freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, this is 2017. *looks around vaguely* ... you'd think they'd update the decor. We had the usual lovely New Year's dinner chez jo&stv, with distributed cooking and a metric buttload of champagne, of which I drank very little as apparently I can't drink more than two glasses of anything these days without feeling sick the next day. I made duck. Because duck. I should record for posterity that I made something almost, but not quite, completely unlike the Asian marinade found here - I left out the coffee, added lime juice, and used honey instead of sugar, and the proportions were all different because my invariable principle is not to measure anything and to keep on flinging in bits until it tastes right. But the flavour combination is amazing.

I am still on leave, calloo callay, although it's a slightly hands-on sort of leave. With one hand I am examining a thesis which is forcing me to read more creolisation theory than my non-postcolonial-fondling soul is strictly happy with, sigh, although on the upside it's on Nalo Hopkinson, who is a groovy sf writer. With the other hand I am wrangling orientation leaders, curriculum advisors and random queries from my boss, as I'm apparently constitutionally incapable of going on leave without reading email, and am forced to ritually curse the terminal conscientiousness of my Lawful Good. With my proverbial third hand I am attempting to mend, alter and generally refurbish my wardrobe, and with a fourth hand I am playing Portal, which I had unaccountably neglected to play before despite being absurdly familiar with it via pop cultural osmosis. Dashed through the first one in short order, am nearly finished Portal 2 with enough puzzle-solving panache to have minimal resort to walk-throughs. Both games are elegant, intelligent, darkly funny creations, deservedly classics. I love the goo bits, so creative.

In between all of the above I am lovingly prodding my container garden, which is performing GREEN! with some verve despite water restrictions and the need to amble around with a watering can rather than sloshing about with a hose.

garden1.jpg

My subject line is a quote from Portal, early GLaDOS, before she gets passive aggressive. She gets quite spectacularly passive aggressive. So far 2017 is off to a reasonable start, but I darkly suspect it's also going to get passive aggressive, and possibly actively homicidal.

children of the corn

Saturday, 22 October 2016 03:21 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I do not at all wish to think about the campus situation, given that library and lab access was, in fact, disrupted by protests all week, and that clashes with police and security have become violent. My inbox is filled with panicked and plaintive queries, I am exhausted and despairing, and I am forced to contemplate the need to produce four weeks of teaching in virtual form by the end of this weekend. I am therefore going to distract myself with cooking, mostly because I have recently discovered American-style cornbread, and both Jo and Claire are badgering me for the recipe.

I have wanted to make American-style cornbread for years, because it sounds cool, but we don't actually produce cornmeal of the requisite grade in this country, so I've never pulled it together before. However, a couple of months back one of the Tumblr bloggers I read posted a recipe for skillet cornbread with caramelised onions, which looked so good I was moved to do five minutes of internet research, which revealed that you can substitute the cornmeal in cornbread with polenta, which is, in fact, apparently identical to coarse-ground cornmeal. As I retain my pathological inability to follow a recipe with any degree of fidelity, I am posting below my version, rather than simply linking to his, although you can have the original link as well, here. My version doesn't caramelise the onions with actual caramel, but compensates by upping the butterfat quotient of the cornbread itself to more civilised levels, i.e. decadent ones. I will have no truck with skimmed milk. It also reduces the amount of maple syrup, because I think this is better if it's not too sweet. It doesn't seem to make much difference if you use real maple syrup or maple-flavoured golden syrup, you just need that touch of sweetness and flavour.

SKILLET CORNBREAD WITH CARAMELISED ONIONS

Onion Topping:
1 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp butter
1 medium-sized red onion, diced (or sweet white onion if you can find them)

Cornbread:
1 egg
250ml full cream Greek yoghurt (you could use low fat if you prefer, but why?)
125ml buttermilk (or normal milk if you must be health-conscious)
3 Tbsp melted butter
3 tblsp maple syrup
250ml polenta
60ml flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 a tin of whole kernel sweetcorn (this is optional, but works very well).

I make this in a weird but magical handle-less stainless steel pan thingy I inherited from Jo(ty) when she and Phleep fled the country - it has a nice heavy base, which I think is the important bit, and you can bung it in the oven owing to the lack of handle. I've also made this in a Dutch oven, i.e. my heavy cast-iron Le Creuset knockoff. You don't need anything with a lid.

  • Preheat oven to 425oF
  • Caramelise the onions: on medium to low heat, melt the 3 tblsp butter and add the chopped onions. Allow to sweat gently and soften for about 20 mins, stirring occasionally, until they start caramelising properly. Cheat and add 1 tsp brown sugar and a little water. Cook another 5 mins or so.
  • Mix dry ingredients (polenta, flour, backing powder, baking soda, salt) in a mixing bowl. Mix yoghurt, milk, melted butter and syrup with the egg in a measuring jug. Fling wet and sinfully fatty ingredients into dry ingredients and mix.
  • Mix in the sweetcorn. You can also fling in things like bits of chilli, chopped peppadews, crispy bacon bits, grated cheese or chopped spring onion, although I wouldn't put them all in at once. I like the spring onion/peppadew version, although the whole corn one is my favourite.
  • Tilt the onion pan to run the butter up the sides, for greasing purposes, and spread the onions vaguely evenly over the bottom.
  • Pour the batter over the onions and bung into the pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch and starting to brown. Let it cool for five minutes or so before loosening the sides and inverting onto a plate. You'll end up with a flat round loaf with caramelised onion topping, like a savoury upside down cake.
  • This is damned good with chili, or soup, or in chunks all on its own, and would make a superb and wildly cross-cultural accompaniment to braai. It's also, I warn you, absurdly moreish, I can flatten a whole loaf unaided in 24 hours. If eating it over a couple of days, it works to microwave slices for 20 seconds or so on Day 2, it freshens them and it's better warm.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This house smells of cake. Lots of cake. Really rather a lot of different cake, because I am (finally!) having a housewarming tomorrow, and the exigencies of space being what they are, have advertised myself as being At Home to visitors from 2 to 7pm, drop by when convenient, tea and cake if afternoon, booze if evening. This morning was very full of cake. I think I entered a sort of cake-baking fugue state, actually. I got into a rhythm. I looked up after a blurred and indeterminate amount of time and there was cake on every surface in the kitchen. There is blackcurrant jam in my hair, butter adorning my front, and a rather delectable Guinness/chocolate batter mix down what for want of a better word we'll call my cleavage. I am more than somewhat vanilla-scented and feeling astonishingly happy.

The laser-focus baking spree was partially motivated by fear, because in addition to the usual concerns (will anyone come? will there be enough food? enough glasses? enough things for them to sit on? will they all fit?) we currently face the merry South African challenge of whether or not Eskom, in its infinite inefficiency, will suddenly hit us with load shedding. They say not, but I don't trust them an inch. It would be just my luck to have something delicate in the oven when the lights die. The inscrutable gods of power are mostly quite good at pulling the plug punctually within their stipulated times, but only mostly.

You can also deduce from context that I'm on leave, calloo callay, and contemplate with joy three and a half weeks in which students can't get at me in person. Tomorrow is also one of those mad random South African public holidays, which is why I can plonk a housewarming onto it. Fittingly, my car system launched into Franz Ferdinand (inevitably, having gone from Eurythmics to Fleet Foxes) on my way home from work on Friday, my last day for the year. "It's always better on holiday!", it warbled. Hence my subject line. I hear you, Cosmic Wossnames.

