Monday, 30 December 2013

Thunder ~ and the cat harness comes in handy again ~

Cat harnesses are excellent things and I highly recommend them: here is my cat Bonnie, modelling hers.  She doesn't mind wearing it at all, although it's a case of her leading and me following.

My other cat, Louisa, is a different character altogether: I don't think she understands being on a leash, and with her tendency to run and then leap our (short) experimental sessions with the harness and leash could not be described as successful!  She is for the most part a confident and well-adjusted animal although terrritorial, readily commencing battle with any cat perceived to intrude on her world; but there is one thing that frightens her badly and that is sudden loud noise. 

Over the years I have helped her learn to stare down the terror of the rubbish trucks on their weekly missions past the gate, but fireworks and thunder still make her race for cover - usually under the bed - a sensible and safe hiding place.  

Today an unexpected downpour of rain brought with it a clap of thunder.  Wondering about lightening I glanced out the window, and with dismay and puzzlement saw Louisa shoot away across the road and into the grounds of the cottage opposite.  

Dear me, that was a dangerous direction, but must have felt like the safest one to her at that moment.  Wondering whether in moments of peril animals instinctively run downhill rather that up I pulled on my raincoat and set out after her.  Another and far more ferocious clap of thunder crashed through air.  As the rain pelted down I called and called but to no avail, and went home defeated.  What to do?  

The road is only moderately busy but I didn't want her taking the risk of crossing it after a fright like that.  I decided to go over again, this time with the cat harness.  I have two, one for each cat, and although I hardly ever use them I keep both hanging up where I put my handbag so that I can easily put my hand on them at any time.  Today I was glad of it.  I wasn't intending to let her walk back across the road even with it on, but I did want to be able to hold her safely and know that if she wriggled free I wouldn't lose her under the wheels of a car.    

Walking along the side of the cottage and calling her again I heard a faint meow, and after a pause she emerged from a hiding place.  I talked to her quietly as I clipped the harness on and picked her up, firmly entwining my hand in the straps.  So far, so good and both of us were calm, but as we got back to the road where the noise of traffic moving fast, tyres hissing on the wet road, was loudest, she struggled furiously.  I was able to hold her firmly clasped with the confidence of knowing that she couldn't fall.  I am sure one's confidence is very important to an animal in distress.  I didn't put her down until we got to the back door, let the two of us in, and shut the door and cat flap.  Then I unclipped the leash.  She was home and safe - phewf!  

I left the harness itself on in the hope that she would associate the feel of it with being home safely.  She didn't complain, and responded with pleasure to the treats I put out for her and all the special attention.  Then I took it off, leaving it on the floor where she could look at it later.  She didn't care, just went to her favourite spot on the divan, curled up and went to sleep.  I must have another go at teaching her to walk in it, but in the meantime it has once more served it's turn, and all's well that ends well!

The previous article I wrote about the value of cat harnesses can be found via the link below:
  • The manufacturers of cat harnesses instruct that a cat wearing a harness should not be left unattended - in case they get it hooked on something and so come to harm.
  • For the same reason a cat's collar should be sufficiently loose so that the cat can slip free of it.  Vets say that the fit of a cat's collar is right when it allows two fingers to be easily slipped between it and the cat's neck.  
I wish I had known about the correct fit of cat collars when we started caring for Bonnie, who came with the house we were renting at the time.  Her collar was a horrid hard plastic and too tight causing considerable discomfort, which unfortunately I didn't realise until later.  She had always hung her head, which I thought must be a reflection of low mood as she seemed a depressed animal.  But after the collar broke of its own accord and was discarded she started to improve.  She stretched her neck out a great deal and when I massaged it kept it stretched out seeming to want me to continue on and on.  Poor thing.  Her general demeanour continued to improve over time and she became the confident animal we have today.  The uncomfortable collar hadn't been her only difficulty, but it was a big one.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Lemon pudding ~ a festive treat at any time of year

This dessert has been a family favourite for as long as I can remember.  The recipe I share here is derived from one in New Zealand's historically most longstanding cookbook, in which is called 'Lemon cheese pudding'.  However, since the reference to cheese is entirely mysterious I have left it out of the name of my recipe.

