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Thursday, December 18, 2008

And the time has gone... where?

Here we are in December already. Tomorrow's my last day of work for the year, next week is Christmas, then 2008 rolls over into 2009 and we start all over again.

It's time to wrap it up and decide where we've come in the past 12 months.

I have no complaints to mention (barring the political, but this is not the time), and I'm awfully grateful for that. I know that a lot of people have had a much worse year than we have, and we have done our best to support friends and even strangers through these hard times. Financially we've been pretty well insulated from the worst of things, so for that too we're very thankful.

As a family we came a long way. Isaac is now almost 2, and what a year of changes and lessons that has been. It can be characterised primarily by the number of things that have been altered in our house to accommodate him: A fence was built, we replaced one pane of glass with safety glass after a smashing incident, latches have been put on windows and doors, and Daddy now has to be careful to tidy up all the cr@p he used to leave around the yard.

I started a blog, to my own surprise, and to my even greater surprise, the novelty hasn't worn off and I'm even still posting here. This is the first time that I've really appreciated the internet as more than just an online dictionary and encyclopedia. This year I have discovered that out there in Webland there is a community. Hi, y'all.

Writing Freshly Ground has made me more aware of the issues out there surrounding food, and given me a voice to raise my views with more than just the guests of a given evening. It has also allowed me to share all the recipes I've been making up over the years, and what with the photos and all it gives the false impression that I might even be able to cook. But I won't let that get around.

I've also hit a fair few landmarks with my writing work, which only happens in and around work-work and family life, but I try to prioritise it as much as possible. I have completed a third draft of my novel and started the long and arduous process of sounding out an (increasingly less stable) publishing industry to try to get said novel read by an agent. This is more work than it sounds. But once again, I have discovered the online community of writers, agents, editors, and publishers, who are more than willing to share a wealth of information with the rest of the community about what they should or should not be doing. It has been one h~ll of an eye-opening journey. I won't say that it has been discouraging thus far, but it is at the very least massively daunting. One thing is clear: there's no point even starting into it with subpar writing, so lots of revision is underway. It's amazing how much more critical you can be of your own work when you think someone with an opinion that can make or break you might be reading it. Give me that big red pen...

Also, Urban Driftwood was finally completed and made available in print form. I have some plans to release it as a PDF in the new year, so watch this space if you haven't laid your hands on a hard copy yet.

Putting politics aside, I had a great twelve months, and I'm looking forward to more good times to come. The garden is going crazy, and hopefully by next planting season I'll have more of a clue about how to manage the little space we have to get some really sustainable crops ticking over, so that we can rely even more on ourselves and less on the carbon footprint of stores and markets. I keep thinking about building a chicken run, but I really have to clean up the yard before I can even consider that seriously. A big shout out to Obi for slapping up the shelves in the garage this week - that's the first step! Next we need to put some up in the tin shed.

Which brings me to next year. Over the summer we have some jobs to do, like painting the roof and fixing the drive, but what do I see in the next twelve months for me, and for us? Well, I'm already racing along a fairly complex trajectory of paid work, writing work, and stuff around home, so I'm not going to sign myself up for too much more just yet. If 1 going on 2 was hard work, just imagine what 2 going on 3 will be like! And with any luck, sometime soon we might be lucky enough to have another little bundle of joy in the house. Which is of course something that is not really in our hands.

We're also looking forward to at least one wedding in the new year, and a visit from LBS and Uncle Carlo in March. We don't really need to plan on getting busy and racing through another year; it's just going to happen.

Freshly Ground will continue in sporadic bursts over the next two weeks, around Christmas and New Years and maybe a little excursion to the South Island or something, but come January things will be back in full swing.

So take care everyone, have a safe and happy holiday, and either keep warm or wear sunscreen, depending on what part of the world you happen to be in.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pumpkin Soup

I went and took photos for this, only to discover that I've already posted the recipe. There are a few differences from the original post in June, for example I peeled the pumpkin before roasting it. LinkSo here's a nice shot of some lovely roasted pumpkin.
And this is what happens to the skin left lying on the bench near the muffin trays, when 2-year-old is "helping" make the soup.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shock! Horror! Vego Pizzas!

Yeah, it surprised me too.

As we were dressing our Friday night pizzas, I was overwhelmed by the amount of delicious ingredients we had handy that weren't meat. I still haven't had a pizza as nice as my Mussel and Chilli Pizza, but these were pretty good. In New Zealand we have a tendency to massively overdress our pizzas, a habit that we broke after eating real pizza in New York.
So as our pizzas usually go, these ones are a bit laden, but I enjoyed them no less for it.

