat happy pigs, I have a weakness and will buy supermarket pork on special if I see it. Also, it’s my weekend off (meaning I was home for dinner– yay!), so we decided to make Schweinebraten and just enjoy it. So, of course, I took pics and resolved to show how to make this deliciousness.

First, you’ll need to deepen any scoring in the skin. Some butchers cross-hatch; some do parallel lines. It doesn’t matter which, but use a sharp knife– sawing through pig skin with a blunt knife is no fun at all…

Then you just rub crushed garlic all over the roast– I use my handy jar of crushed garlic, but of course you can peel and crush your own– and then scatter caraway seeds over and place it in your roasting pan with a bit of butter on top.

(I always line my roasting dish with baking paper as it stops things sticking and makes clean-up easy.)

When I cook a roast, I choose a temperature based on how much time I have, really. But if I had to nail it down, I’d say cook it at about 170°C and look in your trusty Edmonds Cookbook or look online for how long per 500g or whatever.

While the Schweinebraten is cooking, you’re supposed to baste it with beer. Yes, really. I don’t drink beer and didn’t feel like going out to buy some just for this, so I just used water, which works fine. When the butter has melted through, pour some beer or water over the roast and then leave it for ten minutes or so and repeat. When you have enough juices accumulated in the bottom of the roasting pan, you can just scoop some up and pour that over the roast as it cooks. This helps the Schwienebraten stay moist and delicious, so don’t skip this step. If I was a real Austrian, I’d drizzle those juices over the meat on my plate before I ate it, but I’m just not, so I don’t. If you want to, go ahead…

Once the Schweinebraten is  cooked, and the other yummy things you’ve obviously been preparing and cooking to have with it (in a separate dish) are ready, let it rest for a bit

then slice it up– thick wedges are perfectly acceptable– and plate up a feast of gorgeousness!!!

Enjoy!! We certainly did 🙂

How To… Make No-Knead Bread

Foreword: The History Of Me And Bread.

I hate squishy doughy poxy sliced bread. I love artisan bread. Poxy squish gives me migraines (Were my taste-buds trying to tell me something? Probably). It was a mystery– I could eat fresh bakery bread; I could eat cake (mmm, cake…) so it wasn’t the yeast and it wasn’t the flour– until I read an article and found out that there’s a preservative in squishy bread to stop it going mouldy in the bag. Perservatives are So Not My Friend. I could bore everyone to tears about The Things I Never Eat/Drink/Do in order to avoid most migraines, but I won’t. Suffice to say that natural is best. So for years I lived a relatively bread-free existence, and that was OK. But, as I said, I LOVE artisan bread. I don’t have the budget to buy fresh crusty bread, and once I spent all day (really) making three baguettes and they were delicious but, seriously, I have Stuff To Do, and also have mutant wrists, so too much kneading isn’t fun for me.

Introducing  Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Franscois

THEN I came across mention of a no-knead bread book that was said to be brilliant, so I got it. It’s about a method for making high-moisture bread dough that can keep in the fridge for up to 14 days and that you can cook a piece at a time. Most batches make three or four loaves. I usually do two, though, if I’m feeding my family or making bread for the freezer, as the loaves are then family-sized. The small loaves are really cute and are perfect for my sister and me to take on a road-trip or whatever. There are recipes for peasant loaves, flatbreads and pizzas, enriched doughs (desserts, pastries, bagels) as well as baguettes and ciabatta and things like that.

My only quibble with the book is that the contents page is way too vague. So, I made my own and pasted it in the front. (Yes, I am a nerd.) Each recipe (in my contents page) is listed with the page number and a brief note about what extra ingredients it needs, so I can see at a glance if I have the right stuff on hand. The first thing I tried was the Pain d’Epi, or Wheat-Stalk Bread, and I made it again today, taking photos so I could show how it can be done. One note, tho: this is a double-sized loaf, so it’s a bit munchy-looking, compared to the dainty specimen in the book.

 

luke-warm water, coarse salt, yeast, high-grade flour, cup measure and measuring spoons

First, place three cups of luke-warm water in a decent-sized bowl that will fit in your fridge. I use the serving bowl that I make my trifle in. Next, add a tablespoon of coarse salt and one-and-a-half tablespoons of yeast. The recipe says to use another half tablespoon of salt, but I found it too salty for my taste.

Give it a bit of a stir then add six and a half cups of high-grade flour. (If you only have all purpose flour, just add another half a cup.)  The flour needs to be measured in the ‘scoop and swipe’ way, like this, so that each cup contains flour at the right density:

  

Next, stir everything together with a spoon. It will look sticky and moist, like this:

 The next step is to put it aside for about two hours, covered with something that isn’t air-tight. I use a piece of tinfoil, like so:

After about two hours, the dough will have risen and flattened out. It’s best to put it in the fridge at this point to make the dough easier to work with. I was working to a deadline today, so the dough was in the fridge for about 50 minutes only, which wasn’t ideal. If you’re organised, overnight works well. When it’s time to get baking, get the bowl out of the fridge and dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off and scoop out the desired amount of dough. I always make sure I have floury hands for this bit or it really doesn’t go well.