It is basically a baked custard in which the eggs have been separated, the whites beaten until stiff, after which they are combined with other ingredients just before being placed in the oven, and of course it includes plenty of lemons.

Quantities given here make sufficient for 4 generous servings.  If you are making a dessert for two, halve it.  I assure you that everyone will want second helpings, so it's nice to have plenty!
Butter - 2 Tablespoons
Sugar - 1 cup
Flour - 4 Tablespoons
Lemons - the rind and juice of 4 of the small variety of lemons: when I last made this recipe these produced about a teaspoon of zest and 7 tablespoons of juice.
Milk - 2 cups
Eggs - 4
Salt - a pinch
Locate the baking dishes you will use: The casserole dish or dishes which hold the mixture are baked while standing in a large and probably enamel baking dish filled with water, so the enamel one needs to be big enough to hold the others.  When making suffient for four I use two glass dishes, one large and the other of medium size.

Set the oven to 160 degrees Celsius
Cream the butter and sugar
Grate the rind from the lemons and then juice them
Add the lemon and flour to the creamed butter and sugar
Separate the egg yolks from the whites
Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until stiff and set aside
Beat the yolks with the milk and combine the liquid with creamed butter and sugar, etc.
The mixture should have a pleasant tang.  If your lemons do not seem to have been particularly flavoursome you could add a further teaspoon of lemon essence.   
Lastly fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites, taking care not to do so too thoroughly.
Next, put the empty baking dish into the oven at a medium height
Place your dish or dishes of mixture into the baking dish and push the rack into the oven
Finally, carefully fill the baking dish with a safe amount of tepid water - and close the door!

There are three vital element of success: 
  • The first is to fold the egg whites in only lightly, so that the mixture doesn't fully combine - the fluffiness then gravitates to the top and the more custardy part to the bottom. 
  • The second is that the water bath is filled with tepid water, which ensures that the bottom part of the pudding will remain nice and gooey whereas the rest of the pudding sets.  Strangely, the original recipe differs in this respect, an early edition states cold water and a later one, hot.  The hot water is definitely a mistake as the whole thing will set solid and the delicate balance of texure and flavour lost - you might as well toss it out.
  • The third is do not overcook it!  Check it after about 30 minutes by carefully tilting the glass dish.  You want the pudding to bulge slightly when you do so, indicating a degree of runniness in the bottom part.  The top is likely to be a little golden, but this may be dependent on the style of oven used.  And as with any baking, the results are always a little different each time.  

In the unlikely event of any pudding being left over after your meal it can sucessfully be stored in the fridge and served cold the following day and be similarly delicious.  It can also be spoooned into little pottles and frozen, to be taken out later as individual treats.

My other recipes can be found listed together on this page:

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Christmas can be a time to give ~ and for quiet reflection

In recent years I've become ambivilent about Christmas.  There are two ways in which Christmas is commonly celebrated, one of them being general jollification which may or may not involve the exchange of gifts, and the other which is the Christian religious observance, a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, teacher, healer and prophet. I'm no longer sure where I fit in relation to either of these.

I have had a think about what I actually do like and feel comfortable with.  I like the principle of generosity through charitable actions which is a central theme in Christian teachings, and an important one for me.  Lots of people have helped me throughout my life and I, in my turn, have helped lots of people.  It's good for everyone.

At Christmas time this can be expressed through gift-giving.  This is nice in its way but for me the giving of a whole lot of personal gifts at one time is a strain, so although I like the idea of it I prefer to confine that form of giving to birthdays, and at this time of year to focus on more general or directly charitable ways of giving, such as to charities. 