One pizza had the following toppings, with pizza sauce on the base (homemade, of course), and a crumbly mix of cheeses on top - mozzarella, edam and parmesan.
Chopped Fresh Tomato
Chopped Onion
Sliced Mushroom
Finely Sliced Garlic
Grated Lemon Zest
Cubed Feta Cheese The other had the following toppings:
Chopped Fresh Tomato
Pineapple Chunks
Sweet Thai Chilli Sauce
Cubed Feta Cheese
Spoonfuls of Ricotta Cheese
I didn't even notice the lack of pepperoni or salami or sausage or any of that. When it comes to pizza, less really is more.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Anniversary Pork

I've made mention in the past about how I reckon that I can cook at least as well as the places we can afford to go out to eat, if not a little better (IMHO). But that's not to say we don't like to go out to eat, not by any means. However, there are certain harsh realities that simply must be faced, and I'm sure that a lot of people out there have been there too. Since we went from the lazy hazy life of a working couple to the non-stop rigours of parenthood, we've found ourselves short both the time and the money to go out to dinner very often. I can recall one night out at a restaurant since Isaac came along, not counting family affairs.

It's at times like this that I really appreciate that someone, somewhere along the way, taught me how to cook. Besides what my mum drummed into me, a lot of my culinary skills I picked up by trial and error, from waiting and bar jobs in the hospitality industry, and a fair amount I've just made up as I went along and hoped it turned out well, but all those things add up. I've read lots of cookbooks (and then ignored a lot of recipes), watched a lot of TV cooking shows (and been equal parts awed and incredulous by what I've seen - for example, who really uses all those little glass bowls for prepped ingredients? People with paid kitchenhands, I'd say. But I digress.), talked to butchers and chefs, tried lots of different things when we did go out, listened to the cooking guests on the radio, and more recently, read lots of other food blogs.

I will point out at this point that before starting Freshly Ground, I had read one blog. I had no idea what a cooking blog looked like, so I pretty much allowed myself to create my own format here. Thus the food, the politics, the ramblings, the humour (or so I like to think of it). Freshly Ground is a food blog because food is something that I find integrally important to so many aspects of life: Health, Family, Economics, the Environment, Entertainment. It could have been any number of things, but food is something that, while not being any sort of catering professional, I'm rather passionate about and can write about with at least a modicum of experience and authority. And if anyone disagrees with me, well, that's just a matter of taste, isn't it?

Do I have a point (you'll be starting to wonder, I'm sure)?

The point is that recently we had our wedding anniversary, and for the reasons mentioned above, we didn't treat ourselves to a night out; instead, we stayed home and I cooked up a roast pork. Did we feel like we'd missed out on something special? Not at all. As usual, I just made up dinner as I went along, dragging together whatever I could find in the cupboards and garden.

It's not about being able to go out and blow a hundred bucks on dinner. It's about sharing good food with good people.

I've covered all the basics of roasting pork already, with one minor addendum: after the initial salt crusting, wash the salt off. Yip. Sounds obvious, doesn't it. Did to me too, when I was told. Ah, well. So to make things interesting, I decided to crust the pork in something a bit more flavoursome than flour.
I coated the pork with olive oil and dressed it with: Freshly ground pepper, chopped fresh sage leaves, dukkah, brown sugar, cider vinegar, and a dusting of semolina flour.
Then I deliberately salted the rind to make it go extra crispy and placed the meat in an oven dish on a raised tray and popped it in the oven at 210C. After 20 minutes I turned the oven down to 190C and cooked for a further 3 1/2 hours, turning the meat and basting every 40 minutes or so.
I always let the meat rest out of the oven for 5-10 minutes before carving.
The end result was a bit spicier than Dessert Chef likes, but with a roast this big, its pretty easy to find slices everyone will enjoy. The best thing about this, of course, is that it went on to feed us leftovers for lunch and dinner for two or three days.

So here's my final point: you don't need to pay big money to eat well. You have the power in your hands. Use it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

First Barbeque of the Season

Summer is most certainly upon us now. It rained today, but it was warm. That must just about prove it.

In honour of the season of long slow evenings, sandflies, mosquitoes, sunburn, and sand in places where it shouldn't be, we have duly broken out the barbeque and given it a run, to ...er... season it ... for the season.
Cooking here we have: Wai-ora Lamb and Mint Sausages; Gluten-Free Sausages; Homemade Gluten-Free Meat Patties; and Egg-Free, Gluten-Free Meatballs (I just did a couple of meatballs before I added the egg to make the patties, and squashed them down really tight so they didn't fall apart). When everything else is done - since all of the above can happily sit on the edge of the BBQ and stay warm - we drop in the steak. Hammered with the back of a knife, seasoned with freshly ground pepper and salt, crushed garlic and olive oil, and cooked as per my Perfect Steak Technique.

Serve up with fresh bread and crisp green salad, sauce and a cold beer for a perfect summer evening's dining. May there be many more to come.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hugh Cook - Obituary Published

After a couple of false starts, The New Zealand Herald yesterday published the obituary for Fantasy writer Hugh Cook which I wrote for and on behalf of the family.

