Thursday, June 28, 2007

Five Questions Interview Meme

I blithely put my hand up to be interviewed by Johanna, of A Passionate Cook, in this interview meme that is doing the rounds. She writes a wonderful food blog and is also blending cultures as an Austrian living in London and travelling lots. She put five questions to me to be answered on my blog and, to pass on the meme, if anyone would like five questions from me in return, just sign up in the comments. I got so into her first question that it has made a post all by itself and I could have written more but I'll save the book version for another time!

The whole world is slagging off British food – you’ve grown up with it, but also travelled widely. What is the food of your home country: wheat or chaff? And do you cook it for your children now?

Wheat! I think that British food has never really recovered its reputation since the war and rationing made it a pale shadow of its former self. People had got used to doing without, using substitutes instead of fresh ingredients, boiling up vegetables and scraggy meat together and calling it stew. When the economy recovered people looked to Elizabeth David and Europe to revive their cooking skills and palate, and British food became the dire province of institutions, in people's minds at least.

That said British cooking is actually alive and well, but is best sampled in the home of a good cook rather than in a restaurant or pub. In fact I can only really speak for English food, as Scottish and Welsh food have their own traditions and I'm not all that knowledgeable about them.

My mother brought us up on a mixture of English cooking and French inspired dishes and is a very good cook, so I grew up eating English food as it should be. I absorbed English recipes at home, many Italian and French ones on my travels and these days my culinary repertoire is a mixture of them all. I try to feed my children a wide range of food styles including stir-fries and spicy Indian dishes but what they really like best are the English staples.

The best of English food is comfort food, nursery food, food that kids like, simple and unfussy. A Sunday roast of lamb, beef, pork or chicken, roasted with some herbs and an onion in the tin, golden crispy roast potatoes, vegetables steamed just long enough, gravy made from the meat juices and a slosh of wine, this is pure culinary poetry and is the star of the English food brigade holding its own against its European rivals!

Cottage or Shepherd's Pie is another classic that is pure comfort food for the family, maybe not impressive enough to serve to guests but one that features every other week on our menu here in winter, in fact I'm cooking it tonight. Sometimes I get moans of "I don't like Shepherd's Pie". But when the plates come back for seconds and thirds I'm not that convinced. Bangers and mash, with good butcher's pork sausages is another, as are baked potatoes alongside any stew. In fact potatoes feature strongly altogether in many forms. My stews and casseroles I can't really claim as English Cooking, they have amalgamated with French cooking, taken to the (wine) bottle and no longer remember their origins!

I haven't even started on the puddings, which is probably where English cooking shows its most creative variety. Summer pudding, made with bread and berries, treacle pudding, fruit crumbles with custard, milk puddings, fruit fools, mince pies, apple pies - there is an endless succession of ways to end a meal. When I was growing up every main meal finished with a pudding. Nowadays I only make them on Sunday, when we have guests, or for special celebrations, when as a family we make several rather than just one because it is just too hard to choose between all our favourites!

What has been the best part of emigrating to South Africa – and what are the worst bits?

The space and views that we have here on our small farm, together with the South African sunshine are an amazing contrast to living in a small terraced house in London. We share the farm with several of my husband's family and have a safe little community where our children can run between the houses and have a freedom that hardly exists in city living. Something about our view of the mountains feeds the spirit too.

We have landed up just down the road from a multi-cultural Waldorf school, which is great for our children as they get to learn about the whole variety of South African culture and are in an educational environment that suits them too.

On the food front we get wonderful fresh fruits in season, that are plentiful, ripe and cheap and have never seen cold storage. We are in the middle of the Cape Winelands, so can drive across country and have a wonderful meal at a wine estate, when we have visitors. There are loads of beaches, Table Mountain and loads of outdoor activities.

On the minus side - when I first arrived I looked in vain for the vast array of organic products that I was used to in London supermarkets. There is far less consumer choice here, as it is a smaller society and far from other countries so that imports are expensive. I adapted of course and being out in the country, where I do just one weekly grocery shop, have got used to making and baking most of our treats at home, also baking our own bread, making jams and generally being a farm housewife!