In considering this yesterday I realised that some time ago I had set aside a whole box of clothes to be given away which somehow hadn't made it into the car.  I got them out.  All of them are in good condition and are really nice:

Looking at each garment brought back particular memories.  I particularly loved the pale satin blouse with the rouched edging and pretty shell buttons: it used to have a contrasting skirt that went with it, but I really have finished it and indeed with all of them and it's time to let others enjoy them.  The fact that most of them came to me from second hand or charity shops in the first place makes it all the more appropriate to pass them on in this way.

Charity shops are veritable gold mines: there are things from charity shops in every room of my home.  This lovely cushion is a recent find.  Someone didn't want it any more and was throughtful enough to bring it to the shop so that someone else had the opportunity to enjoy it, and that lucky someone turned out to be me, so thanks a lot to whoever it was who made that effort!

This is all very well, but the question remains of what to do on Christmas Day itself.  I am not a church-goer, nor do I want to engage in hectic social gatherings, yet one has to 'do' something - ask anyone who opts out and, ten to one, they will tell you that for some reason or other doing so can very easily become A Rather Depressing Experience.  I don't know why this is, but so it is.

I have decided that a structured approach will probably be best.  I could have choosen to spend it with family and friends, but will probably spend it alone.  This is a choice.

I might see if I can make a more concerted effort at teaching myself how to string bead necklaces. As I have an abundance of beads that need re-stringing this is something I have been wanting to get to grips with for ages, so some weeks ago when I had an unexpected windfall I paid a visit to Spotlight, and bought the gear as a gift for myself:

I bought a handsome magnifying glass at the same time so that I can peer through it at tiny things, which will no doubt prove essential for the fiddlier parts of the work.  This is another thing I've been wanting for ages!  I love the cover and the little cleaning cloth which came with it.  I got all these at Spotlight, a great place to get craft gear.

Other than that I'd like to spend time reviewing where inspiration has come from in recent years and possible ways I'd like to make use of that.  I am always grateful for inspiration, whatever the source.  I may write some letters.  Letter writing can be important in this way, bringing to light some of what is most important to us, even if we then choose not to send them.

I'll probably chat on the phone or 'skype' with a few of my important people.  I've got used to Skype during the year, a wonderful way of reducing the sense of distance that comes from not seeing the faces of our loved ones.  I haven't seen my brothers for years and was aware that last time I skyped with one of them I couldn't stop smiling - what magic!

One of the reasons I find Christmas hard is that I still miss my dad, who died suddenly over 30 years ago.  If he were here this Christmas we would have fruit salad for breakfast, made the night before with the particular inclusion of tinned pineapple with ginger added to the syrup, bananas and chopped dates which went deliciously soggy overnight, and delectable tinned peaches (from the days when they were delectable).  We would probably go to church together, enjoy singing both hymns and carols, and exchange gifts.  His would be wrapped in the white paper patterned with the gold fleur-de-lis which was his especial favourite.  We might listen to a Haydn concerto or two, and go for a walk.  These are happy imaginings mingled with past family tradition.  It's bewildering that some relationships have such a vivid place in our lives even at such a distance in time.  I will think of him on Christmas Day and probably shed some tears, 'water for the dead', as Frank Herbert aptly termed it.

But time moves on, and my brothers and sisters and I are becoming the elders in our now extended families and must make our own way, as our parents did before us. 

This morning a reminder about the importance of giving came to me from Wikipedia, which I donate to from time to time.  Many of my articles include links to Wikipedia, which I regard as an important external source for factual references and further reading.  It is the world's fifth largest website and run by a very small staff who oversee contributions of the thousands of people who voluntarily write on their subjects of special interest and expertise so that others can benefit from them.  Anyone can contribute to writing and editing, so this is global co-operation and altruism at its best.  Knowledge brings freedom in so many ways.  Even though Wikipedia is a charitable foundation it still costs money to run: administrators have to live, and web servers and the like have to be paid for, so I am happy to donate small amounts from time to time.  Today I gave $5.  It all helps.  I encourage others to do the similarly.  Below is a video in which a number of contributors describe their involvement:

Those looking for ideas for simple, thrifty, ecologically sound gifts may find these two articles I wrote last year useful:

And here, also from previous Christmases, you can find some yummy food ideas:

~ I wish you all a peaceful Christmas. ~

My later article about what happened on Christmas Eve can be found by clicking on the link below:

Monday, 30 September 2013

Cheese sauce ~ the easiest and probably lowest-fat recipe ever, with a delicious soft-boiled egg and steamed veges ~

This quick, delicious meal has suddenly become a favourite, and no wonder - it's easy.  It is a simple and substantial meal for one, or for the family - and is no more or no less trouble either way.  