It was only ever so slightly tweaked for brevity, for which I'm grateful. I think it's excellent that our national newspaper has done this fine writer the honour of remembering his life and work.
For my part, I can take pride in the knowledge that my first ever published piece of non-fiction journalism was for a man whom I respected and admired very much, and which appeared in about as widely-read a publication as I could have hoped for.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Hugh's family for trusting me with the task, and for all their support and sharing, during what must have been a heartbreaking time in their own lives. I'd also like to thank Peter C, and Phoebe at the Herald, for making this happen.

My previous posts on Hugh can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Once the silly season is over, I'll be working on a longer bio of Hugh's life, which I would like to see published around the internet wherever possible. Feel free to comment if you would be willing and able to host an article remembering one of New Zealand's most prolific and daring creative minds on your page.

And just since the obituary has not been made available online (that I can find - if anyone spots it please let me know!) I've taken a scan and popped it up here to share around.


And for those of you without telescopic vision, the text, more or less, follows:

Hugh Walter Gilbert Cook (1956-2008); Author, Poet.

Most well known for his Fantasy/Sci-Fi novels, Hugh Cook was arguably New Zealand’s most prolific and daring author of his generation.

In 1962 Cook’s parents relocated from Essex to Ocean Island (now Banaba Island, Kiribati), then to New Zealand in 1964, where Hugh wrote poetry during his college years. Plague Summer (1980) was his first novel, a drug running story set in New Zealand against the background of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

He spent ten years as an army medic, attaining the rank of sergeant. England’s castles, the tropical islands, New Zealand’s dark rugged landscapes, his training in battlefield injuries, and his travels through Asia and Europe would all influence his later works.

Cook left the Army to write, publishing The Shift in 1986 before moving onto the ten-part Chronicles of an Age of Darkness (1986-1992), which garnered a dedicated fan base. However, as the Chronicles grew progressively darker and less conventional, sales dwindled. Cook’s publisher curtailed his sixty book plan, and he concluded the Chronicles with The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster (1992).

Cook’s remarkable ability to adopt new writing styles for each of his books earned praise from his fanbase, as he eschewed High Fantasy clich├ęs in favour of barbarism, murder, and torture. Yet underneath this bloody mask Cook etched a world of poetic lustre unmatched by his contemporaries, examining issues such as religion, history, politics, and race with striking clarity and subtle wit.

In 1997 he moved to Japan, where he went on to champion emerging Internet publishing technologies. As well as blogging prolifically, Cook rereleased three out-of-print Chronicles and several novels set in strange new worlds. He wrote To Find and Wake the Dreamer and the Oceans of Light Trilogy in this period.

In 2005 Cook endured months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. During this time he wrote poems and posted to his blog, zenvirus.com. After the cancer went into remission Cook compiled a memoir, Cancer Patient.

A dedicated and loving husband and father, Hugh Cook was a deeply private man who lived his childhood dream to be a writer with a passion, encouraging others to “seize the dream today – there is no tomorrow”.

Hugh continued to write and teach, until in December 2007 the cancer returned. He spent his last months in Auckland, and passed away peacefully on Saturday November 8th 2008. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
D

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sweet Garlic Lamb Shanks

The last time I made slow-cooked Lamb Shanks the night turned into a debacle. It wasn't the food, because the meat was absolutely delicious, but Aunty L's car broke down and I had to go out in the dark and the rain to help her get home. Thankfully, I could pretty much inhale my lamb knuckle as I ran out the door, so it didn't go to waste. It's been a while since then, so I was looking forward to doing knuckles in the crock-pot again.

It's also been a couple of weeks since I mentioned Wai-ora Lamb, and it would be unfair not to mention that these knuckles are also from them. I kid you not, these guys rear some beautiful meat.

Sweet Garlic Lamb Knuckles

(Quantities are for 2 knuckles, but that won't be enough to feed all of us for much longer, the way Isaac eats...)

In a pestle, grind up the following:
1/4t Coriander Seeds
1/4t Fennel Seeds
Freshly Ground Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil
2 chopped cloves NZ Garlic

Mix in:

1/2t Honey
a squeeze of lemon juice
Spread over the lamb and marinate in the fridge for 6-8 hours. Quarter an onion and place in the bottom of a crockpot. Place the knuckles on a raised tray in the crockpot and cook on low for 4-5 hours.
The longer, the better.
Delicious no matter what you serve them with. We had couscous with these ones, lightly seasoned with Arabian spices.
And here's the evidence. You can't do that with a knife.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Walk in the Garden

After all the politics, it's time to get back to what really matters: Good food, good people, good times.

I've put a lot of my time on this blog into talking about how important it is to get out there and grow your own food, on whatever scale you can manage. So can I walk the talk? Well, it's only early spring, but I have lots of leafy stuff in the ground, at least. Whether or not these will yield remains to be seen, but I have high hopes.
Here we have pumpkins that sprouted in the compost and which I transplanted into the ground, along with a few self-sown tomato sprouts that came up from the compost too. I guess I'll learn how well Pumpkins and Tomatoes play together.
You might remember several months ago when I got all keen and planted a whole lot of pumpkin seeds on the top of our section in the hopes of a bumper spring crop. Well, since then I have learned that pumpkins don't grow during the winter. But guess what? They have now decided to crop up like mad. I'm going to have to do a whole lot more weeding to give these all room to grow.
Here are some of the tomatoes we planted on the doorstep (full credit to Dessert Chef for nurturing these little guys from seeds to the handsome chaps they are becoming).
And one lone broccoli survived the cats, the frost, the wind and the moths and has actually started to look like a broccoli (if you look really close).