The other infuriating thing for us computer-dependant business people is that communications technology is way behind Europe and the US, still hardly shifting from the monopoly of one company, so we have to put up with slow connections, connections falling over regularly etc.

Every one of us copes differently with living abroad and as cultures mix, do you immerse yourself in the culture(s) of SA or do you strive to maintain your own, for yourself or maybe for the sake of your children?

I think we've evolved our own family culture, blending a bit of South African, a bit of English and a bit of our own invention. My husband's family is South African but his parents came here from England after the war, so there is a strong strain of English culture adapted to South African life. We've fully embraced the braai as a summer weekend activity and my son supports South Africa in the rugby and cricket. The children learn Afrikaans and Xhosa at school and come home singing songs in those languages, though I have yet to learn either language, despite being a linguist in European languages. We have cut and pasted the English traditions of bonfire night and Christmas mulled wine and mince pies into a Midwinter Celebration here and our Christmas is a summer version of my English Christmasses.

Given the choice, who would you employ as your personal (celebrity or not) chef?

Nigella Lawson. My personal chef would need to be at home in a house full of children and dogs, produce delicious meals without too much formality and be good company. She would be just right. Nigella if you would like a busman's holiday in South Africa, you'd be very welcome here!

Which memory of a food moment do you cherish the most?

For the first few days after our first child was born all my senses seemed to be enhanced. I don't know whether it was the after-effects of the epidural or just hormones, but colours were brighter, Battersea Park looked fresh and lush and food tasted fantastic. I can still remember the flavour of a goats' cheese from Sainsbury's, with bread and tomatoes, as if it were the best thing I'd ever eaten. I even gave a rave review in the hospital questionnaire for their food…so it must have been an altered sensory state!

There are lots of other more gourmet moments from restaurants around Italy, but this was the first thought that leapt to the page.

1. Leave a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Snapshots to Preserve for Posterity

Sometimes I have the urge to freeze-frame a moment with the children, preserve it intact, to bring out and gaze upon when they transform into teenagers and might logically be expected to try my patience occasionally...not that that ever happens now of course! It's the ordinary every day moments that usually go by unrecorded, usually not even getting a mention in my blog. Today they get to go on my blog lest I forget.

Food shopping with youngest, who is now interested in the origins of her food. I'm browsing in the meat section for free-range chicken, which occasionally graces our local supermarket.

"What's this?"she enquires.
"It's stewing lamb."
"Where does it come from?"
"From sheep."

"What's this?"
"Beef... from cows."

Determined to get things clear, she announces in a clear, penetrating voice, that includes all the other shoppers:

"So that's a dead sheep and that's a dead cow."

Turning vegetarian never seemed so attractive!


A rainy winter's day, yet another one (this is an extraordinarily English winter we are having this year), when using the sofa to practise their 'jumps' is enough to keep all three happy for hours. I wanted to hold on to the memory of just that - simple pleasures and the three of them cooperating, taking turns and inventing elaborate rules for their game.


The children going through our 'oldies' albums, choosing Billy Joel and my 9 year old son informing me that he likes No.s 1 and 4 best..that is My Life and Fashion (the one that starts 'What's the matter with the clothes I'm wearing'), dancing along to it with a grin on his face, whilst I reflect that in less than 3 years he is probably going to be the teenager from the song and forswear Billy Joel, and all his parents' music collection, for at least another 20 years, as hideously uncool.

I remember at eleven, thinking Abba was a cool sound to do Lego to, one year later realising my mistake. It only took another twenty years for Abba to be danced to with a pinch of irony... now I happily wash up to it, any consideration of cool long departed through the window.


