Friday, 19 June 2009

A diet fit for Royalty and other weird food

I have been thinking for two weeks about my 100th post on this blog. I wanted it to be something really profound. I haven’t come with anything nearly weighty, philosophical and reflective enough to be termed profound though... What about something fun however? Yeah! Let’s do another weird food! I have a small selection of rather unusual cookbooks. I find them in dusty old second hand bookshops. If you browse through all the Microwave cookbooks (which came standard with microwave ovens in the 80’s) you’ll find some unexpected treasures. There was one Microwave Oven brand and I think it was Sharp which came with a cookbook called Bon Appetite. I have yet to come across a second hand bookshop which does not at least proudly sport one copy! Back to old cookbooks though, many times their worth are not much to use for cooking from, as for making a fascinating read instead. One of my little treasures is Mrs McKee’s Royal Cookery Book. The caption below the title describes the book as: A day-to-day cookery book by the former cook to H.M. The Queen and H.M. The Queen Mother. The book was published in 1964 by Arlington Books. References in her book makes me suspect that she was of Swedish origin. She states that she learned to cook in Sweden. Here then, two weird recipes from Mrs McKee’s Royal collection: NETTLE SOUP (Nessel Kal in Swedish) If you have a garden with a stinging nettle problem, don’t despair – eat them. In Sweden nettle soup is quite a delicacy; (why is weird food always a delicacy somewhere?) Nettle tops have a light delicious taste rather like asparagus; and people say they are good for you, I can’t remember why, something to do with rheumatism, I think. However, they are certainly good made into soup. Snip off tender nettle tops in April or early May, cook and sieve them and make according to the following recipe which has been handed down through many generations in Sweden. ½ pint cooked and sieved nettle tops 1 pint good stock made from veal and pork bones 1 tablespoon cold butter ½ tablespoon finely chopped chives 1 tablespoon flour, Pepper, salt and a pinch of sugar Bring the stock to the boil and thicken with the flour diluted in a little water. Simmer for ten minutes. Add the seasoning and sugar, the sieved nettles and chives. Simmer for twenty minutes. Add the butter, remove from heat and stir with a whisk. Keep warm. And another treasure from Mrs McKee BEEF TEA (Beats any diet for weight loss) Preparing Beef Tea is another thing which makes you feel wonderfully virtuous and Mrs. Beetonish. Originally, of course, it was designed for invalids but it is also excellent when you want to go on a crash diet and still preserve your energy. Drink nothing but beef tea for two or three days and you will be strong as well as slim: 2 lbs shin of beef A root and two springs of parsley 2 pints of water Salt to taste Cut the meat into small pieces and free from fat. Place in an earthenware jar or pot with water and a little salt. Clean and cut the parsley root and add to the meat with the springs. Allow to stand for half an hour. Then cover the jar and place in a pan of water. Boil for five or six hours. Strain through a muslin cloth. Nou ja, daar het jy dit!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Ethan of Athos

‘Ethan of Athos’ by Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is Science Fiction, but falls in the category of ‘Soft SciFi’. The distinguishing quality of Soft SciFi is that it is character driven. The story and characters takes precedence over the ‘science’. In ‘Hard SciFi’ the characters and story are also important, but the science is more of an integral part of the story. The Original Trilogy of StarWars can be presented as an example of Soft SciFi. StarWars OT is basically, if you analyse the elements, a fairy tale set in space. Soft SciFi are often very accessible to everyone and not only to hard baked dyed-in-the-wool SciFi fanatics. Back to Ethan of Athos – here’s the back cover summary: You might think that an obstetrician on a planet forbidden to women would be underemployed... Not so, Dr Ethan Urquhart, Chief of Biology at the Severin District Reproduction Centre is one of the busiest men on the planet Athos. That is, until a mysterious genetic crisis threatens Athos with extinction. Drafted to brave the wider universe for his cloistered fellows in quest of new ovarian tissue cultures, Ethan braces himself for his first encounter with those most alien of aliens...females of his own species. But braced or not, his wildest imaginings could never have stiffened him sufficiently for alliance with Dendarii Mercenary Commander Elli Quinn, an utterly gorgeous mercenary intelligence officer who has her own secret interest in Athos’ problems and Ethan as well.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Sourdough bread, a heavenly pastry and job-hunting