Check here for before pictures of the tomatoes and broccoli above.

I also blogged about planting some potatoes which I had sprouted on the kitchen windowsill.
Here's one of them, the smaller one no less. Encouraged by this, I've put a couple more in the ground and have more sprouting as well. At this rate, I'm going to run out of room!
But it's good to know that I have the best help that love can buy:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Piece of My Mind

Ah, if only this was a recipe post, but it's not.

I wrote my letter.
I printed it.
I signed it.
I put it in an envelope with no stamp on it, and wrote on it "John Key, Parliament Buildings, Wellington".
I walked to the Post Box - no emissions there!
I posted it.

It was that easy.

1 December 2008

Hon John Key
Prime Minister
Executive Wing
Parliament Buildings
Wellington


Dear Prime Minister

I am writing to express my concern over the matter of Climate Change, and the leadership role that our country ought to be playing in this, but which it is not.

We are facing both an environmental and economic global crisis, and only bold action by the Government can mitigate the damage that New Zealand is facing as a consequence. As I’m sure you are aware, the costs of not meeting our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. We must take action immediately to reduce our country’s carbon emissions, or we will all be paying for it.

We are looking to you for leadership on this matter. Since you have signaled that a Select Committee will be reviewing the Emissions Trading Scheme, I think that it is important that a review of the Science of Climate Change is not included in the Terms of Reference for this Select Committee, as the ACT Party have requested. The science has been proven unequivocally by several reputable international organizations, including the IPCC and the Royal Society, and has been endorsed by most of the rest of the world. A handful of New Zealand politicians do not have the credentials to second-guess these esteemed sources, and I attribute to you the good sense to appreciate this. I would urge you to step up to the mark and move New Zealand forwards, not backwards as Rodney Hide would have us do. At this point in time denial and delay can only hurt us, both domestically and internationally.

The Select Committee must be able to work quickly, so its focus must be dedicated to determining what we as a country can do right now to reduce our carbon emissions and curtail climate change. The Terms of Reference should specify that the goal of the Select Committee is a review of the ETS to ensure that it can work to these ends, not to question the science or to shift the goalposts to make it appear that we are reaching targets while we are in fact failing to reduce our emissions overall.

Since this is a matter of such magnitude and importance this Select Committee must represent as wide a cross-section of New Zealand as possible. Accordingly, this Committee should be large; at least 24 members.

Action on climate change needs to happen swiftly if we are not to be left behind by the rest of the world. I urge you to show this country and our international partners that you are the man for the job, and that you are not a Rodney.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this letter, because I know you have a great love for our country, and are ready to listen to all New Zealanders.


Kind Regards

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Easy Bolognaise

There are three ways to make a bolognaise:

1) Pour it out of a jar;

2) Simmer it on a stove for hours;

3) Whip it up in a pan in about 20 minutes.

My personal opinion is that option 2 is far and away the best. 1 is the easiest, but given the choice, I'd rather take option 3 over shop-bought any day.

Quick Fresh Bolognaise

(Serves 2-3)

Finely chop 1 onion and 2 cloves of garlic, then fry them in a hot pan with olive oil and soy sauce. Add 250g Beef Mince, freshly ground pepper and nutmeg, and Worcester sauce. Brown.
Add 2 fresh diced tomatoes, as ripe as you can manage, and sprinkle the pan with 1T balsamic vinegar, about 2t of sugar, and 2T of tomato sauce. Increase the heat and reduce rapidly, then simmer, bashing up the tomatoes and meat with a wooden spoon until they're smooth. Cook for about 10 minutes.
Before serving, stir through 3T of fresh chopped oregano.Serve with freshly grated edam and parmesan over pasta.

Monday, December 1, 2008

So It Goes

Have you ever walked into the bank and had to wait at the back of a long line for what seems like an interminably long time, and then when you're done at the teller and you turn around to leave, there's not another body to be seen? It's like you were the end of the rush, and with your departure, the staff will all lapse into relaxation and levity that the customers just never see. I dunno.

That's how I felt today when I popped into the bank to deposit a cheque and put a PIN on my card, both of which were the results of actions which prove that people are about as fallible as they are thoughtless: The cheque was from the SPCA, who refunded us the money we paid to adopt Lucy, except that they overpaid us by $150.00. So to save them the $25.00 fee for cancelling the cheque and issuing a new one, I'll take the difference back to them once the cheque clears. Someone apparently sent the accountant an email telling her that was how much she was meant to refund, and we are not the sort of people to unjustly keep funds from a charitable organisation due to a clerical error.