The children getting ready to run down to one of the aunts' houses on a weekend morning, while we are still dozily reading at the breakfast table in dressing-gowns and pyjamas. A spell of blissful quiet ensues and I realise that for the first time ever, the older two have actually helped youngest find shoes, put them on and done up her shoe laces for her, and they've all gone out together... usually there is a frantic screeching as they are ready and waiting outside, inching down the hill, while she isn't even dressed and has no idea where her shoes are and is urgently summoning us to help in case she gets left behind.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

WTSIM Apple Dumplings

Apple and mulberry dumpling

This month my entry into WTSIM.. dumpling is more of a voyage of culinary experimentation than a recipe to be triumphantly passed on and heralded as an unqualified success. Johanna decreed stuffed dumplings to be the theme this month. I come from an English background where dumplings are to be found unstuffed, floating in stews, to bulk out the meat and sop up the gravy - robust fillers for hungry labourers and school children. I'd never before eaten a stuffed dumpling, let alone cooked one.

Coincidentally, I am reading Elisabeth Luard's Still Life at the moment. It is an account of her travels around Central and Eastern Europe and Scandinavia in the mid-Eighties, researching traditional country recipes for her book European Peasant Cookery. I love her style which is forthright, inquiring and persevering and am lost in admiration of the quantities of pickled herring and black bread that she managed to endure and, more to the point, persuade her accompanying husband to endure, in the pursuit of more enticing culinary traditions. She starts her journey in Munich and as she traverses Austria is challenged by a mammoth meal which culminates in four plum dumplings per serving. She offers the recipe and, with the WTSIM event in mind, I thought I'd spend a blustery Saturday afternoon conducting my own dumpling research.

I compared Elisabeth Luard's recipe to Johanna's suggestion and also found an Austrian cookery site here. All the recipes looked pretty similar and though I had no plums, I thought I could try with a combination of apples and mulberries. I'd already come across the concept of using potatoes combined with flour to make a dough, from the Italian potato gnocchi, that I'd once helped make in a family home on my travels through Italy. They are savoury, served in a tomato sauce, so I was interested in how the potato dough would turn out with a sweet filling.

I slightly softened the apple chunks in a little butter first, as the recipe seemed to demand soft fruit. The potatoes duly cooked, peeled and mashed, I made up the dough, divided it into twelve and started wrapping the fruit. This was achieved reasonably well, though I didn't know quite how much fruit to try and encase, and odd corners of apple chunks insisted on poking through then the mulberry juice also wanted to escape.

I ended up with twelve tidy balls and set to boiling them. I danced attendance expecting disaster but the cooking was achieved uneventfully, no exploding dumplings and I felt quite pleased. The final step was to fry breadcrumbs in butter to coat them in. I think Elisabeth demanded too much butter though, as they ended up soft and glistening rather than the crispy coating described, but here they were - dumplings on a plate.

The acid test of consumption was where I encountered a hitch. My chief tasters lined up with bowls in anticipation, sprinkled the dumplings with sugar and cinnamon and I awaited comments. I was none too confident, as adventurous eaters they are not and my first exploratory tasting had come away with an impression of rather doughy potato flavour.

Well the verdict came in: youngest rejected the dumpling, due to its tasting of potato (in indignant tones) though she ate the fruit from inside. My son returned the whole thing barely nibbled at. My six year old sprinkled on more sugar and consumed the whole thing with gusto, soon ready for seconds. My husband loyally tasted it, though I knew he'd find it too heavy, but he nobly ate half his. I.. well, in the spirit of culinary curiosity, I ate one and then a second, to examine how I could have made them lighter, fluffier or generally more appealing. This excess of fervour made it rather hard to contemplate cooking supper a bare couple of hours later with my stomach still loaded with dumplings!

I'm putting up photos so that you can all tell me where I went wrong. I think I needed much more fruit in the centre and to have made the dumpling coating much thinner, though I don't know how well they would have stayed together if they were too thin. Should I have seasoned the dumpling dough with either salt or sugar? Should I have dried them on paper towel before enveloping them in the crispy crumbs? It's very hard to judge, when I've never eaten the genuine article as prepared by an expert. I only know that mine were way too heavy and the dough rather bland.