 

Then comes the tricky bit… The book says it like this: ‘Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.’ Sounds easy…? My first try was entertaining, anyway. The key is to dunk your hands in flour, without introducing great lumps of flour that will sit inside your loaf and look ugly when you slice it. I can do the ball thing pretty well, now:

 

Then you use gravity and coax the ball into a long shape and place it on a sheet of baking paper that you’ve hopefully remembered to dust with flour. (Oops. It didn’t really matter) The book bangs on about pizza peels and uses wholemeal flour under the dough so it will slide off onto a pizza stone in the oven, but I like simplicity and I don’t have a pizza peel. I do have a pizza stone (now) but a lightly dusted sheet of baking paper on my chopping board slides onto a cookie tray in my oven perfectly.  Once the dough is on the baking paper, leave it sitting on the bench for half an hour.

 

Ten minutes in, it’s time to turn the oven on. First, place a cookie sheet (or a pizza stone) about at the half-way point in the oven, and put a heat-proof casserole dish or something on the next shelf down.

Turn the oven on to 230°C and wait until the half hour is up. (That’s 20 minutes of warming for the oven.)

Next, it’s time to do the wheat-stalkiness. That means dusting the top of the loaf with flour and cutting into the dough with scissors at a 45°angle and turning the pieces to alternate sides, like this:

 

As I said, this is a double-sized loaf, so it doesn’t quite look like a wheat-stalk, but whatever… slide the baking paper with the dough on it onto the cookie sheet or pizza stone, pour a cup of hot tap water into the casserole dish under the bread, and quickly shut the door.

The bread is ready in 20 or so minutes, or when it is deeply golden brown. (A large loaf takes a little longer)

 

 Don’t be tempted to eat it while it’s warm. Warm bread smells nice but is stodgy. When it’s cooled to room temperature, rip a bit off, slather on the butter and enjoy!!! This one vanished pretty quickly once the family got hold of it 🙂

Carnivore Corner: Making Meat Go Further

Dad at the office, 2005

We are a family of butchers. Tis true. My dad has been a butcher since he was 17 and moved through retail into  ‘farm killing’ or ‘rural butchering’ (where he would kill and process whole beef/sheep/pig for the owners and give it back frozen) and now just does the death-dealing end of things– or he usually does: just now, The Truck has died, limiting his activities somewhat.

Dad in the truck

There are four kids in our family and we’ve always been absolutely aware of where our meat came from and none of us has even gone through a vegetarian phase. We’ve all helped Dad out at times and two of us (my brother and me) have worked for him for extended periods. Every time my sister comes home from overseas for a visit, she goes out for a day ‘killing with Dad’. It’s a tradition.

The Office these days

My dad and my brother both have old fashioned ideas that every evening meal has to include a large slab of red meat and that meat-and-veg is the pinnacle of manly food. Us girls have a more conservative approach. We like chicken and fish and will make vegetarian meals and enjoy them. We know that, for girls, eating more than 100g of red meat at one time is a waste of resources, as girl muscles only need that much to maintain themselves. If we were athletes or boys, we’d need more. But we aren’t. So we don’t.

I sometimes have access to lovely farm-killed meat. Sometimes I don’t. Either way, I take the same approach, ensuring nothing goes to waste.

If you want to do like I do, you’ll need to get a couple of boxes of those snack-sized GLAD zip-lock bags(or larger, if you consistently feed the same amount of people.) I like to minimise plastic use as much as the next person, but when it comes to freezing meat, you have to have no air. Plastic is necessary. You can minimise waste by turning the bags inside out after use and washing and  drying them and re-using them. That’s why I buy GLAD, not generic– they’re sturdier, and wash well.

You’ll also need digital scales. I never guess meat weight. It’s the perfectionist in me coming out. It made my dad roll his eyes a bit (or quite a lot, for all I know) when I started working for him, but he soon worked out there was no changing me and just went with it. After that, he was secure in the knowledge that if the buggers wanted 350g packets of mince, we could totally do that. But I digress…

Here’s what I do: If I’m buying from a supermarket or the Mad Butcher, everything is pre-packaged. I think this works for people because they get all squicked out about touching dripping lumps of meat. Those little trays and the cling-film add another buffering layer between the consumer and the reality of a lump of dead animal. The problem with those trays of meat is that they only come in certain sizes. There are two girls in my house, so we need 200-240g of meat for a meal (most cook books will tell you that you need to allow 20g for shrinkage in cooking per serve. Sounds like a goood idea to me). At current prices here in NZ, I look for a tray that has about 800g and costs no more than $12. I then take it home and split it up into servings between 100 and 120g and place each one in a GLAD snack bag and press it out flat, squashing all the air out and sealing it up. I always pack in single serves because I work shifts and am not always home for tea. Also, we’re not terribly organised but a flat 120g packet of meat will thaw on a cake rack in no time. I do not recommend thawing (or heating or cooking) anything in the microwave in plastic. Glass all the way, people!! Glass can mean a glass bowl or glazed ceramic, btw… just take the food out of the plastic first. Please.