So I found myself at the bank, where I got to right an error of my own; a while ago, they sent me out a brand new card with the PIN loaded on it already. Ever the paragon of efficiency, I duly took my old card and chopped it in half. Then I realised that I had not in fact cut up the old card, but the new card. Er... So I had a new card issued, and it arrived without a PIN in it, so it's been floating around in my wallet for two months; absolutely useless. Until now. This is all quite fascinating, I'm sure, and you're asking, is there a deep and sobering point to be made about all this? Being left behind, maybe, or the gradual demise of the brain that clearly occurs when something starts to happen...

Yes, it has started. On Saturday I was brushing my teeth (this story just keeps getting better, doesn't it?) when I spied an anomoly on my lush scalp of dark brown hair. While I wept gently, my lovely Dessert Chef reassured me with the solemn platitude of "it's not grey, honey, its just a hair that's lost its pigmentation."

So it has begun. Will my sharpness be replaced by the pigment-less silver of aged wisdom? Will I finally stop getting asked for ID when I pick up a bottle of wine at the supermarket? Will people stop mistaking me for a fresh-faced teenager out of his depth in his field, and instead recognise a greying master of his craft, fully deserving of the accolades heaped upon him (mostly by himself, but heaped nonetheless).

Sometimes, then, you have to do things that make you feel young again. Some people enter triathlons, others find a new girlfriend. Me, I got back into something I haven't done since I could seriously say I was young. It's been almost 2 years since I actually worked onset (as a Film Lighting Technician), and probably 6 years since I worked for free on a job with no money in it.

Before I started working professionally as a Lighting Tech towards the end of LOTR, I had been a prolific writer/producer/director of short films, all of the no-budget variety. I had thought that when I got into the real world of film work I would develop a network that would help me take my no-budget projects to another level. As it turned out, it wasn't long before I was too tired to work on my own things, and then I was too jaded to work for free. Eight years passed.

Then someone I don't know, but who knows someone I know, asked me to look over a script he was working on. In a fairly short space of time I went from Script Consultant to Consulting Producer to First Assistant Director, as well as Gaffer. On Sunday we shot the first day of what will be a few sporadic shooting days over the next couple of months. It was a pretty full-on day, but it came together well. Truth be told, I was dreading having to work with a largely inexperienced crew on what seemed like an overly ambitious script, but I guess too many years of playing the professional game had diminished for me the memory of just how well a bunch of people who are really keen can actually be more productive than a handful of cynical, jaded professional film techs, especially when guided by someone who knows what they're doing.

It surprises me to say it, but I had fun. The crew and cast gave the day thier all, and not only did we shoot the schedule, we got an extra 2 pages shot and we were wrapped out almost an hour before my scheduled wrap time. Nice work, all of you. It's refreshing to have one's faith in the bottom end of the market restored. If all goes well, this keen and talented band won't be at the bottom end of the market for long.

Was I meant to tie this in with those bank stories and the tragedy of finding a grey hair? Oh well. I have a letter to write (And so should you).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Steak and Kumera Pie

I love a good pie. The hardest part, I reckon, is getting the filling to just the right consistency without making it taste too floury, or sugary. What to do, what to do? Again, I could have gone surfing for ideas or a recipe, but as usual, I eschewed the abundance of knowledge and experience that lies at the fringes of the bandwidth and went the non-google way: I opened the cupboard instead.

I had everything out to make a steak and cheese pie, and I was poking my head into our baking cupboard to decide what I could use for a thickener, when what did I see but one trusty kumera (sweet potato to my non-kiwi readers).

Purple, knobbly inspiration.

During the 2 hours that the filling simmers on the stove, the kumera breaks down, leaving its natural sweetness in the meat, while its natural vegetable starch gives the filling body and texture without tasting starchy. Natural thickener. Genius.

Beef & Kumera Pie

(serves 4-6)
In a large pan, heat 2-3T of rice bran or olive oil. Fry up 1 chopped onion and 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic. When they have softened, add 400g of diced blade steak to the pan, 1 roughly peeled and chopped kumera, freshly ground salt and pepper, 1 t carraway seeds, 1 T paprika, 1 t mustard powder (more if you like a bit more bite), and about 3T of worcester sauce.

Cook on rapid heat for 6 mins, then add 1C of beef stock and simmer gently for 2 hours.
While the filling is simmering, roll out the pastry (yes, we let the supermarket freezer make ours) and place in a greased piedish, about 28cm round. When the stew is done, dish into the pastry. Spread a layer of grated cheese over the top of the meat. We used edam and parmesan, but any good tasty cheese will do. Place the pie crust on top of the meat and press down around the edges with a fork, like so. glaze with milk, and pierce all over with the fork. Bake for 40 mins at 190C, preferably with the grill on very lightly to brown the top. For the sake of being traditional, serve with peas, carrots and tomato sauce.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pasta Carbonara

When you start asking people how they cook a carbonara, they get all vague and unhelpful. I have asked myself, accordingly, is this because everyone has their own secret recipe for carbonara, passed down from generation to generation by blood oath of silence, or do people just not know? Is the true shame of it that most people's carbonara comes from a jar?