Randomly, my At Home card for tomorrow. Because I had fun making it, and there's an offchance I left someone vital off the To: list, because it's the end of the year and I'm exhausted, so what little brain I have at the best of times has trickled sadly out of my ears. If you didn't receive this and are a Cape Town realspace friend who wishes to assist in celebrating my state of domicile, please email me!



Art evilly nicked from Brian Kesinger, whose Otto and Victoria are a whimsical steampunky delight. I hope he doesn't mind.

say cheese

Monday, 21 April 2014 10:57 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
My grandmother (maternal, for the use of) was generally a dreadful cook, firmly in the lesser British tradition of stodge, overcooked vegetables and the general, fixed conviction that being terribly serious about the quality of the food you produce is some sort of decadent European vice and not to be indulged at any cost. (I identify this in sharp contradistinction to the greater British tradition of gloriously hearty fare, which has given us apple pie, superlative pork products and infinite varieties of pudding and cake, and should be celebrated in legend, song and heaped second helpings). I remember with some vividness the particular stodge-bent which led Gran to offer any serious meal with both rice and potatoes in the main course, and with both cream and custard for the dessert. Also, her scones used to be over-baking-powdered to the point where they squeaked on your teeth, and she made pastry which has been an inspiration to me my entire life mostly because I'm damned determined never to reproduce anything resembling hers. It was always a bit leathery, and she used to sugar the hell out of it. Eek. I was greatly fond of my Gran, but not of her food. It's a source of both amazement and pride to me that my mother is a good cook in the teeth of the odds.

One thing that Gran did do well, though, was a cheese scone thing - more of a savoury muffin, really - which originated, I believe, with a great-aunt, and which I have both adopted and adapted to the point where Gran probably wouldn't recognise it and would regard with suspicion and disdain its culinary exuberances. (I have regarded with suspicion and disdain its baking powder excesses and have reduced them forthwith). This is quick and easy and really rather good in its overall effect, a marvellous recipe for making at the drop of a hat when you have guests for tea - I inflict it frequently on the unsuspecting, mostly recently [livejournal.com profile] egadfly and his Nice Lady in one of their characteristically flying Cape Town jaunts. Since I promised Iza, herewith the recipe.

Gran's Improved Randomised Cheese Scones

  • 360ml flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Whatever other spices grab your fancy – I like a tsp. of smoked paprika, you could try cumin, coriander, dried mustard, etc. Cheese does need a bit of underlining with something that delivers bite.
  • Approx. 1 packed cup grated cheddar or other sharp cheese (you can actually vary this fairly safely, I like them more cheesy than this, and a Parmesan/cheddar mix is a particularly good effect)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tblsp oil (olive oil is preferable for flavour)
  • 180ml milk (buttermilk or sour cream is even better, you could probably also try yoghurt)
  • Bits! Optional, but I like to add any combination of chopped chives, other chopped herbs, chopped spring onions, fried bacon bits, fried red onion bits, toasted pine nuts, chopped peppadews, etc. You could add cooked vegetable bits (e.g. pumpkin or grated baby marrow) for a muffin-like effect. These are also quite good with small chunks of feta or chevin crumbled into them, or, more accurately in the case of chevin, glodged.


  1. Preheat oven to 400oF.
  2. Sift dry ingredients together.
  3. Beat egg, oil and milk together and chuck into dry ingredients. (All the best quick-and-easy recipes don't mind if you chuck stuff in together more or less wholesale - my banana bread recipe, courtesy of Michelle, actually specifies "sift dry ingredients and chuck in.")
  4. Mix (not too savagely, this requires a few goes with a wooden spoon, not a food processor) to make a stiff batter, and stir in cheese and whatever bits you’re flinging in. I usually add a bit more milk if it’s too stiff.
  5. Drop into greased muffin tins in generous dollops, these are better if they’re a bit larger - at least two-thirds fill the tins.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Serve hot if at all possible, with butter. They respond quite well to being bunged into a hot oven for a few minutes to refresh them if you're eating them a day or so later. Warning: seriously moreish. They make a damned good accompaniment to soup, too.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Here is another entry in the Department Of The Approximately One Million Things That Make Me Cry. "Space Oddity" is a fairly emotional piece of music anyway, considered quite apart from its position in my pervy-David-Bowie-fancying lexicon: it's a particularly vivid and evocative rendition of isolation and loss layered on top of stirring human endeavour. Space is simply emotional, and humans in space hit a deeply-embedded science fictional nerve in my psyche. (Which suggests why it's taking me so long to get around to watching Moon, and also why I really ought to). I've also been following Chris Hadfield on Twitter and Tumblr, as he patiently and systematically humanises the space station project - not so much putting a human face on it, as skilfully using the immediacy and speed of social media to insert us into the experience. It's been wonderful, both exciting and moving - he's an amazing man. He also posts the odd photo of Cape Town from orbit, which makes me ridiculously happy.

He's coming back down to Earth now, and as a farewell has released a version of "Space Oddity" sung, rather well, by himself, in the space station. This is a perfect thing. It's been bouncing around my Tumblr and Twitter feeds all morning, accompanied by righteous squee. It also hits so many of my buttons simultaneously that I've just sat at my desk for ten minutes and cried like a baby.



I've had a rather madly social weekend - book club on Friday, Neil's birthday on Saturday, and a Sunday night dinner I cooked last night with Jo&Stv and Sven&Tanya featuring wine, hilarity and roast chicken with all the trimmings, not to mention a new recipe for chocolate mousse which ... seems to work. All three of these gatherings were not particularly notable in that they featured me, at some stage, babbling enthusiastically about fan fiction, as a result of which Jo was moved to suggest that I actually post some links to these stories for the general enlightenment or bewilderment of my readers. Which is a damned good idea.

As an opening shot, and in keeping with the Space Feels, have a series of really rather interesting AU fics re-imagining the Avengers in a space opera setting. I'm impressed at the creativity of this writer: the way they've managed to take the characters and relationships of the Marvel films and explore them via a rather different idiom but with a sensitive eye to emotional and political resonance. Also, bonus AI politics and Tony Stark as technomancer with nanotech, communicating with JARVIS via a neural implant. JARVIS is simply cool. icarus_chained, Space Electric.

Added bonus: I've managed to shamelessly use both "evocative" and "resonant" in the same post. I blame the Space Feels.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Hooray, Friday! and, after a four-hour meeting yesterday (I exaggerate only slightly, it started at 12.00 and finished at 3.45pm) I have absolutely no brain at all and will quiver slightly and show the whites of my eyes if you mention the phrase "teaching and learning" in any context other than that of hearty cussing. Fortunately there are memes for that. Given the high concentration of maddened cooks and foodies in my immediate vicinity, I thought this one particularly appropriate - please adopt it if the mood takes you, in the comments or elsewhere. Also, food gadget pr0n! And, possibly, culinary one-upmanship, and/or fiercely chauvinistic gadget-hatred.

This is the Kitchen Cupboard Meme, wot I nicked off [livejournal.com profile] matociquala, in that way that seems a bit rude when it's an author-blogger you read but who doesn't know you from a bar of soap. Bold the gadgets you have and use at least once a year, italicize the ones you have and don't use, strike through the ones you had but got rid of. I have also underlined the ones I don't have and would like to own, and urge you to do likewise in the spirit of future birthday lists and general wishful thinking.

