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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 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, 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.

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

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).