I'll be honest with you: I don't have a secret recipe. I don't have a recipe full stop. I just know that I like a good carbonara, I know how they should taste, and so I went ahead and made one. I didn't even go surfing for clues. I just started cooking.

The results were... carbonara-y. Certainly very tasty. If I was served it up as a carbonara in a flash restaurant I might be a bit unimpressed, but if it was a cheap pasta place I'd be stoked. And anyway, I can't afford to go to flash restaurants, so the point is moot. I can cook as well as the places I can afford to go out to, and that must be something, right?

Best of all, this took about 15 minutes, so its brilliant for a week night to feed the family in a hurry.

Pasta Carbonara

(Serves 4)

Grease a pan with the rind cut from 4 rashers of bacon. Put the bacon fat on the edge of the pan, so that it continues to spread over the pan during the cooking process.

Break up 1 piece of stale bread and fry in the bacon fat. When the bread is starting to crisp, as 1 finely chopped onion and 2 finely chopped cloves of NZ garlic. Soften until almost starting to brown, then remove everything but the fat from the pan.

Regrease the pan with the bacon fat and bring to a high heat. Fry the 4 rashers of bacon, chopped into 1cm square pieces. When the bacon is cooked and starting to brown, remove the fat from the pan and add the onion/garlic/bread back in.

Add 1 1/2 chopped tomatoes to the pan. Reduce rapidly. Add a squeeze of BBQ sauce and mix everything thoroughly to heat through.
Meanwhile, boil up a pot of pasta and make a standard quantity of alfredo sauce. Mix the pasta, alfredo and bacon together, and serve with fresh steamed veges.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't Be A Rodney, John Key!

After much hard slog, Morgue has put together the "Don't Be A Rodney" campaign.

I urge everyone who lives in NZ to take action, and write a letter. Did we mention that postage to Parliament is free?

Don't Be A Rodney

For those of you not in NZ, send John Key an email. An international voice is needed as much as our own local efforts, to let the Government know that we cannot afford not to take action on climate change.

Don't Be A Rodney

Join the Facebook group, email this to everyone you know, post it on your blog. Whatever you can do, do. Spread the word, and most importantly, write a letter. It's as easy as it sounds.

Send a message to John Key - tell him not to be a Rodney on climate change!

On Tuesday 18 November, Barack Obama said it was time to confront
climate change.
"Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable
response. The stakes
are too high. The consequences, too serious."

But here in NZ, delay and denial is what we get. National has given
ACT their heart's
desire, a select committee process that will stall our response to
climate change.
This is embarrassing - and also financially dangerous! We've signed up
to Kyoto and
we have financial obligations that are getting bigger all the time!

The good news: it isn't too late. John Key can still get us back on track.
We just need to let him know that's what he should do.

So send him a letter. It's easy, and free - you don't need to stamp a
letter to Parliament!
Speak up for the 96% of NZ who didn't vote for Rodney.
Tell John Key to get moving on climate change.

Get more information here: http://dontbearodney.blogspot.com/

----

In your letter, ask for these things:

* Ask for the select committee to be a large one, not a small one!
* Ask for the "review of the science" to get the chop!
* Ask for a narrow focus to the committee business!

These three simple points will mean the select committee will get sorted
sooner and we can start chasing after our friends in Australia and the U.S.
who are way ahead of us on climate change.
There's more information on all of these points at
http://dontbearodney.blogspot.com/

Finally, here's a letter template you can cut and paste. It's easy!
And did I mention that postage to Parliament is free?

----
Rt Hon John Key
Prime Minister
Executive Wing
Parliament Buildings

Dear Prime Minister

** 1. Tell him why you are writing** [e.g. " I am writing to ask you
to show some leadership on climate change" or "I am concerned about
your direction on climate change or I am writing to you about climate
change"]

** 2. Explain in a bit more detail** [e.g. "I've read that as part of
your agreement with the Act party there will be a review of climate
change, and that this will include a review of the science on whether
climate change exists. I am concerned about this because..."]

** 3. Explain what action you'd like him to take and how this would
help ** [e.g. "I think it would be a good idea if you made sure that a
review of the science was not included as part of the role of the
Select Committee. Taking this off the agenda would help NZ maintain
credibility with the rest of the developed world."]

** 4. Maybe add a short personal note ** [e.g. "My family and I saw
you at the Taupo markets when you were out campaigning and I'd like to
congratulate you on winning the election"]

** 5. Thank him for his time! ** [e.g. "Thank you for taking the time
to consider my concerns. I look forward to hearing from you."]