In a perfect world, we would all thaw in the fridge. We’re not that organised. We thaw on the bench, on the aforementioned cake rack, to allow for air circulation. It doesn’t take long, if your house is warmer than the inside of your fridge (which, no joke, it sometimes isn’t in this country– in which case, do something about it!!) There is not sufficient time for the bacteria to multiply, as you’re not bringing it up to room temp: you’re just getting it to cold-but-flexible.

Sometimes  you come across a great special like a giant chicken or a rolled roast beef or a big lump of topside and it seems wasteful not to take advantage of these. Go ahead and grab them if you see them and can afford them. The topside you could chop up into stir-fry or casserole strips or cubes if you felt so inclined and freeze in meal lots, but you’d probably do better to cook the chicken or the rolled roast whole, and don’t forget about Pot Roast for the topside– divine!!! (see the Edmonds book for the basic idea) But then you worry about The Leftovers: You don’t want to be eating it for a week and you don’t know how many days you can keep it in the fridge without it morphing into something that will kill you and your family. In that case, you eat what you can in the first instance, and then you slice the rest up and and freeze it in clearly labeled bags– you will want to write the date, the cut and the weight. You need to ensure all the air is squashed out of the packet, and you should eat it within 3 months or so.  If you are dealing with a rolled roast, leave the stretchy stuff on it (presuming the butcher is forward-thinking enough to use it) and chill it down in the fridge before slicing. Even if the butcher uses old-fashioned string and skewers, cold rolled roast is much easier to slice for cold meat than warm.

Here are The Rules about food and freezers:

You can freeze meat- or any food- once in each state. If a supermarket is selling previously frozen stuff, it will be labeled as such. In that case, you need to cook it before re-freezing.

You can freeze cooked food, even if it has been frozen in its raw form. The key to doing this safely is to cool the food down quickly. This means stirring things that can be stirred to change what is on top and release the heat. This means positioning a fan to blow across the food as it cools. This means changing hot food onto large flat cold plates to increase the surface area. This means getting the food into the fridge as soon as it gets down to ‘warm’ (not steaming).

Air must be removed to prevent ‘freezer burn’, which affects how the food looks and tastes. I freeze in single serves, which means there is more surface area and more potential for freezer burn if I’m not careful.

Food should be frozen quickly. Freezers freeze from the walls inward. Therefore, unfrozen packets that are placed in the freezer should be touching the walls, and not stacked where possible. The cold air needs to get to the food to freeze it quickly.

Packets must be labeled and dated. You’ll need some way of organising your freezer. I just use supermarket bags and group things together once they are frozen.

Your freezer should be -18 degrees C, or very close to it. (Your fridge should be 1-4 degrees C. Warm fridge = bad bugs. Don’t. Just don’t.) Thermometers are cheap. Get one.

So. Having worked in our family business and having access to a veteran butcher, I’m thinking we might collaborate on some meat-related blogs in the future. Specifically, I’m thinking of writing about the laws in NZ about farm killed meat– or ‘cow pooling’, and how to pick a good butcher to process it. Please let me know what you want to know about. Are there any meat-related myths that need busting? We are happy to have a go at answering your questions.

Walk on the Wild Side: Adventures with Kittens

Back in 2005, I moved into one of the student areas of my city because, though not a student (any more) I didn’t have much money and I found a flat that was cheap and fit my requirements: It was way off the road and it had two bedrooms and was within walking distance of the city centre. It was also damp and freezing cold but you can’t have everything.

I needed it to be off the road because of Luke, my then three year old cat. Here he is:

After my sister moved in with me and we found jobs and Luke learned to fight, due to the large population of semi-feral cats in the area, I started thinking vaguely that it might be nice to have a second cat.

One day I stepped out my back door and saw the cutest little kitten sitting in the hole under the house and I thought: There’s my new cat! I saw that it was one of the latest litter of one of the abandoned cats in the neighbourhood. I popped next door and asked my neighbour about them. She had been feeding the mother and knew when they had been born– they were seven and a half weeks old and no, she had no specific plans for them.