Dumpling post mortem - please help with the verdict!

Nevertheless, it was stimulating to try cooking something so completely different to our usual fare, though I've a long way to go before I'll be doughty enough to tour Eastern Europe Luard style on a diet of herring, tripe, black bread and sauerkraut!

Here is Elisabeth Luard's recipe anyway:

Plum Stuffed Potato Dumplings

500g/ 1lb floury potatoes
25g/1oz butter
1 tablespoon cream
1 egg
275g/6oz plain flour
12 small plums (I used 2 apples and ½ cup mulberries)
12 small sugar lumps
½ teaspoon salt

to finish:

75g/3oz butter
4-5 tablespoons breadcrumbs
icing sugar

Boil the potatoes in their skins till soft. Peel them while still hot and mash with a fork, together with the butter and cream. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then mix in the egg and flour. Knead until it comes together in a soft dough. You may need more or less flour, depending on the potato consistency.

Prepare the fruit. If using plums take out the stones and replace with the sugar lumps. If using apples cut into chunks and toss in a knob of butter over a gentle heat until just starting to soften (2 minutes). Divide the dough into 12 pieces and form into a ball then flatten to make a disc. Put the fruit in the middle and squash the dough around it and seal making it into a closed ball of dough.

Fry the breadcrumbs in the butter with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar until just crisp.

Bring a large pan of water to a simmer. Lower as many dumplings in as fit without crowding. Bring back to a gentle simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes until the dumplings have floated to the surface and are white puffy and firm.. Remove, rinse quickly under cold water, then toss in the breadcrumbs to give a coating.

Serve sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

Any tips on achieving the perfect dumpling are welcome. My six-year old would happlily eat them again, once I get up courage for another attempt!

Here is the WTSIM dumpling round-up, if you would like to see the huge variety of successful recipes contributed.

Friday, June 22, 2007

When I was 25

This was started as a writing prompt and is a powerful memory stirrer. I read Charlotte's post, which set me off reminiscing, finding some similarities and many differences in our experiences. Then even though I've already posted once today, I had to follow through, write and post before the memories faded and my 25 year old self disappeared back into the mists of time.

When I was 25, I turned my back on the full-time office job, with the travel company I was working for, and returned to the itinerant nature of tour managing, travelling with the clients on their walking holidays in Italy. I'd done one season and then accepted the office job at the end of it, which I'd coped with reasonably well over the winter months. When spring came and the other Tour Staff flew off to sunnier climes and Italian food, I chafed under the demands of office life and decided that I wasn't cut out for it after all. The decision was a huge relief and as I turned 25 I headed back to Italy to breathe the aromas of Tuscan cooking once more.

When I was 25, I had the confidence to meet a group of unknown clients at the airport and drive them off in to the countryside, with the enjoyment of their holiday entrusted into my hands. I always had pre-trip nerves, like stage fright, especially being a shy person, but I did it over and over again. I'm glad I was that person then as it gives me a memory of that ability to cope and trust in myself, to refer to now if ever I doubt my abilities.

When I was 25, I thought nothing of driving from Pisa to Oxford in 24 hours on my own in a Landrover, driving through the night on the French autoroute, sustained by Pocket Coffees (chocolates with a whole espresso concentrated into its liquid centre) with a cargo of Italian cheeses and a whole ham, unsure whether this was a legitimate import or not but driving through the Nothing to Declare at Dover anyway.

When I was 25, I had my first (and only, fingers crossed) car crash, when a new driver swerved across the road into me, writing off my beautiful butter-coloured Peugeot 205, breaking a bone in my foot and my nose and wrecking beyond redemption a beautiful soft scarf in the autumn colours of the Tuscan hills, that I'd bought in Italy. It left me with my foot in plaster for a month, back home revisiting the comfort of child-like dependance, with my mother in attendance, and appreciating the convenience of fully comp. insurance.