I devised this very simple version of a vegetable and cheese sauce casserole which includes hard-boiled eggs when I was running short of time and feeling hungry.  I was on my own so I didn't feeling like going to much trouble.  Now I much prefer it to the casserole!  When timed carefully all the components are cooked to a bare minimum ensuring maximum flavour and nutritious value, and the eggs are still tender and just slightly melty.  For those who are careful about calories and fat intake there is probably less fat in this sauce than any you'll find in any other and yet it still tastes deliciously cheesy. 

An important ingredient in cheese sauce is mustard.  It amplifies the cheesy flavour wonderfully!  The box of mustard pictured here is powdered.

The success of this meal lies in organisation: 
Line up all the components before you start to cook and get everything prepared, including the water boiling in the saucepan for the eggs, your veges chopped and ready to go into the steamer which is already steaming, and the milk shaken up and cheese grated as described below:  The veges may take a little longer than the ten minutes needed to manage the sauce and the eggs but not by much.  Also before you start: lay the table and get all of that side of things lined up because when the meal is cooked you'll want to sit down to eat it right away!

How to make The Easiest-Ever Cheese Sauce:
For each person you will need:
  • Milk - 1 cup 
  • Flour, plain - 2 tablespoons (level)
  • Mustard powder - 1 teaspoon - or equivilent other sort
  • Salt - I use half a teaspoon per person.  If this seems a lot try starting with less and adjust as desired.
  • Pepper - of whatever quantity you fancy
  • Grated cheese - 25 grams / about an ounce / one third of a cup.  I use an Edam-style cheese which is said to contain about 25% less fat than other cheddar cheeses. 
Starting with the milk put all the ingredients except the cheese into a plastic or glass container which has a secure lid.  Fill it no more than two thirds full, then, after closing the lid and grasping it firmly, shake it vigorously for a bit.  Next, tip the liquid into a saucepan and cook it gently until it thickens, stirring a moderate amount.  Any floury lumps should dissolve.  Cooking may take about ten minutes.  When you are satisfied that it has cooked adequately take it off the heat and stir in the cheese - and you're done!

Tender soft-boiled eggs take between eight and nine minutes to cook - when simmered for the whole length of that time.  Get that water boiling properly before you carefully lower the eggs in on a spoon and then moderate the temperature so that the water continues to simmer.  You don't want it to boil hard - just quietly, but make sure that it is actually boiling.  The egg pictured was boiled for nine minutes.  I prefer mine just a little more tender at eight minutes.  The eggs still peel perfectly easily. Whatever time you pick take the saucepan off the heat at soon as the time is up and put it under the cold tap letting the fresh water gradually cool the water in the saucepan.  I avoid running cold water directly onto the eggs in deference to a vague memory of being instructed to do so.  I don't know if there is any actual benefit in that or not.  Once the eggs have cooled slightly peel and halve them.

Vegetables to go with it:
My favourites are lightly cooked leeks and cauliflour - delicious!  When cooked properly these have a completely different flavour than when they are overcooked.  I like them just tender.  Pumpkin and green vegetables are also good.  
     Short of fresh veges in the garden or pantry?  A bag of frozen mixed vegetables from the supermarket can be reasonably priced and work well providing good quality prepared veges which can be poured directly into a steamer and which take about ten minutes to cook.  

Serving of vegetables per person:
I find about a cupful is a good start.  If you're not sure how much you want tip a cupful into your chosen dinner bowl - in this instance I have tipped my frozen veges into a noodle bowl:  

I like pumpkin as well, and have frozen chunks stored in the freezer:

Into the steamer they go!