"I wonder how many pasta machines, breadmakers, juicers, blenders, deep fat fryers, egg boilers, melon ballers, sandwich makers, pastry brushes, cheese boards, cheese knives, electric woks, salad spinners, griddle pans, jam funnels, meat thermometers, filleting knives, egg poachers, cake stands, garlic crushers, martini glasses, tea strainers, bamboo steamers, pizza stones, coffee grinders, milk frothers, piping bags, banana stands, fluted pastry wheels, tagine dishes, conical strainers, rice cookers, steam cookers, pressure cookers, slow cookers, spaetzle makers, cookie presses, gravy strainers, double boilers, sukiyaki stoves, ice cream makers, fondue sets, healthy-grills, home smokers, tempura sets, tortilla presses, electric whisks, cherry stoners, sugar thermometers, food processors,bacon presses, bacon slicers, mouli mills, cake testers, pestle-and-mortars, and sets of kebab skewers languish dustily at the back of the nation's cupboards."

I add to this, in the spirit of joyous and highly specialised excess, mezzalunas, egg separators, nutmeg graters, egg timers, pizza slicers, cookbook holders, onion graters, fat separators, potato mashers and mandolins.

Caveat: I've counted the things in our kitchen rather than the things that I actually own: the fondue sets, kebab skewers and pizza stone are property of the Evil Landlord. Further caveat: I have interpreted "juicers" as the non-electrical variety, ymmv. I also record for posterity my unnatural fondness for a sort of mandolin thingy my mother used to own, which had a set of harp-like cheese-wire thingies in a row, and a depression you lowered them onto: it was for slicing eggs, and was probably categorisable as some sort of mandolin. She never used it, but I loved playing the wires like a harp.

Also, what the hell is a bacon press? Confused.

the day is dreary

Wednesday, 19 September 2012 01:28 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Oh, dear. Apparently returning to work after a lovely three weeks of academic stimulation interspersed with holiday is a rude shock to the system, or at least to my sub-standard and idiosyncratic system. My lack of internet presence over the last week is because it's been a horrible week for fatigue, and I'm stumbling home from work in a more or less zomboid state more or less daily, groaning "braaaaains" to myself in a faintly pleading grr-aargh whisper. One of the nasty knock-on effects of the chronic fatigue has been the way in which, with pin-point accuracy, and whooping with callous glee, it targets my hormonal cycle: I have about four days a month in which I'm not only menstrual, I'm dragging myself around the show feeling as though I've just run the Comrades while being continuously beaten with sticks. I have absolutely no idea what to do about this. Do any of your nice ladies experience the menstrual fatigue thing? Is there anything you can do about it? The words "iron supplements" are floating vaguely around my brain looking for something to attach themselves to. (I decline to apologise to the nice male readers for whom this is Too Much Information, incidentally. Our society needs to get infinitely less precious about talking about this Girly Stuff).

Fortunately social stimulation does have an off-chance of overriding the fatigue, if Sunday night was anything to go by. My ongoing state of "Bah, humbug" means I really don't enjoy Christmas at Christmas time, owing to the horrible weight of socio-religious expectation it wears around its neck like a Juniper Tree millstone. I do, however, bizarrely enjoy the giant-festive-meal aspect of Christmas if you gently detach it from (a) socio-religious expectation, (b) ritualised and unquestioned family obligations and (c) the stinking hot middle of summer, hence our well-developed tendency to do Christmas in July, which tends to become Christmas in July in August in September owing to our general disorganisation.

At any rate, on Sunday night I finally cooked the turducken, with contributions from guests in the way of veggies and dessert and Jo's amazing Polish beet soup, for eight of us. We ate just over half of the damned thing. That's a lot of meat. But it was very good, particularly when pot-roasted, glazed with honey, and accompanied by good company, lots of booze, silly hats, crackers and perfectly ludicrous random presents in large piles. I am now the proud, or possibly stunned, possessor of a gorilla mask, a trio of small plastic aliens and a pair of bat-glasses, which we've established I have to wear when I duck out of a meeting early because the signal projected on the clouds summons me to a student in distress.



Turducken! With stuffing in small rissoley things, because if you have a deboned turkey which is stuffed with a deboned duck which is stuffed with a deboned chicken, you can't actually stuff any body cavities, and stuffing birds for roasting is one of my innocent cooking pleasures. Also, pork and apple and peanuts. Photo, of course, by maxbarners. Hands attached to me.

And, finally, in the Department of Random Linkery, I thoroughly recommend Captain Awkward for sensible, earthy, often very funny advice, occasionally with added poetry extremely gratifying to my inner lit-major soul. Writing about Catherynne Valente's poetry for that second conference has reminded me how very much I love poetry, and how little I read it these days. This shall change. Today's discovery: Pablo Neruda.

charming potato

Sunday, 12 February 2012 10:23 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
You know I make those oven-baked baby potato thingies for braais? Where you halve the baby potatoes and sling them into a pan with garlic and olive oil and whatever other seasonings occur to you at the time (herbs, lemon, spices, the flesh of the living), and bake them until crispy? Well, this evening Jo & I, via the essentially random processes outlined above, accidentally created the best ever version of this. The One True Crispy Potato. The Platonic Ideal. I undertook to blog it quickly before we both forgot what we did. Herewith.

Excessive Potatoes

So, you need:
  • 1kg baby potatoes. (This serves 4 of us. Don't mock). I like the Woolies yellow-fleshed Mediterranean ones, but any will do.
  • A generous splodge of peanut oil.
  • A couple of fairly heaped tablespoons of crushed garlic/ginger mix.
  • Two mediumly ferocious chillis, chopped, seeds included.
  • A mad sprinkling of Thai seven spice, to taste, but I tend to sprinkle a bit wildly.
  • Half a pack of uncooked bacon bits.
  • A couple of tablespoons of honey.
  • A couple of tablespoons of soy sauce.
  • A dash of fish sauce.
  • A generous couple of handfuls of chopped spring onion.
So, you halve the potatoes and sling them into a wide roasting pan sort of thingy. Splosh generously with peanut oil; add ginger/garlic and Thai seven spice, and salt liberally. Whizz the potatoes around with a spatula to coat evenly with oil and seasonings. Chop chillis finely and add. Whizz around some more.
Stick the pan into a preheated 200o oven, uncovered, for 30-45mins. If you remember you could come and mix up the pan a bit halfway through so they brown more or less evenly, but I usually forget.
At a point around 20 mins from the meat coming off the braai, add the bacon bits. Swirl around madly to coat/mix. Sling back into the oven.
Ten minutes later, haul the pan out of the oven and slosh over the potatoes the mixture of honey and soy/fish sauce you have previously prepared by warming the honey very slightly in the microwave before mixing in the soy and fish sauce. Once again, mix madly. Sling back in the oven.
As the meat arrives onto the table off the braai, triumphantly haul the potatoes out of the oven and decant into a serving bowl, making sure to scrape out the somewhat delectable sauce remnants and bits of crispy bacon. Add the chopped spring onions and mix together. (We contemplated adding sesame seeds, but it seemed redundant at this point).
Serve, to universal adulation and overeating.