I’d like to say I got a cage ready and was super organised but I’d never tried to catch wild kittens (even if they had been seeing my neighbour on a regular basis so they knew people = food) so I didn’t know if I’d even be able to catch them. I just put down a bowl of dry food and stood back.  The cream kitten I’d first seen soon came out and approached the food. I stepped forward and scooped him up. And thought: O bugger, what do I do now? I had to carry him inside and grab my cat cage off the top shelf of the cupboard, making lots of noise and traumatising the poor little thing.

I put him in the cage and went outside again, where I saw the mother and the black kitten eating the food. The mother, in her rush to save herself, blocked the hole under the house so then I had two kittens. I couldn’t catch the grey kitten that day, but my neighbour scooped him up the following morning and handed him over. So that was three for three.

We gave them a box with a towel inside to hide in– we cut out the end but made sure we could open it from the top, incase we needed to– and 5 litter boxes to begin with. This was because, that first night I gave them the one I already had and shut them in my kitchen/dining room (no carpet and nowhere to crawl under or behind except the box) and, tho they’d used the litter box a bit, we’d awoken to a perimeter of cat sh*t. I cleaned up, white vinegared the spots and then went and got a litter tray and clumping litter for every spot they had used in the night. They never made a mess again. We quickly reduced to three litter boxes– two handy to their hidey box and one under the table so they wouldn’t get caugh out if they were out on adventures.

We took them to the vet and the vet got worm tablets into them then I gave them each a bath: on the cream kitten, we could see the layers of flea dirt that tracked the growth of his coat from birth. Eww. Fortunately, two of the three were obviously persian crosses (I’d seen the Persian tom with his flat nose and colourpoints a couple of times) and their fear response was to freeze, which saved me from being scratched to bits. Even the black kitten had the wind knocked out of his sails when I dunked him in a sinkful of water, so that went OK, too. They each dried out inside my top to keep warm, they each got a flea treatment, and that was the last traumatic thing that happened to them for some time.

Every day, we would come home from work and sit on the kitchen floor and play with the kittens. I work shifts, so most of the time one of us was around. We found that the best thing to do was to make a lure out of a fan-folded piece of paper and string and drag that around for them to chase. We dragged it over our legs and around behind our backs, relying on kittens’ addiction to chasing moving things to get them over their fear of us. It worked really well– so well, that the black kitten was ready for his new home in just 10 days!

We named the cream kitten William (coz I wanted something a little bit flash for out little-bit-flash boy). It took one day for him to stop hissing at us, and a week to stop shying away when we touched him. Soon he was like this:

and like this:

Meanwhile, the grey kitten, who was a bit shyer and a bit slower to warm up, finally came around and was relaxed enough to be like this:

We rehomed him, once we found a suitable place. He apparently grew into a huge, laid-back, sociable animal, which was good to hear.

And then we were a two cat household. We discovered something magic happens when kittens hit 20 weeks, as Luke started registering William as a cat at that point, not a strange rodent that he must try to eat. William has a submissive nature, so Luke was top cat and we had a peaceful household.

The stray, who had sat on out back doorstep and howled for a week (hard to listen to) but had evaded our trapping attempts, never had kittens under out flat again… but a couple of litters later, when the people up the street had either moved, confined or castrated their purebred persian and the stray had to settle for the roaming black tom, three black kittens started coming by, looking for food. We don’t know how old kittens are when their mother kicks them out, so we don’t know how old they were, but they were small and skinny. We thought they were probably too old to tame and wondered what we could do. The neighbourhood didn’t need any more feral cats.

Then, one day, one of the kittens walked into our flat looking relatively relaxed. We thought: Maybe we can do this. But these were no persians and they definitely didn’t freeze when they were scared, so we had to get creative. We trapped them in William’s plastic cage that opens in the end (William hates going to the vet and hides under his towel with his face smooshed in the corner. The solid plastic cage was our attempt to make him feel safer. We have to take the cage apart to get him out.) We caught all three, only one escaped. We did what we did with the other kittens but we didn’t get very far at all. We named them Theodore, Sir Touch-Me-Not aka Teddy Bear and The Evil Livvy.

The evil Livvy was truly evil, so we gave up on her and took her to a shelter that doesn’t automatically put down evil cats, but tries to find them a farm to live on, and focused on Teddy.

Here’s the picture I call ‘So young, yet so p*ssed off’

Teddy took a year to get tame, and if he hadn’t falled in love with his half-brother William, I don’t know if he ever would have calmed down.

The feeling isn’t exactly mutual, but William is a long-suffering beastie. Teddy’s antics have actually taught William to stand up for himself a bit. I have even heard growling and hissing on occasion! Teddy still prefers cats to people and still much preferrs kisses on the head to pats. He’s 5-ish, now, and is getting nicer as he gets older. Both cats are happier since my Luke disappeared without a trace a year ago… we miss him, but admit that life is easier without his brand of crazy in it.

RIP, Lukey ❤