Serve up:
Veges on the bottom, egg cut into halves nestling in the middle, then top with your cheese sauce.  
Serve with salad / fresh tomatoes / felafels / steamed potatoes, or have just as is.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Stir-fry ~ a meal in a pan

This version of a stir-fry meal is a popular one in our household: it's tasty, nourishing and simple to prepare.  How closely it resembles other people's stir-frys I don't know, but it works for us so here it is:

Preparation time - about a quarter of an hour.
Cooking time - about a quarter of an hour.

I start by assembling a selection of ingredients and then chop the vegetables.  It really doesn't matter what vegetables are used - our stir-frys vary depending on the season and what happens to be in the pantry.  Below you can see tofu, carrots, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, frozen peas, and on the small saucer garlic and fresh ginger. The five larger dishes are dessert plates.

I took this photo when I was preparing a meal for two of us recently.

Here is a more exact description of the ingredients and what I did with them, but three steps come first:
(1) In one cup:
  • Soy sauce - about a tablespoon 
    • I didn't have any on this occasion, so I substituted a teaspoon of Vegemite
  • Mix either of these ingredients into about half a cup of hot water
(2) In another cup
  • Cornflour - 1 tablespoon 
  • Mix with half a cup of cold water (cold so that it doesn't go lumpy)
Set these to one side.

(3) Boil a kettleful of water so that you have plenty of hot water for your rice or pasta.

And now for the main part:
Put a couple of tablespoons of oil into a large frying pan and heat slightly before using it to saute (lightly fry) the...
  • Onion - 1 - chopped
  • Garlic - 1 - 2 cloves - finely chopped
  • Ginger, fresh, if you have it - about a teaspoonful finely chopped
Add to it and cook until lightly softened
  • Mushroom, button - a few medium-sized
Now add
  • Carrot - 1 - cut to your preferred size and shape.
  • Peas, frozen - about two thirds of a cup
  • Cabbage -  enough for the two of you
Turn all this over in the pan briefly to combine everything and then...

Add the soy sauce and hot water as prepared above.  You'll probably need more water - just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan nicely and provide sufficient steam for the veges to cook but not enough to immerse them.  Put the lid on but keep an eye on it to be sure that it cooks evenly and doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan.

This is a good time to put the pasta or rice on to cook. 

Once the veges begin to soften stir in...
  • Cornflour as prepared above.  You need enough to take up runny liquid and lightly glaze veges.  If it all goes gluggy add a little hot water gradually.
  • Tofu - 200 grams - cut into chunks.  I add the tofu last so that it doesn't go mushy with stirring.  If you don't much care for tofu it's possible that you haven't had the good stuff.  I get mine from Asian Groceries in St Kilda - it is the best I've come across anywhere! 
  • Check the seasoning and add a little more of what you fancy if thre is a need for anything else.  
  • I am, in general, nervous of chilli in any form, but must say that a small amount of chilli sauce can add something special to otherwise rather ordinary flavours.  About half a teaspoon per serving is my upper limit, and please note that this is sauce - not chilli powder, which is more potent.
By the time you've done this the veges are probably done.  I like them best when they are still a little firm, but this is a matter of choice and easy to adjust to suit your preference.  

A word about co-ordinating cooking times for the veges and pasta or rice: I find it's easier to stand the veges for a minute or two rather than the pasta or rice, which really need to be served right away.  

Bingo, you are done!  Here is my meal just before I started.  It was perfectly delicious!  And yes, that's a glass of milk next to it.  When I was growing up we always had a glass of milk with our dinners, but in those days it was a subsidized food and cost four cents a pint.  How fortunate I was!  Those days are long gone, but I still like a glass of milk with my meal. 

The success of this meal depends more on cooking times and seasoning than the choice of ingredients.  Under-seasoned, over-cooked and watery it could only be described as a flop, but get the other factors right and it is very good indeed!