I have only two things to add, being a bit overwhelmed by too much registration, too much braai, too much braai smoke, and a two-day headache.
(1) The possibilities for Skyrim mods seen in this video are making me drool more than slightly. Also, the editing on that irritatingly catchy tune is sheer genius. (I know that irritatingly catchy tune all too well because my OLs insist on using it every year for their opening presentation thingy. It's a terrible ear-worm even without all the arrow in the knee bits).
(2) I am utterly enjoying Veronica Mars anyway, but the last episode I watched completely made my weekend by developing precisely the 'ship I've been rooting for madly for about half the season. This makes me feel smug, and gratified, and prescient.

I have to note for posterity that my subject line will make absolutely no sense to anyone who doesn't read Pajiba. If you did, you'd know that the site has a running gag where they refer to Channing Tatum solely by the sobriquet of Charming Potato. You have to admit it's terribly apt.

tchokka cheep

Sunday, 20 March 2011 09:17 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I can't make chocolate chip cookies without remembering the first Jo'burg roleplaying tournament I ever played, which was one run by the Wits crew, way before ICON was even a twinkle in Grant's eye. It was a cute tournament. We played pygmies, members of the Tchokka Cheep tribe, tasked with dealing with a crashed spaceship in our jungle. I was in the 'B' team, having had all of about two years of roleplaying experience by then, and we dismally and totally failed to do anything meaningful to the module. I don't even remember who else was in the team - Mike, certainly, possibly Anton? Carlo? I was probably 22, it's a hell of a long time ago now. It was fun. But it's the "Tchokka Cheep! Tchokka Cheep!" chant which stays with me, for some reason.

All of which is an unlikely segue into the fact that [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun asked me for my chocolate chip cookie recipe. Since I am still sinusy and pretty much without brain after a blissful four days of doing damn near nothing, I am delighted to oblige her and incidentally achieve a free blog post without needing to think about it.

TCHOKKA CHEEP COOKIES

(This recipe is based on the Quick Oatmeal Cookies one from The Joy of Cooking, with variations. I think if you stood over me with a whip you might persuade me not to fiddle with a recipe for the space of a single iteration, but it's a long shot).

  • 125ml soft brown sugar (they're currently selling it as treacle sugar, for no adequately defined reason)
  • 125ml brown sugar (i.e. the yellow-brown unrefined sugar with the same granule size as normal sugar)
  • 110g butter (not marg, it does affect the flavour)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tblsp milk
  • 250ml cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (optional, but I think it improves it - you can also stuff around with allspice and cloves if you feel so impelled)
  • 250 ml uncooked quick-cook rolled oats
  • 2 bars Bournville Dark (the 90g slab. And when did those start being 90g instead of 100g? Rotten swizz, if you ask me).
  • 100g pecan nuts

Right, so for various arcane reasons this recipe is much easier to make when the weather's hot, particularly since I just burned the motor out of my hand mixer. To start with, preheat the oven to 350/180, and leave the butter out on the counter for half an hour so it's a bit soft and you don't have to start the process with an ice-pick.

Either sling the butter and both sugars into your food processor and process the hell out of them with the normal blade, OR mix with a hand mixer, OR assault it sadistically with a wooden spoon. By whichever method, or preferred substitute (place in large tub and dance upon with clean wooden clogs?), you want the butter/sugar mix all creamy and slightly light. Add the egg, vanilla and milk to it and give it another whirl so it's even lighter and creamier.

If you're using the processor, at this stage use a rubber spatula to remove the mix and put it into a large bowl. If you're using a wooden spoon or hand mixer you should already be using a large bowl. Oops. Go back and use a larger bowl.

Right, now sift the flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt and spices into the creamed mix. Secret confession: I don't usually bother to sift them. The skies have not yet fallen, nor have the biscuits. Mix it all in, either by hand or by machine - it should be a slightly sludgy batter. Now sling in the oats and mix with a wooden spoon - trying to use a machine at this stage will burn out the motor, see above. You'll end up with a sort of crumbly oaty consistency, not a smooth batter.

Unwrap the two slabs of Bournville Dark and place them lovingly on a chopping board. Take a large, broad-bladed knife, a sharp one, and pray it's a warm day, softening the choc just enough to cut it easily. (Bournville Dark is very hard indeed in temperate climes. See ice-pick, above). Slice the bar in a grid both ways, so that each block is cut into two both lengthways and widthways. The best way to do this is to put the knife across the line you want to cut and lean on it heavily - as I say, works better if the weather is warmer. You could cheat like hell here and use commercial chocolate chips, but I don't like the grade of chocolate they use. Feel free to ignore my chocolate snobbery. Your delicate bar-hackery process should end up with a whole bunch of semi-regular chocolate blocks plus a whole bunch of shavings, bits and what have you. Fling the whole lot into the biscuit mix.

Coarsely chop the pecan nuts - I usually aim to cut them approximately in half down the length and in three bits the other way, but this is not an exact science. You want chunks of pecan nut of a pleasing size to bite upon unexpectedly in a cookie. Sling them into the mix.

Mix the mix a bit with a wooden spoon to make sure everything is more or less distributed. Your texture here should be a sort of sticky-together oatmealy not-quite-batter full of pleasing nutty/choccy chunks, i.e. it's not smooth. It shouldn't be smooth. It can't be smooth. Abandon smoothness all ye who enter here.

Chocolate chips in cookies melt and stick like evil-minded glue demons, so if you have teflon-coated baking sheets I strongly recommend you put down a layer of baking paper, or else the burned chocolate bits will lift the coating off the sheet. Take teaspoonfulls of the mixture and plop onto the paper in rows, leaving a good 5cm between dollops - they spread. I find the biscuits are a bit more regular and morphous (as in, not amorphous) if you very vaguely shape the dollop with your fingers before you drop it, so it's a sort of roughly spheroid thingy. Alternatively, cookie shoggoths are a valid lifestyle choice.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until they are starting to brown. They'll be a bit soft as they come out the oven, but harden and become crispy as they cool. The optimum time to nosh them is about ten minutes after they've emerged from the oven, when the chocolate is still soft but won't actually take the roof off your mouth.

Ways to mess with the recipe: responds well to flavour modulation, e.g. orange zest instead of the ginger, or fresh ginger in addition to the ginger. The original recipe doesn't include nuts and says the chocolate chips are optional, but they're not, trust me.


Let me know how they turn out!
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Noxious day, again, continual students. My job is pretty much the pure paradigm of continuous partial attention. In addition, today's particular horrors included a high-level faculty meeting at which I was forced to defend Admin Streamlining Innovation #Umpty-thing against (a) determined and idiosyncratic opposition, (b) determined incomprehension and (c) determined and rather aggressive irrelevance. Academics. I do love them, really. Fortunately reasoned explanation gave me enough support on (a) and (b) that I carried the point. On (c) I was able to bring to bear my new favourite arguing technique, which is to pretend the aggression never actually happened and to calmly, quietly and in a subsequent email forum be sweetly reasonable and explanatory. This made lions into lambs with gratifying swiftness. I'm feeling exhausted, but faintly smug.

[livejournal.com profile] first_fallen asked me for my crème caramel recipe earlier today, so I shall continue the cat/cream connection, and incidentally soothe my soul, by posting it here for posterity. Apart from being my Evil Landlord's favourite and one of those perfect comfort foods, crème caramel is actually surprisingly easy to make. No blowtorch required, even. Go on, try!