When I was 25, I thought I'd better catch up with my friends on the property ladder and bought a flat with a friend in London. That is where I'd been off to at the time of the car crash. Due to being immobilised for the whole month of February, I left all the house-hunting to my friend and, as time was running out before the season would be sending me off to Italy again, I found myself, without much thought on my part, a North Londoner in Willesden Green, when by inclination I subsequently discovered myself to be a South Londoner - and there is a cultural difference that goes with the divide of the Thames! I indulged myself by buying my first ever bed, double of course, even though there was no-one to put in the other side, with a wonderful pocket-sprung mattress, which has survived to this day, but is now our spare bed. The flat ended up being merely a base to return to after my stints in Italy, a winter perching place, and I got to know all the routes to South London very well!

25 was a time of being young, free and single, when my earnings could be spent on myself, and although they weren't huge, I could afford to trawl the London markets and sales for frivolous items of furniture, ridiculous clothes and bric a brac. In between intense periods of work I had cavernous spaces of free time to spend at the Everyman Cinema watching old Italian movies, explore London and read.

When I was 25, I was still five years from getting married and three years away from finding the right man, so there was an empty space, or rather, a sense of circling looking for the direction I was supposed to be heading in, I was marking time, knowing that I wanted to marry and have children one day, but not knowing what to do in the meantime, apart from experience life as it presented itself. Maybe I could have relaxed and enjoyed it more if I could have looked forward five years, but that tension of uncertainity is all part of life's rich tapestry!

Belly Dancing

A couple of months ago, the grapevine brought to my ears rumours of a belly-dancing class being held nearby. Now belly-dancing had never been one of my ambitions, had never even entered my consciousness as a possible activity, but out here classes of any sort are few and far between. We had a yoga class going a couple of years ago, but then the teacher moved and as I am terribly un-self-motivated and need a class environmnent to keep up with any form of exercise, I relapsed back into the 'I get enough exercise running around after the kids' mode.

My informant swore that belly dancing was fun and that she came away from it feeling several inches taller. It was close by, just a few women and my son's school teacher was teaching it. So I went along and it was indeed fun. Abdominal muscles I'd forgotten ever existed came back from hibernation and I did feel taller. I was several weeks behind the others, but managed to get the hang of some of the moves. The main thing is to keep your head still while moving hips or chest muscles. It's not just about doing alarming rolls of belly muscles luckily. My favourite move is one called maya that is a hip figure-of-eight on its side, side to side.

I missed a session one week and came back to find that we were all set to give our first performance - horrors! - I was only just getting the hang of combining arm and body movements. One of the girls was leaving though and had proposed a strictly family party, combining with the drum and marimba group. They were to play for us and we would listen to them.(A marimba is a type of xylophone with wooden keys)

So yesterday, Midwinter, was the day. I'd got out a sequinned skirt, sewn a length of jingly coins onto a black top, borrowed a jingly belt (belly dancing just isn't the same without the jingles, you're making music with your hip circles), put on some eye make-up, which I'd also borrowed as it is so long since I last used mine they've practically dried up,, and driven to another farm where we were to dance on the lawn.

We had a beautiful still night with stars, after a day of the berg wind, a warm wind from the mountains that inevitably brings rain a couple of days later, but in the mean time makes it unnaturally warm for midwinter. Performance nerves were helped by the semi darkness and the minmal audience. All but two of those present were either dancing or playing drums or marimba - I'd left my family behind having their supper, as an audience of small children giggling at their teachers and mother wiggling their hips, seemed to be surplus to requirements..

We performed our set dance that we mostly remembered and kept together, except for occasional instances of landing on sprinklers, then relaxed and listened to the musicians perform. In no time our jingly hips were twitching in time to the music and we started some impromptu dancing to provide a jingly percussion for the drummers. I haven't danced so much in years. I now need to find my own jingly belt, so that I can practise at home!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Midwinter Fire

The weather gods must enjoy our winter festivals... they certainly smiled on us last night. After a blustery Friday evening, Saturday dawned still and sunny, and stayed that way right through till the evening, which was ideal: still and starry; chilly and clear. As I'm writing on Sunday afternoon, that window of perfect winter weather slammed shut and it is raining once more, but who cares, now that the bonfire has burned to ashes and the lanterns have had their chance to shine.