Cooking rice and pasta:
  • The dried pasta shown in the photo above takes 12 minutes to cook, just as it says on the packet.  This means 12 minutes at a brisk boil.  I like to buy this brand as the flour used is described as durum flour, which is the traditional flour used in pasta and is high in protein and low in gluten.  (Maybe all pasta on our supermarket shelves is made from durum wheat - I'll have a closer look next time I go shopping.)
  • Only recently I figured out how much dried pasta to put into the pot: I measure the weight on the scales.  200 - 250 grams is a good amount for two adults. 
  • Adding salt to the boiling pot will flavour your pasta.  I put in about one teaspoon per 100 grams.  Preferences will differ.
  • After you have drained the pasta (I used a sieve) the addition of a dash of oil will prevent it from sticking to itself, although it you serve it all immediately this isn't necessary.
  • White rice takes about the same length of time.  I like the absorption method, which means that by the time the rice is cooked all the water it has cooked in will have been absorbed.   The ratio recommended for this is usually two cups of water to one cup of rice, but as none of my pot lids fit all that well I start with three cups of water to one cup of rice.  One teaspoon of salt per cup of rice works suits my sense of taste.
  • White rice is not as nutritious as wholegrain rice as nourishment contained in the outer fibres has been removed.  I have got out of the way of using it for no good reason.  Wholegrain rice does take longer to cook so its use requires a little more forethought. 

Storing that fresh ginger:
The best way I've found to store this excellent vegetable is in a glass jar in the fridge. 

Fresh ginger isn't as 'hot' as powdered ginger.  It has a somewhat different flavour and adds a certain piquancy to stir frys.  It can also have a transformational effect on lightly cooked cabbage: try a teaspoon or so of it finely chopped, and add with about the same quantity of butter or vegetable oil - delicious!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Measuring ingredients in the kitchen ~ converting metric, British imperial, and good old cups and spoons

These scales show both metric and British imperial.
A reasonable degree of accuracy in the measurement of ingredients is central to the success of both cooking and baking, but the way that quantities are shown in recipes can lead to  confusion:

Here in New Zealand old recipe books are likely to show quantities in the British imperial measurements of pounds and ounces whereas those that are more recent may be shown exclusively in metric.   

American cookbooks on the other hand, use a different set of measures which, while they resemble the imperial ones, are actually different.  I have not attempted to cover those here as I am not familiar with them.

To confuse things further any of these recipes may include some measures in cupfuls and not give a weight at all.  

This is the reason why (most) of the recipes I share include both metric and imperial measures and often the equivalent in cupfuls.  

But if you are at all adventurous you'll be using a range of recipes from various sources and a sensible set of conversion tables will be just as important in the kitchen as a reliable set of kitchen scales, and standard measuring cups and spoons, in fact I would say more so!   I use mine a lot!

The conversion tables shown below are the ones I have found most useful.  

First and foremost:
  • Metric:  
    • Kilo is shown as 'kg'
    • Gram is shown as 'g'
    • Litre is shown as 'L'
    • Millilitre is shown as 'ml'
  • Imperial: 
    • Pounds are shown as 'lb' (I have no idea why!)
    • Ounces are shown as 'oz' (ditto)
  • Cups are often shown as 'C'
  • Spoons: 
    • Tablespoons  =  Tbsp (note capital 'T')
    • Dessertspoon  =  dsp - although seldom used
    • Teaspoon  =  tsp

Metric and imperial weight: grams and kilos converted to ounces and pounds:
1,000 grams  =  1 kilogram   =  2 pounds, 4 ounces.