EVIL LANDLORD FAVOURITE CRÈME CARAMEL

I should add that my extremely syrup-stained copy of this has an annotation which reads "NB Claire doesn't like" in an anxious scribble. The secret of successful hostessing is to keep a hitlist of guestly preferences. Claire also doesn't eat green pepper. I should also add that I don't remember where this recipe originated, except that I'm fairly sure I got it from my mother extremely back in the day when I raided her personal handwritten cookbook for my first year in digs. Hi, Mum!

You need:
  • 250ml cream
  • 300ml milk
  • vanilla pod or extract or a squirt of that gorgeous vanilla paste stuff
  • 4 large eggs
  • 6 oz sugar, for a value of "oz" which reads "a rounded tablespoon"
Important note: don't stress too dramatically on the quantities, this seems to work within the nearest 20ml or approximate spoon size. Important other note: the Evil Landlord holds that this dessert is better with 550ml cream, rather than half cream half milk. I find it too dense and solid. We argue. YMMV.

So, you need a smallish pot with a fairly solid base, and an ovenproof dish about (gods, now I'm going to have to go and measure it, aren't I? this posting recipes lark is a Huge Responsibility) 22cm across and 5cm deep. Pyrex is nice because you can see the layering. You'll also need an equally deep ovenproof dish or pan which will hold the first one comfortably. You will need to remember to preheat the oven to 150oC (300oF) round about now, and put the rack in the middle. (NB yes, this is a very slow oven. If you cook custard too fast it tends to curdle).

Put 4 oz sugar into the pot and place on medium/high heat. Restrain your urge to add water, you are caramelising sugar, which only needs sugar and heat. It is COMPLETELY VITAL that you stand over this like a hawk. A hawk with a wooden spoon. A wooden-spoon-equipped hawk with a sugar fetish. You cannot let your attention waver. The first minute or so is uneventful, I usually give the completely boring and unmoved sugar a couple of stirs just to break up any lumps and persuade myself I have a purpose here. However, as the sugar heats up, which it will do logically enough from the bottom, you will see it start to turn liquid and transparent. Give it a stir, whereupon it will form hard sugary lumps. Ignore this, it's a necessary ugly stage in making beautiful lethal molten syrup. Leave for another ten seconds or so, and stir again as it melts. Keep doing this. You'll have to give the stirs a fair amount of elbow, this stuff sticks to itself and the spoon - I tend to scrape it all off with a knife at intervals. Gradually the syrup will increase and slowly melt the lumps of sugar - towards the end you should be stirring continuously. If the syrup turns too dark a brown or starts to smell as though it's thinking of smelling burnt, turn the heat down and stir like crazy. You should end up with all the sugar a molten caramelised golden syrup. DO NOT splash this on yourself. It's the equivalent of your own organic kitchen napalm, it both sticks and burns like a fiery glue demon.

Pour the molten syrup quickly but carefully into the ovenproof dish. If you scrape the pot fairly quickly you should get most of it before it hardens into toffee, which it will cheerfully do at the first opportunity. While it's still molten, tilt the bowl so that the bottom and as much of the sides as possible are covered while it's still running. Put the pot and spoon immediately into water and leave to soak off the toffee for ten minutes or so. Have a celebratory gin: that was the hard part.

Right. Take a medium sized mixing bowl. Break the four eggs into it and add the remaining two spoons full of sugar. Whisk like mad with one of those balloon whisks. It should be well mixed and slightly frothy, although there's no real point in serious whiskage at this stage, you're making custard, not sponge cake.

Put the milk and cream into the rinsed pot and put back on the stove on medium/high. If you're using a proper vanilla pod, split it and add it to the milk as it heats. You'll get little black vanilla grains in the custard, but I consider this to be a sign of authenticity and absolutely worth it. You don't quite want to boil the milk: you want it to form a skin on top and start to foam a little at the edges. Remove from the heat and take out the vanilla pod if you're using it. If you're using essence or paste, add it at this stage. (Variation: this is surprisingly amazing with 1 tsp orange blossom water in place of vanilla).

Take the whisk in your left hand and the hot milk pot in your right, and steady the egg/sugar mix bowl with your third hand, your foot or a passing cat. Pour the milk in a fairly thin stream onto the egg/sugar mix, whisking like mad as you do so. This is how you avoid Evil Lumping. Once all the milk is in, give it a few more whisks for the hell of it.

Right. Now. Place the ovenproof dish containing the syrup coating into the larger pan. Pour cold water into the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the smaller dish. You get the most amazing patterns in the syrup as it cools and cracks while you're doing this: about half the time mine makes little scallop/scale patterns, for unfathomable but presumably sound reasons having to do with Basic Physics. What you have just created is the fancy French cooking apparatus called a bain marie, a water bath: you are surrounding the custard with water to regulate the temperature and cook it gently rather than quickly. (Works like a dream for cheesecake, too).

Now pour the whisked custard mix into the dish on top of the set caramelised sugar. (If you've had a Lump event or are feeling fancy you can strain it, but I never do). Put the whole bang shoot - pan, dish, custard - carefully into the oven. It will attempt to slop. Restrain it with the statuesque calm of your motions.

Bake at aforementioned slow temperature for 45 minutes. Don't overcook, it goes a bit tough. It'll still wibble gently when you take it out; this is as it should be, it'll set up a bit as it cools. When it's cooled you should technically be fancy and turn it out like a mould, so that the caramel tops it, but I never bother to do this, mostly because I prefer it hot and it falls apart if you try to turn it when it's still warm. It's also very good chilled, though.

It's possible to make this in small ramekins rather than one big dish, but it's far trickier; the caramelised sugar is quite difficult to spread evenly in multiple dishes before it's turned to toffee. The cooking time is also much shorter, obviously - just under half an hour usually does it.

Recipe repeatedly stress-tested under Germanic conditions for slightly over a decade, and guaranteed Evil Landlord-friendly. Contents may settle in stomach. Void where prohibited by law.

up the anti

Sunday, 30 January 2011 01:12 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
It's been a torrid week, and the coming one will be worse. I'm tired, grumpy and all peopled out, and inclined to be very, very short with stupid questions. Is it just me, or is it increasingly depressing to realise that things one takes for granted - grammar, politeness, a modicum of altruism, actually reading important texts or listening to important lectures - are not equally accepted as a baseline of behaviour by about 80% of the people you meet? I must be getting old, and set in my ways. There was a particularly egregiously horrible advertising poster in the supermarket this morning, threatening to "UP THE ANTI!" on value, or prices, or quality, or something. Instead of inciting me to righteous mockery it made me want to cry. It's not helping that the English department, bless its snakepit soul, doesn't want me to teach again this year. Am feeling rejected and non-academic.

This is all very low and blue, so I shall attempt to introduce a more cheery and colourful note with a rather delectable recipe I recently invented. Please excuse the smugness of tone in the ingredients list, I need all the happy I can find right now.