Bonfire building and lantern creating kept everyone busy all afternoon and built a strong sense of community, with a deputation of children constructing an elaborate pyrotechnic volcano to be lit before the bonfire.

At lunchtime, I'd belatedly discovered my ultra-efficient notes from last year that I had forgotten even making, detailing quantities of soup and mulled wine, bread and puddings. Having failed to match the vat volume, I hurriedly threw another batch of butternut soup together, wondered about producing another batch of bread and generally pondered the catering conundrum, while the menfolk bent their minds to the important task of supporting South Africa against Australia in the Tri-Nations rugby match. Luckily we just won, so they were able to expend the rest of their energy on lanterns and fire duties.

The stunning array of lanterns were carried on sticks in a procession down an avenue of light to our circle and hung around it. Beautiful. A delicate, new, crescent moon peered over the brow of the hill at the proceedings, before shyly retiring over the horizon.

My son and his friend with two adults played a round of recorder music in the circle, with my steady hand bearing the music and a paraffin lamp, then my sister-in-law read St Francis' prayer and we all took turns to read our home-grown blessings. Then licensed pyromania erupted as the volcano was lit, sending sparks heavenwards, a multitude of sparklers whirled and the main bonfire took off, flames shooting straight up in the still night air.

Mulled wine to warm hands and stomachs, then soups, a thick butternut soup with a hint of cinnamon and a robust lentil soup, rich and smoky with ham stock, plaits of home-made white bread, and sausages braaied and eaten in rolls kept us sustained outside till the childrens' usual bedtime, then we trooped inside to see if we had any room left for puddings. It was a hard decision but everybody tried to do justice to the guava fool, chocolate pudding, jelly, apple pudding and puff pastry squares.

Two families stayed the night so the children were able to build another fire sculpture in the morning...
needless to say, they were only supplied with matches to ignite it once the adults were summonsed to provide an attentive audience!

Our house is smiling contentedly to itself today, still humming with the energy of forty friends and family, all working, talking, playing, creating and building together.

Friday, June 15, 2007

I'm here!

Oh dear. I slipped out of the blogosphere for a moment and more than a week has gone by without a post. This remissness can partly be blamed on our internet connection going down for four days, much to our consternation. We transferred to a wireless provider, at the end of last year, to get a 24 hour connection and can see the mast with its red light blinking reassuringly on a hill a few kilometers away. Every time we fell the need to check on it we peer out from the windows at the back of our house and it's still there.

When we rang to find out why we couldn't connect on Saturday, we were told that our whole week of rain had drained the solar power cells that keep the transmiter going and that we needed some sunshine...! We duly scanned the clouds every few minutes for blue sky and wondered how long it takes to charge the batteries. On Monday when my husband was pacing the floor, frustrated in his working from home drive, they informed us that the power supply had actually been vandalised and that they were working on it...he went into work at the studio.. and the next day until, at four o'clock on Tuesday, I was able to Skype him with proof that we were back online again.

We were muttering darkly about companies who previously had had a monopoly on telecommunications trying to put their competition out of business, but the truth proved less sinister, if equally disturbing. Apparently the mast was built on common land on its hill top. Some people are squatting on the land in attempt at a land claim, which is an extremely politically sensitive matter in South Africa, and it is presumed that they vandalised the mast to retain their perceived claim on the land.

Our main concern callously being our connection to the outside world rather than politics, we were relieved that the service provider is now intending to move the mast to a nearby wine estate, which is private land and hopefully it will be less of a target there.