Yours,

** YOUR NAME GOES HERE! **

----

Simple! So forward this around to people who aren't Rodney Hide.
Let's get a message to John Key - don't be a Rodney. Be like Barack!

http://dontbearodney.blogspot.com/
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=37044684218

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Guilty of Poaching

I've got a lot going on right now, so the blogging has been a bit thin. Besides all the busy-ness of family life and work, I've been making good on my commitment to write something creative every day (at least 12 sentences, thanks Jane), gearing up for shooting the first instalment in a webTV series, working with Morgue on a campaign to put pressure on John Key to keep the ETS in place, redrafting the obituary for Hugh Cook (the Herald didn't run it this Saturday, but they hope to this weekend - how inconsiderate, those local notaries passing away at a time like that!), and on the weekend I finally got out in the garden and put down some onions, potatoes and pumpkins. To be honest, some of the pumpkins are self-sown, as well as one potato plant I found amongst the weeds, and among those are a number of self-sown tomato plants as well. Pictures will follow at some stage, I promise.

But I won't complain. Now I just have to stay on top of the weeding and watering duties. Meanwhile, out the front, the herbs are going wild and we have a single brocolli that survived the ravages of the neighbourhood cats, one strawberry plant, and a few cultivated tomato seedlings. Looking good for the summer season.

Anyway, I got a call on the weekend from Uncle H asking how to poach an egg. Apparently Uncle H never used to like poached eggs, but since working on the boat and being fed catered meals for two weeks at a time, he has acquired the taste. And it just so happened that I had very recently made myself poached eggs for breakfast in anticipation of posting here (Dessert Chef doesn't seem to like them - why not is beyond me), and I had also been listening to a chap on Radio NZ describing how best to poach an egg, so I guess this post was inevitable.

As it turns out Uncle H and Liz E. Bear were missing the key ingredient required to make this dish a success: Vinegar. And as it also turns out, my wild suggestion to substitute the vinegar with wine was also ill-advised. Not to worry. They weren't my eggs.

The chap on the radio seemed to think this was best done in a deep pot, so I must try that one day.

Normally, I poach my eggs in a pan. Get the water rapidly simmering, add a generous pinch of salt and about 2T of vinegar; I tend to use balsamic, but white, brown or even cider are OK, as is red wine vinegar. If you're not sure, just use 1T the first time you make it.
Next, crack in your nice fresh free range eggs and put down your bread in the toaster. Keep the heat under the pan at a constant level, maintaining that simmer, and by the time your toast is popped and buttered, the eggs will be done. Drain the water and scoop onto your toast, dressing with freshly ground black pepper and a little salt.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lamb Steak

I know I keep going on about this, but I did the maths and it still works out that buying this delicious free range lamb from the market on the weekend is better financially than getting it from a mass supplier like a supermarket. How can that be?

Well, here's the thing: shortening of the supply chain. In a world where we have been brought up to believe that efficiencies lie in the mass consumer market, we conclude that small operators without huge buying power simply cannot participate in a competitive marketplace driven by the megasuppliers. But as we enter tighter economic times, it is these monopolistic leviathans that feel the pinch as they try to keep their swollen infrastructure costs under control.

Maintaining a supply chain even for a country as small as New Zealand must be a huge logistical challenge with a multitude of costs at every level. Incoming expenses from vendors supplying the big stores go up as everyone feels the bite of rising fuel costs. As this happens, there are only a few ways to recover those costs: Either increase the cost of the product, or reduce expenditure within the business framework. Both of these can be a painful blow to a mass producer/retailer.

With a small operation, those pains are still felt, but not quite as often. When you buy from a grower-seller, the product you're eating has been provided down a very short supply chain indeed: Grow the product, harvest it, package it, store it, transport it to market, sell it. No warehousing, no freezing costs, no overflow, no returns written off as bad debt (and thus wasted as food), no huge promotional overheads to meet.
These three lamb steaks cost me $4.00. In the supermarket the equivalent quantity would be worth about $7.00. So for once, a premium gourmet product can be found for almost half the price of a mass consumer equivalent in the supermarket. That seems to me to be something worth shouting out about. I've gone on enough about cooking and eating this lamb. That's not to say I won't do so again in the future (I have knuckles in the fridge right now!), but I won't bore you with the details of how I did these lovely steaks, other than to say that the garlic was just on the side of the pan, infusing the oil as the meat cooked to add a subtle fragrance to the lamb and fresh herbs.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Resolve

I have found fresh resolve.

I read a blog post today by Jane Lindskold (on the tor.com website) which laid out for me in no uncertain terms what it is I seem to be doing wrong.

Here it is in a nutshell:
Life seems to nibble away at writing time. [...] But no matter how drawn I am to these other things, I write. When I had another full-time job, I wrote seven days a week.
And the kicker:
Remember Decision Number One: Writing Gets Priority?
By that I mean fiction writing. Not letters or grocery lists or even, as much fun as this can be, blogs.
Every good writing tip I've ever had has revolved somehow around the instruction to write something every day. But there is a fundamental difference between writing something non-fiction like this blog, and the sort of fiction that I also enjoy writing and which I aspire to in a career-like fashion. Basically, a daily post to Freshly Ground just doesn't count towards what I need to be doing in terms of writing my next fantasy novel.