DECADENT BAKED BUTTERNUT

You need:
  • One medium butternut you grew in your garden, and practically had to run down and tackle owing to the speed with which the vines are streaking for the borders.
  • A double handful of the baby tomatoes your tomato vines are producing in insane quantities possibly reflecting a new religious cult of some sort.
  • Three or four spring onions which are growing in your garden with a ridiculous enthusiasm given that in some cases they have to grow out from under the butternuts.
  • A handful of sweet basil which manages to grow manfully in your garden despite being repeatedly sat on by the cats.
  • A couple of generous dollops of marscapone. (If I could find a way to grow this in my garden I would).
  • A couple of rashers of fatty bacon. (You could leave this out, I suppose, if you were adhering to strict vegetarian principles for inscrutable reasons of your own).
  • A generous slosh of olive oil.
  • Garlic to taste, i.e. lots. Five or six cloves at least.
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper, anything else that grabs your fancy and looks as though it might work with the above.
Wash the butternut to remove random cat hairs, and halve lengthways. Scoop out the seeds and a little bit of the pulp to leave a hollow down the middle. I usually shave off a small piece of the round, curved underneath part so it sits firmly and doesn't rock the boat and tip off all the stuffing at inopportune moments. Throw the seeds etc. into your compost with a brief benediction.

Chop up the tomatoes, spring onions, basil and garlic and mix together. Add the marscapone and mix. Cut the fat off the bacon and reserve; chop the bacon and add to the mix. Add salt and pepper in appropriate quantities.

Slash quite deeply into the cut side of the butternut in a cross-hatch pattern or angular mystic runes or whatever your preference is. Slosh olive oil generously onto the cut surfaces and sprinkle with salt and pepper. It sometimes pays to rub it in a bit so you season into the slashes.

Pile the tomato/marscapone mixture into the hollows and mound it generously above until you've used up all the stuffing. You should pretty much aim to cover the whole cut surface, but peaking along the middle of the length. If there's any stuffing left over you're not trying. For extra decadence, drape the bacon fat over the top. Aesthetics demand that you remove this before serving, and principles of non-waste demand that you eat it. It'll be melt-in-the-mouth crispy. Darn.

Bake uncovered at about 200o for about an hour, or until the butternut is soft. This always takes longer than you think it will. It helps to haul it out the oven every twenty minutes or so and baste it with its own evil, fatty pan juices. You are aiming for all the artery-hardening marscapone goodness to ooze down into the flesh. In more ways than one, see expanding hips.

Slice into fat 2cm-slices to serve as a side dish. Or eat an entire half yourself for a not particularly light supper. Remember to wipe your chin.

Documentary evidence of the Insane Tomato Explosion follows. This is the second time this week I've filled this blue plastic bowl, and there must be almost as many still ripening on the vines.



Also, more demented butternuts in preparation. Observe the spring onions scrabbling out from under.

chilling out

Wednesday, 22 December 2010 01:36 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Oh, my, heatwave. It's mercifully clouded and windy today, but it's been ungodly out there. Every time I come home I realise anew why it is that the pagans got into tree-worshipping: I want to fall down at the plane tree's shady feet and adore. Stepping into the shade from the griddle of the road outside is practically a religious experience. The tree shades the whole side of the house, which is blissfully cool as a result; I hate to think what life would be like if supernatural tree-thieves spirited away the plane tree overnight.

As a result, possibly, of all the heat, and the side-effect that it's a positive pleasure to wander around the garden with a hosepipe de-wilting all the vegetation, my vegetables and herbs are going gangbusters. My small but enthusiastic chilli bush, in particular, is dementedly producing a completely unlikely quantity of chillis, far more than I could possibly use even if I cooked insane thai, Indian and Mexican cuisine for the next six weeks.

This is the result of ten minutes of picking: I've had to throw out another twenty or so which I got to too late and which have shrivelled, and I missed a few full-sized ones on the bush. The mad thing will certainly procuce a second crop, it did last year.



Fired with enthusiasm, I pickled them.



It's curiously satisfying. Apart from the fact that I love pickled chillis and find the vinegar fumes all bracing, there's a sort of back-to-the-land self-sufficiency in pickling your own (albeit miniature) crop. Even if it's a tiny, token gesture, it brings me just one step closer to surviving the zombie apocalypse. Although, to be fair, while the South African crime-rate means most of our homes are fairly zombie-proof, the overall defensibility of this house is badly compromised by the dining-room window.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I don't post enough recipes on this blog. I like cooking, a lot of you like cooking, I also like tinkering with recipes in ways the originators wot not of, and probably never intended, and which I never preserve for posterity because I never make things the same way twice. Blogs, of course, are invented with posterity in mind. If you don't like cooking, feel free to stop reading now.

I also like buying random cookbooks at the cheap book places, the most recent acquisition being something called Practical Rice Dishes, which is a nicely no-nonsense sort of title. I have subsequently conceived an addiction for my version of their tomato-rice soup thingy. Free-form recipe follows, with the caveat that I don't do exact quantities much with this sort of thing, and also become awfully optional and madly inventive with some of the ingredients.


TOMATO-RICE SOUP

Ingredients:
  • A couple of red onions
  • Four or five cloves of garlic (peeled and whole, not chopped, and more if you're a serious garlic fiend, as I am.)
  • A couple of carrots, scraped and chopped into smallish bits.
  • A dash of olive oil.
  • A couple of reasonably bitey chillis, chopped but not deseeded (optional, not in original recipe, but Thai food has corrupted me and I like a bite).
  • A few rashers of bacon, or a couple of bacon steaks (this wasn't in the original recipe, but really works, and allows me to look all smug when the Evil Landlord does his trademark rummage through the dish and plaintive query about where the meat is. You could fry up the fat from the bacon and use it in place of the olive oil, if you wanted).
  • About a cup and a half of brown rice, and it's even better with a brown/wild rice mix
  • About a stock cube's worth of chicken stock.
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes of some sort.
  • Two or three whole tomatoes, or a couple of handfuls of baby tomatoes, halved and roasted
  • A couple of tablespoons of tomato paste (I use one of those 50g sachets)
  • A whole stick of cinnamon (this is actually essential)
  • Two or three fresh bay leaves, or equivalent dried. (My laurel tree is flourishing proverbially, which means I tend to pity people who have to rely on dried bay leaves. Scrunch the fresh ones in your fingers, they release more flavour, and make your hands smell edible for a bit).
  • A sort of a generous couple of pinches of soft brown sugar (note to self, try this with honey sometime)
  • A handful of fresh oreganum or marjoram, or even basil, washed and finely chopped
  • Optional thingy I discovered last time I made it, and which is delectable: about a tablespoon of Thai roasted chilli paste. Added bonus, it's an excuse to eat the stuff out of the jar with a spoon.
So, find a large pot. Chop the onions to medium small, peel the garlic cloves but leave them whole. Heat the olive oil in the pot on medium heat, and fry the onion, garlic and carrot bits together until the onion starts to do that translucent thing. Chop the chillis smallish and add, together with the seeds. Don't rub your eyes at this point. Aargh. Add the chopped bacon steak or bacon, and fry a few more minutes.

Add the rice to the frying stuff and mix it up; fry gently for a few minutes, mostly to introduce the rice to the flavours in a sticky, intimate sort of fashion.

Add the tinned tomatoes and the chicken stock, with enough water to make sure the rice is covered. Add the tomato paste, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and sugar (or honey, if you're ahead of me on this experimental thing). Stir madly. Add more water so it's soupy rather than gloppy.

Turn pot down to extremely low simmer, put lid on, leave it. Come back every ten or fifteen minutes or so to give it a stir and add more water if necessary, the rice absorbs it. This stage will take probably around 45 minutes.