It took me a while to catch up reading all my Bloglines subscriptions and by then my head was thick with a cold and too sluggish to string two sentences together into a rational comment, let alone write a post of my own. So many apologies for my absence. I promise to bring you a scintillating report of this years Midwinter Festival, which we are having tomorrow. Today I am going to prepare a vat of soup, tomorrow bake several loaves of bread, then a few puddings and everyone will bring sausage to braai around the bonfire, while we drink mulled wine. I'm keeping fingers crossed for a dry evening... we've had so much rain already this winter that we can quite easily do without it for one evening without risk of drought.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Eight Food Things

This latest food meme comes from Charlotte's Web, where Charlotte has been presiding over a long weekend baking extravaganza and setting everyone drooling with the aromas pervading the blogosphere.

Eight Food Things:

What are your favourite foods?

Besides dark chocolate? Fresh line-fish, roast lamb and roast potatoes, ripe avocado on bread with a dash of sun-dried olive paste, prosciutto crudo, home-grown strawberries and mulberries, anything someone else has cooked for me, pastry anything, marmalade, chocolate biscuits…

What foods do you hate?

Kidneys, salt-cod, anchovies

Foods you like but are embarrassed to admit:

Peanut butter and jam, Smarties, English chip-shop chips, left over chocolate butter icing…well how embarrassing is it really, to admit to an immature palate?!

Strangest food you’ve eaten and enjoyed?

Snails were fine but overrated. Probably, through lack of recent exposure to exotic cuisines with strange animal parts, the award goes to my own power-cut invention Scrambled Quiche, which experiment has yet to be repeated.

Cooking failures that still rankle?

My subconscious has deliberately blotted them out. I know there are some but the details elude me, it was obviously too painful to contemplate!

Ingredients you don’t want to consider living without?

Olive oil, garlic, butter, flour, sugar, lemons, onions, instant yeast, cocoa, oats, salt, tomatoes, wine.

Cuisine you’d like to know more about?

Asian. I wish I were more confident in whipping up a thai green curry. For some reason I'm also very hesitant about cooking with fish at home, though it is the first thing I choose in a restaurant, probably due to the reason listed below.

Foods you’ve hated but have grown to love?

Fish. As a child fish meant steamed cod for school lunch, the smell of it permeating the whole school(or so it seemed to me) . I spent the whole morning, through lessons, dreading lunch time and would even feign illness, to avoid having to face the white flaky lump that would make me gag, as I tried to swallow down the minimum requisite portion with copious glasses of water. Now I love fish - grilled, braaied, fried, sea food and all - and it is what I usually choose when we go out for a meal..not boiled cod though, ever ever ever, and preferably not in white sauce either.

Vinegar. I never really liked very strong, sour flavours, until my second pregnancy when I craved chips with vinegar. Since then I actually like the tang in French dressing, pasta sauce and if I ever eat proper chippie chips.

Current kitchen conundrum?

I'm lucky enough to have the kitchen I always dreamed of, with plenty of counters and a big long table that stretches down the room and amalgamates with the sitting room, to accommodate anything from five to fifty. The only downside I can think of, is that we have no extraction system so if I burn something (which of course is a rare event, unless the computer lures me away from the stove… OK it happens every other week) in the absence of containing walls, the whole house smells of it.

Otherwise the main oddity is the towering stack of empty yoghurt pots leaning like the Tower of Pisa next to the sink, because they are so useful that they really ought to be reused and recycled. Except, when do I think I am ever going to use up 200 empty yoghurt pots?

You're tagged if you want to be.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Muffin Meme

Oatmeal and yogurt muffins

It's official - muffins are the new meme. This oatmeal and yogurt muffin recipe is whizzing around the globe. I saw it at Charlotte's Web in Germany, she got it from bindi nestor in Australia, who has also send it winging to other parts of the globe. The baking bug has grabbed everyone, fettered them to their stoves and turned mothers into evil witches cackling with glee, as they watch their children tucking in:

"Haha! you’re eating oatmeal, oatmeal and plain white yogurt, and you don’t even know it"quoted verbatim from Charlottes Web..except for the evil witch bit, added by an over-active imagination.