On top of that, I have an awful lot of research still to do before I can nail down my agent-publisher strategy, and of course none of that counts as writing either. Sadly.

But don't despair. Freshly Ground shall continue on in the haphazard manner that it always has; I enjoy showing off my culinary skills and having a whinge about politics now and again too much to let it fall by the wayside. What I must do is resolve to not finish a day unless I have written something of a fiction nature. Either that, or to know that I've worked on revising something which I've started. Poetry too will be OK, since it bridges the divide between fiction and non.

Jane's post has reminded me of something I used to do, way back when I was still planning my first novel and before I started the second draft on the computer:
I decided to pursue fiction writing longhand. Sometimes I simply carried a folded sheet of paper in my pocket.
I have a pile of notebooks that I used to carry around in one pocket, full of story ideas, notes on my novel, short poems, concepts for plays and games, not to mention (surprisingly) recipes. I no longer carry a notebook in my pocket at all times. I have evolved to a cold and heartless diary, full of times and places and notes about things.

This changes right now.
At least a couple of years ago, I was given a small book as a gift, made of handcrafted mahaguthi paper from Nepal (thanks Nan). I've never used it, as I felt it was too beautiful a piece of work to become scuffed and smudged and marked with the passage of many pockets and bags. Now I look at it and think this is too beautiful a piece of work to languish in a cupboard. Better it be filled with broken ramblings and half-finished stories than to lie buried in the dark for another count of years.

So now I have two things: A book to write in, and a commitment to write in it. Every day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pineapple Chicken with Moroccan Couscous

Do you ever feel like it's really time you did something different with that plain old slow-cooker chicken?

I get that feeling all the time. It's only sometimes that I have the imagination to actually do something about it.

Slow-Cooker chicken is so easy, and so good just as it comes, that it must be hands-down one of the best family meals you can cook. I was looking in the fridge for something that might make the bird more interesting when I spotted some pineapple rings from the night before, and I was inspired.

Don't forgot to pay very close attention to hygiene if you're going to get this intimate with a chicken...

Also pictured here is my latest obsession: Couscous. With apologies to anyone who already knows the joys of couscous, this stuff has to be the best carbo alternative there is. It takes just a few minutes to cook and tastes like whatever you choose to make it taste like. I'll be throwing around heaps of suggestions for how to make this stuff a normal part of your weekly meal routine as I discover more interesting ways to deliver it to the table.

Here it's cooked with a pre-packaged Moroccon spice blend. If you have the skill and the means to prepare your own spice blends, go for it - and maybe drop us a link here to share. From everything I've ever read about making up things like garam masala or other spicy mixes, the quantities involved are usually such that we would never use it all before it goes stale. So we stick to the pre-made ones for now. Suggestions welcome!

To cook couscous, just boil an equal quantity of water (ie, 1 Cup) with 3T olive oil and 1-2 T of flavouring, remove the water from the heat, add the couscous (again, 1 Cup), allow to stand off the heat for 3 minutes, then stir through 1T of butter. Fluff up with a fork and serve. Yummy stuff.

Now, onto the main event:

Pineapple-Stuffed Chicken

(Serves 4)

Take one whole chicken of a size suitable to feed your family, and make sure it is either fresh or completely thawed.
Slice the skin of the chicken near the tail on the breast side. Carefully prise the skin away from the flesh, making sure that it remains firmly attached down the length of the breast. Gently slide in two pineapple slices cut in half lengthwise, being careful not to break the skin, as per the picture.

Halve an onion and jam it firmly into the cavity.

Toss the chicken (gently) in a large bowl with 3T Soy Sauce, 1/4C Pineapple juice (reserved from the canned slices), freshly ground salt and pepper, and 3T of flour. Place on a low rack in the slow cooker, and cook on high for 2 hours, reducing to low for a further 3 hours. And yes, after all the care you took not to split the skin, it'll split anyway. But you didn't do it. The laws of physics did.Anyway, when you try to get the chook out of the cooker, it'll just fall apart. Dish the chicken and top it with the pineapple rings and fresh diced capsicum, alongside Morrocan Couscous and fresh veges.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Leeky Mince

Here's another quick trick to make your (expensive!) red meat go a bit further: Chop up a leek to go in it.

Put it in instead of an onion, and the leek will not disappear quite the way an onion does. At $1 each at the market, that's a pretty good way to get more out of your meal. (I think I repeated the grated carrot trick too).
I did this with long pasta and sauce, fresh diced red capsicum and grated parmesan.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lamb Forequarter Roast

Last Labour Weekend, we had a Rolled Lamb Forequarter Roast from the Wai-ora stand at the market. The week after, I got the same cut, but not rolled. I cooked it pretty much the same, just crushing the herbs a bit more finely and adding lemon zest and lemon juice to the dressing, then letting it stand for an hour before cooking. Because it wasn't rolled, it cooked in a much shorter time, about 45-50 mins. There is no more need for words to tell you how good this lamb is.