Add the roasted tomatoes (you could also add fresh, but you'd need to cook it a bit longer) and mix in. Fiddle around with the seasoning: it'll probably need salt. Add more water to retain the soup consistency.

When you think it's pretty much ready to eat, add the fresh herbs and the chilli paste. Fish around for the cinnamon stick and bay leaves and feed them to your compost heap. Adjust seasonings - probably more salt, rice eats salt. You should have a subtle but detectable cinnamon flavour coming through, and the rice for some reason makes the tomato base velvety. Freshly ground black pepper good at this stage. There will be soft, sweet, whole garlic cloves swimming around in this: I consider this to be a bonus.

Serve in deep bowls with grated cheese if you like that sort of thing, which I sometimes do, and with buttered crusty brown bread if the rice isn't carb enough for you. One of these days I'll try adding bunches of chopped-up chorizo just before serving.

This reheats well and the flavours marinate in the fridge overnight; add more water when you reheat, the rice will have absorbed it all.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Speaking as a happy atheist and sturdy rationalist, the meaning of Easter to me is a blissful four-day weekend and the excuse to make waffles. (Apparently to stv it's the chance to make horrible jokes about the real hot, cross bunny being the one you set fire to before crucifying it, but that's quite enough symbol mixing right there, thank you). So jo&stv came round on Sunday morning, and we had waffles with cream and ice-cream and berries and pecan nuts and chocolate sauce and maple syrup and bananas and bacon. (Not, as far as I know, all at once, although some of the tottering piles achieved by the Evil Landlord and stv probably came close). Coffee, orange juice and two bottles of champagne were also implicated in the scene. I always see my waffle-making activities as being choreographed by John Woo, on account of how we have two waffle irons and twin-iron mayhem is my signature style. My Seekrit Sorrow with waffles is that I can't toss them, like I can with pancakes two goes out of three. The third one very rarely ends up on the floor.

In the process of the wafflination, a terrible truth was revealed. Jo, owing possibly to some kind of weird Polish genetic predisposition, likes her waffles soggy. As in, not crispy. Not properly cooked. Squishy. Doughy. Eeuw. I did violence to my feelings by providing a couple of batches undercooked as specified, but I think she's odd. However, there's always the chance that in fact my monolithic preference for crispy waffles is the result merely of ignorance and lack of exposure to How The Other Half Lives, so therefore, pollination!

[Poll #1547551]

In other, completely unrelated news, the new musical genre seems to be children's dinosaur heavy metal. This caused me unseemly levels of merriment, the more so because it's not just children's heavy metal performed in dinosaur costumes, it's children's heavy metal performed in dinosaur costumes in Finnish, which raises it to a whole new level of surreal. If they did it in English I'd have to get a copy for my niece.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
If my enthusiasms bring me out in a flood of babble, it's worse when they're combined: favourite TV shows and academic analysis, for example, are bad enough in their own right, but academic babble about favourite TV shows is downright exhausting to the hapless onlooker. The same, apparently, is true of cooking and teaching. A nice young man, a deadlocked black dude with a British accent, came up to me in the booze aisle of the supermarket this afternoon and incautiously asked if I minded suggesting what sort of wine he should use for cooking.

Me (enthusiastically): Yes, of course! what are you cooking?
Him (slightly taken aback): Um, lamb.
Me (even more enthusiastically): OK, you want a fairly robust red, I usually go for some sort of blend because they're cheaper. Cabernet, pinotage, that sort of thing.
Him (backing away slightly): Oh, thanks, I -
Me (waving my hands around wildly, which is apparently intrinsic to my teaching process): The first rule is never to cook with anything you wouldn't drink, a really poor quality wine will have a harsh taste which will come through into the food ...
Him (alarmed): ...!
Me (undaunted): ..although conversely, a really good one is a waste, the subtleties of the flavour will be lost. I'd go for a cheap bottle rather than a box.
Him (gamely): The price isn't too much of an issue...
Me (rifling through the shelves manically): Good, but you could go with this cab/merlot blend for under R30, or this Rough Red - I tend to look for something which says "fruity" on the label, the flavour is better with meat than something very dry...
Him (ruefully): I certainly seem to have asked the right person...
Me (a bit conscience-stricken): Oh, sorry, this is probably far more detail than you really wanted. I take my cooking seriously.
Him (gracefully, if a bit wild-eyed): Not at all, I feel like an expert now.
(He grabs a random bottle and flees before I can start holding forth again.)

I suspect I should try to do more formal teaching, insufficient quantities thereof are possibly dangerous to innocent bystanders. On the upside, now he never has to stick his neck out by asking the same question of anyone in a booze aisle in future, and the overall education level of the world has risen by a tiny but vital fraction.
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That was a lovely weekend. Season 2 of Fringe (woe Charlie!), lunch at Overture yesterday (Evil Landlord's thank-you to jo&stv and sven&tanya for all the heavy lifting of furniture during the renovations - I'm not sure why I was included, my buggered arm means I've been perfectly futile as a heavy lifter for months). Today, gardening (third vegetable planter now full), fed jo&stv for supper, lemon roasted chicken, guinness cupcakes, Hobbit on sofa being perfectly ridiculous as the shameless attention-slut he is. I am tired, grubby and happy with creative things like cooking and planting and watering good-smelling earth. Also, it's been raining off and on, which always makes me happy. As the delirious cherry on the top, next weekend is four days long. Bliss!

Completely random query: do any of you Capetonian types want a DSTV decoder? It's the one we bought for my dad - six months old, perfect condition, going free to a good home which (a) has access to a dish or (b) doesn't mind installing one. They're worth about R500 new, and I really can't face the thought of Gumtree. Since I don't watch TV, have no intention of acquiring a dish and spit upon the name of DSTV since they took the SciFi channel off their menu, it's no bloody use to me. Let me know if you want it.

Also, bonus Hobbit. Being ridiculous.

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[livejournal.com profile] smoczek is an enabler: in tandem with her, I spend more money on cool things than I would if left to my own devices. (Although, to be fair, I probably have the same effect on her). We egged each other on buying plants for our respective gardens yesterday (more clivia, herbs and vegetables, things that look cute and grow in shade, and a pot for strawberries), and then further egged each other on buying weirdly random stuff at the Milnerton market this morning. (A sheep! a sort of metal cage sheep with floppy legs and a decorative metal beard and butt-piece, through which you're supposed to grow topiary. She's going to grow catnip through it, and rely on the cats to keep it shorn.) I bought more random bric-a-brac owls, in sharp defiance of my own policy, and plead in mitigation that they were round and cute and I was egged on. Also, a large glass mixing bowl, assorted adaptors, really cheap pecan nuts, and a small blue shiny lizard in brooch form. I love the market, it's so random, and so vastly diverse. The Evil Landlord, for example, bought a wrought iron umbrella stand, for which we have no umbrella. [livejournal.com profile] maxbarners bought an elderly light metre in German, presumably for measuring German light. Oh, and I found a little 40s-style set of miniature cookie cutters packed neatly into a tin - [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun, was it you who was looking for little cookie cutters a few months back, for purposes of small children? Because if so, these are for you. There's one shaped like a bone.