Here is the recipe at epossums. It has been documented with chocolate chips by Charlotte, coconut and strawberries in bindi's latest batch and I tried it with banana and cinnamon, which was all that I had available, that the kids would conceivably eat. I didn't want to alienate them by adding raisins - its just so labour intensive picking them all out again, for the poor dears. So to give the muffin recipe a fair trial, one mashed banana and half a teaspoon of cinnamon was added to the recipe.

The verdict: husband - "good muffin recipe"; children - "mmm, how many are we allowed"; mum - well I scoffed several more than I allowed the children, as they are decidedly moreish and with all those healthy ingredients, there just seemed no point in resisting. Part of the batch did last until the next day, so that I could assess their staying power - it only took me two more muffins to decide that really they keep very well, just as moist and chewy the day after baking and would probably be so the day after that too, if there were any left.

I tag any of you out there who haven't already baked these deceptively healthy muffins.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Guinea-Pigs Galore

Ruby and Diamond

Ever since we lost our last guinea-pig, Squeaky 2, to death by unspecified causes, our rabbit, Speedy, has been on his own. He seemed rather depressed and lonely, as he had come to us with a guinea-pig companion. We didn't want to become inadvertant rabbit breeders, so I'd had half an ear listening out for a new guinea-pig. The friend that we'd originally got them from had had a tragedy involving a Jack Russell running amok in the small animal enclosure, pet shops seemed to be all out of guinea-pigs. A few months went by. Friends visited with their new pet, that they hadn't wanted to leave alone at home overnight, a young female rabbit! Speedy exploded from his inertia into interested action and the children came in saying "Speedy is squashing Toffee!" Any hopes that she was too young to reproduce were dismissed and they had to be kept seperately. His alertness receded after they left and he was alone once more, with only ravening dogs drooling on the other side of the wire for company, in between the children's visits.

Finally I heard that the pet shop were getting some guinea-pigs. I rang to make sure and took the children into town yesterday to look at them. There were two. A mother and a young male. The children of course loved the little one. Their mother, revealing sentimental tendencies usually well in hand around temptation to multiply the mouths to feed in our household, felt bad about leaving the mother all on her own in the pet shop. There was also a possibility she was pregnant. Fuzzy thoughts about it being nice for the children to experience baby animals clouded my judgement and we brought both home with us. Practical issues cleared the fuzziness all too quickly. Speedy was thrilled with his new companions, but showed every inclination to mate with the mother guinea-pig, regardless of species and pregnant state. The young one smelled of her so was also "squashed" intermittantly.

My hopes of them all sharing Speedy's large cage faded - I had lumbered us with the necesssity of building a new cage, possibly two to keep the male and female guinea pig apart once she has the babies. They can all share the main enclosure but we'll have to give them seperate outside time if Speedy maintains his interest in "squashing" the others. Speedy is still lonely and now frusrated as well!

I spent a while searching the internet for information on breeding guinea-pigs and on keeping rabbits and guinea-pigs together, but ended up with far too much conflicting information, plus anxiety about a, hitherto unknown to me, potentially fatal bacteria that rabbits can pass to guinea-pigs, plus the information that they have completely different body language to each other, rabbits enjoying constant grooming of each other, whereas guinea-pigs protest with vociferous squeaks. Guinea-pigs need more vitamin C than rabbits and so should eat a differently balanced diet etc etc. Ignorance was certainly bliss, as the previous Squeaky had co-existed perfectly happily with Speedy.

The children spent ages trying to find names for the new arrivals. All my food related name suggestions, such as Ginger and Fudge were rejected. Squeaky 3 was decreed to be unlucky after the short lifespan of the previous holders of the name. Eventually my son came up with Ruby and Diamond, which seemed to fit them just right.

Now we just need to build another cage and make contact with the previous owner to find out how old Ruby is and how many weeks pregnant...and maybe find a rabbit companion for Speedy - internet info mentioned that it was now common to neuter rabbits so that they could live as a pair without populating the entire neighbourhood. I don't whether that is usual here in South Africa?

Youngest also has plans to get herself a bird and some fish.............