I, J. Hardspear de la Azotea finally managed to produce a genuine sourdough loaf! (Well two actually) Much as I want to say that I have cultured the initial sourdough starter (suurdeeg plantjie) myself, I cannot claim that. After not getting it right, I sort of put off and put off and putt off doing it again, though I very much wanted to give it another shot. Then I heard about this peculiar bakery in Vanderbijlpark – remember I live in the Dirty Vaal Triangle. The place is called the Civic Bakery and is situated in an obscure place sort of on the edge of the CBD. Now, as everywhere else in South Africa, the CBDs of towns and cities have degenerated quite dramatically. High-end shops are now situated in malls in the middle-class and upper-class neighbourhoods. Now, when being told about this not-easy-to-spot bakery in Vanderbijlpark (town known for its mega-sized steel industries) which sells divine and heavenly items of confectionary, real sourdough bread and even unusual items such as pain de fantasie (breads sculpted into forms like animals or plaited or highly decorated breads), I must admit that I was sceptical. I had to go there though. I found it because of the good directions I was given. Walking up to the bakery, I was confronted with shop-front windows painted cream sporting a non-descript logo and the words ‘civic bakery’. It had the look of a low grade industrial bakery. Inside looked much the same, save for what was stacked behind the glass of the counter and shelves. ‘S true’s nuts! Little bread rolls looking exactly like tortoises, twisted & plaited breads. Crisp sugared doughnuts and the most irresistible looking Danish pastries. I chose a cherry Danish. I then asked the lady behind the counter if they use real sourdough. She replied that they did, especially the German and Austrian rye breads and the Italian chiabatta. I lamented that I am unable to culture my own sourdough starter and asked if she would sell me a piece of theirs. She then told me that her husband is the baker and that he is not in. I asked her for his number so that I can ask him myself. I must have looked desperate, because she went to the back and came back with a walnut sized piece of sourdough in a greaseproof bag. She looked a bit worried and informed me that she sincerely hopes that her husband would not be angry with her, and that he still would have enough for tomorrow’s batch. Outside I opened my little box containing the Danish and gingerly took a bite. At the sound of violins I closed my eyes and ascended to heaven. The fresh flaky pastry melted in my mouth. The richness of the buttery pastry, the sweetness of the icing and the tart cherry filling made me slowly spin in the air. I gave the big old black dog that has been snapping at my heels all week a great big kick in the mouth and he ran off yelping into the distance. Yes, no Prozac can dissolve depression like real top quality confectionary! But then it must not be a dry bready piece of confectionary filled with evil gag reflex inducing gelatinous confectioner’s custard or fake soapy confectioner’s cream made from dairy substitutes so loaded with trans fats that it coats your tongue and palate with goo reminiscent of rancid sheep’s fat. To make it worse, some of it is covered with “chocolate” which turns out to be chocolate icing made from cheap margarine. The strange thing is though, people love this crap. They queue at supermarkets’ bakeries to buy these abominations. Back on earth I manage to find my car and drive home. When I arrived I’ve sufficiently recovered to give the sourdough some attention. I made a well of flour (1 cup) on the countertop into which I poured ¼ cup warm water. I broke up the sourdough ball in this well and proceeded to incorporate some of the fresh flour into the middle. (Some higher-end SPAR stores sell organic unbleached bread flour from Eureka Mills near Heidelberg in the Western Cape.) I continued till all the flour was incorporated into a rather stiff ball of dough. I then kneaded till soft and very malleable. I then put it in a bowl covered with a tea towel in a warm place for about five hours. I repeated the process a few times every time increasing with a greater amount of flour and water till by the next day (Saturday afternoon) I had enough to bake with. All this and I ended up with two lovely loaves of Pain Blanc au Levain (white bread made from sourdough) We invited friends over and I made soup for starter and a hearty stew for mains. I served the bread as an accompaniment to both. The soup and stew went down well, but everyone raved about the bread. They finished both loaves and complained that I didn’t make more bread. One guest actually became upset. I managed to appease him a bit with baked pudding which he had with both cream and custard! As I have said, I had the old black dog on my back last week and did not have the energy to post regularly. The whole out-of-work-staying-at-home thing is getting a bit long in the tooth now. A cherry Danish saved me though, and bread baking gave me some purpose. I have saved a piece of my second refreshment of the sourdough and put it in the fridge. The challenge now will be to keep my sourdough alive. The bread is so delicious though, I have enough motivation to keep on baking. The next bread I am going to try is.... TADA!... a real San Francisco Sourdough! I have started looking for jobs with renewed vigour now, and I have actually had initial responses from putting my cv on a job-site on the internet. I am also considering going to the baker of that weird bakery to ask if he would take me in as an apprentice...

Monday, 1 June 2009

Laughing at ourselves

ADD Jokes How many ADDers does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but it took several light bulbs and several months to get it done because the ADDer..... Paid for the lightbulb then left it in the shop on the counter. Dropped another light bulb out of a hole in his/her shopping bag didn't notice and ran over it with a truck. Bought the wrong sort of lightbulb because s/he couldn't be bothered checking which sort of light bulb was needed cause that's boring. Left the light bulb under a pile of clothes for several weeks before s/he got around to trying to put it up. Couldn't remember who s/he gave the ladder too so decided they had to go buy another. Took the old light bulb down put it on the floor next to the new light bulb got distracted by an idea in his/her head. Ran to get notebook to write idea down idea forgot about light bulb for an hour as other thoughts came to mind, remembered lightbulb couldn't figure out which was the old light bulb and which was the new light bulb AARRRRRRRRRRRRRGWho invented such an inhuman thing as a light bulb?! Have you heard about the ADD computer virus? It periodically erases your RAM but your computer runs at 1000 000 Mhz and multitasks like a supercomputer! QUESTION: How would they diagnose ADD in a chicken? ANSWER: It never gets all the way across the road because of all the distractions.