Then we went and had lunch at Caveau, and drank rosé, which I will forever associate with summer lunches owing to the French habit, observed on holiday in the Gers, of drinking it by the gallon out of plastic bottles straight from the local vinyards. Then I came home and played Bioshock 2 for four hours straight, after which I went and laboured mightily in the back courtyard, which now has two functional planters out of four, planted with random vegetables in the faint hope of squeezing one crop out before winter hits. This procedure was fraught with interest as the builders, in moving the planters around, have shifted the soil from one to the other, thereby mixing it all up with the drainage stones from the bottom (and, I have to say, all the cat crap the cats have been lovingly depositing on the top). I don't like builders. I may have mentioned this before. But I now have tomatoes and beans and spring onions and lettuce and a few parsley plants for the hell of it, plus all the sorrel in the shady corner with the mint. And dirt under my fingernails.

I am very tired, slightly sun- and wind-burned, faintly cross-eyed from Bioshock and Fringe, grubby, damp and happy. It's been a lovely couple of days. I approve of these long weekend thingies, and contemplate with tolerable equanimity the return to work given that the next three weeks are four days long owing to the sudden descent of Easter. But now I'm going to bed. G'night.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Gawsh, still happy. The approaching holiday must be doing its thing. Today I am gladdened by:

  1. Rain! It's raining! gentle, soft, completely unseasonal summer rain which is making things misty and slightly cool, but not cold. Of course, this is further evidence of climate change and what have you, and we're all screwed, but I'm happily damp.
  2. Improv Everywhere. They're kind of the Non-Evil Twin of candid camera: do weird, wacky stuff that makes people unexpectedly and laterally happy.
  3. Chicken pot pie. I pretty much forgot to eat yesterday, besides the brownies, so wandered home and made chicken pot pie for supper. It's comfort food. Also, a really nice recipe with leeks and gammon in a creamy sauce flavoured with lemon and mustard. Happily unhealthy.
  4. Supernatural motel décor. I swear, those boys scour America for the most trippy, psychedelic, catastrophically ugly motel rooms imaginable by man or demon. The set designers must have a blast creating them. I'd do a list, but the mad fansites beat me to it. Some of them have truly awful themes - the orange/bullfighter one and the black and silver disco one crack me up. Happily.
  5. Last day at work! Despite the fact that I'm going to have to spend part of the next two weeks working on Orientation material, Holiday! holidayholidayholiday! Happy!
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I seem to have spent a lot of last night arguing with the head of department while trying to sign up for the correct Psychology courses to complete my major, with the intention of doing Honours and actually becoming a psychologist. The outstanding courses involve a lot of stats, so it's probably fortunate that at this point the unspecified saboteurs did their evil stuff and tinkered with the giant baroque fountain to connect it with the volcanic subterranean river so it spewed an enormous geyser of boiling water about a kilometre into the air, showering Cape Town with hot rain. I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something about my job. Also, I blame the comparative tameness of the imagery on the fact that I didn't actually get to see the Harry Potter film yesterday, since my mother was involved in baby-sitting duties and she wants to see it too. Maybe tonight.

I was for some reason in a very good mood for most of yesterday, as evinced by my tendency to wander around the faculty singing Belle and Sebastian to myself, while students and admin gave me funny looks. Today I'm wrestling with the labyrinthine improbabilities of Music degrees and am monumentally grumpy. On the upside, Sven&Tanya gave me an amazing giant book of chocolate recipes for my birthday, and I finally stopped vacillating between the 14 different versions of chocolate brownies sufficiently to actually try one out over the weekend. Music degree hair-tearing thus nicely leavened by copious application of Earl Grey and occasional interludes of chocolatey goodness (lovely recipe, but I have to learn the precise skill of undercooking brownies to leave them all moist in the middle. More practice clearly indicated.). Next up: the chocolate torte with swirled cream cheese topping, and the brownie recipe with bits of embedded nougat. Damn.
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Two things I realise I love, God wot: (a) hanging around with geeks, and (b) the Oxford English Dictionary. The other day at Jo's game Jean made a beef cobbler for supper: that's the supremely British dish with a sort of stewey thing topped with scone dough. It's all the best kinds of British cold-weather stodgy goodness, with a side order of self-indulgence and arteries-going-clang. Fired with emulatory1 enthusiasm, I constructed one last night and presented it to the Evil Landlord for supper. He did his usual suspicious-German act, prodded it a bit, muttered things about misshapen alien fungi over bubbling lava pits, and then demanded to know why it was called a cobbler. I hazarded a guess that it was something to do with being cobbled together haphazardly out of bits. Then, being fundamentally a geek, I researched it.

The OED is generally a dry, wordy, knowledgeable god, although actually not entirely to be trusted on cooking terms. (Mad SCA cooks are often able to spot mis-attributions, misunderstandings and, quite often, earlier cites than those the OED has dredged up for certain medieval cooking terms). For a start, the OED has no idea where the term originates, and spurns with a slightly inexplicable disdain the notion of a root verb meaning "to join". Apparently a cobbler is also "a drink made of wine, sugar, lemon, and pounded ice, and imbibed through a straw or other tube", which strikes me as being a recipe for sweet, sweet, hiccuping drunkenness. (Dickens refers to "sherry cobbler", which has to be murder through a straw). The OED food definition, however, cites only the fruit version, with an 1859 cite describing "A sort of pie, baked in a pot lined with dough of great thickness, upon which the fruit is placed; according to the fruit, it is an apple or a peach cobbler". Subsequent examples reflect the more modern version, which has inverted it so that the dough (still of great thickness) goes on top. This food history page finds an earlier cite (1839), still American and fruity rather than meaty.

The failure of the OED to reflect the actually very common English usage for a dough-topped stew or casserole is, I have to say, fairly characteristic. So now I am left sort of semi-informed, and with a terrible urge to go and acquire a bunch of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cookbooks so I can track the damned thing down definitively. (It's not in Mrs. Beeton. Phooey. And I forgot to dig through Elizabeth David last night, owing to thing.) I have a deep, dark, partisan sort of feeling that the British meat cobbler predates the American fruit cobbler, but I may simply be prejudiced.

Today's entry in Random Ginormous Fantasy Series Month is a sort of semi-diss, mostly because I recently re-read it and it didn't stand up at all well. Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry series was one of my huge favourites when I was a young, naive Masters student. It's a terribly post-Tolkienien fantasy realm, complete with Elves, Dwarves and Sauron-analogues, with additional world-hopping by people from our world. It's rather nicely rooted in Celtic and Arthurian mythology, including gods, and Kay is pleasingly able to off main characters satisfyingly and inevitably when the plot calls for it. But, ye gods! the man's writing style! It's an early work of his and I didn't find the same degree of irritation in his most recent one, Ysabel, which I really enjoyed; but Fionavar is all about the Torrid! Portentuous! Adjectival! Overwriting!, mostly in great crumbling flights of sentences all starting with "And". Emotionally overwrought doesn't even begin to cover it. Thank the borrowed Celtic gods he Got Better. And it's a great pity, because the world of the series is beautiful, compelling and mythically rich.

In a nutshell: elves, dwarves, goblins, Big Bad Evil, epic battle, epic romance, loss, love, rape, seduction, politics. Emotionally overwrought. Sexy gods and goddesses, sex with same, resulting conflicted half-gods. Dragons, heroes, seers, kings, princes, monsters, thundering herds of sort of deer. Doomed love triangles across time and space. Emotionally overwrought.



1 Why does that sound as though it should have something to do with emus?

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