This quick reference chart which was printed in old editions of 'Edmonds' will help you work out what you need in the simplest possible terms.  These are approximate as strictly speaking 1 ounce equals 28 grams, rather than the 25 grams shown below.  A better more closely approximate step for the 1 - 4 oz amounts would be 30 grams - refer to my figures in brackets below!
  • 1 oz  =  25 g  (or 30 g)
  • 2 oz   =  50 g  (or 60 g)
  • 3 oz  =  75 g  (or 90 g)
  • 4 oz  = 125 g  =  A quarter of a pound.  Note the uneven increment between 3 oz and this one! 
  • 5 oz  = 150 g
  • 6 oz  = 175 g
  • 7 oz  =  200 g
  • 8 oz  =  225 g  =  Half a pound
  • 9 oz  =  250 g
  • 10 oz  =  275 g
  • 11 oz  =  275 g
  • 12 oz  =  350 g  =  Three quarters of a pound
  • 13 oz  =  375 g
  • 14 oz  =  400 g
  • 15 oz  =  450 g
  • 16 oz  =  500 g  =  Approximately 1 pound.

Measuring weight using cups and spoons:
Note: the old standard imperial cup has a slightly smaller in capacity than the new standard metric cup - as noted below in the section about liquid measurements.  As far as I know measurements by the spoonful have remained the same.  

This chart (a selection from 'Edmonds') provides a useful rule of thumb for measuring a range of ingredients:
The weight of ingredients varies greatly and for this reason the amount per cup or spoonful also varies.  Measurements given are for level cups and spoons.
  • Breadcrumbs, dry... 1 cup  =  125 g  /  4 oz
  • Breadcrumbs, fresh... 1 cup  =  50 g  /  2 oz
  • Butter... 2 Tbsp  =  25 g  /  1 oz
  • Cheese, grated... 1 cup  =  75-90 g  /  3 oz  (weight amended!)
  • Coconut... 1 cup  =  125 g  /  4 oz
  • Cornflour... 2 Tbsp  =  25 g  / 1 oz
  • Dried fruit such as sultanas and currants... 1 cup  =  175 g  /  6 oz
  • Flour, both white and wholemeal... 1 cup  =  125 g  /  4 oz
    • Flour does vary in weight
  • Flour... 4 Tbsp  =  25 g / 1 oz
  • Golden syrup... 1 Tbsp  =  25 g  /  1 oz   
  • Icing sugar... 1 cup  =  150 g  /  5 oz
  • Salt... 1 Tbsp  =  25 g  /  1 oz
  • Sugar... 1 cup  =  225 g  /  8 oz
  • Sugar... 2 Tbsp  =  25 g  /  1 oz

Metric liquid volumes - litres to imperial measures:
1 litre  =  approximately 2 pints
1 litre  =  1,000 millilitres

Metric cups and spoons:
1 metric cup  = 250 ml
1 tablespoon  =  15 ml
     Old imperial measure of 2 Tbsp  =  1 oz  /  25 grams 
1 dessertspoon  =  10 ml
1 teaspoon  = 5 ml.

The old imperial cup is just a little smaller:
1 standard imperial cup  =  8 fluid ounce capacity, which is 225 ml.

Somehow I have acquired two sets of scales over the years, which are quite different from each other.  Both were acquired second hand.   Both work without batteries - a basic prerequisite for me as I destest buying batteries and avoid the need to do so where ever possible.  Neither is completely accurate, as I've found when adding small amounts, say of butter, to small amounts which are already on the measuring tray.  This has become apparant on some occasions when I have realised that the quantity seems rather more that I would have expected: taking all the ingredient off and then putting it back on showed a different amount.  But on the whole they are excellent. 

Measuring cups: 
I bought my unremarkable set long ago.  I avoid plastic wherever possible, so these are metal which I much prefer.  I could have made do with a single china cup but this set was inexpensive and the range of sizes, four of them ranging from a full cup down to a quarter of a cup, make measuring that bit easier. 

Measuring spoons: 
Again these were inexpensive, and are made of metal.  I got my present set just recently and had to make a big effort to find a set made in metal.  Most in the shops at the moment are plastic which I had set my mind against as part of my long term strategy to rid my household of this non-biodgradable material.  These ones were about the same price - inexpensive, and will probably last for decades, so thank you, New World Supermarket!  As with the measuring cups I could manage without them, but they make accurate measuring that much easier.   

Happy measuring! 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Moana Pool ~ swim away those winter blues ~ get in and get going!

That swimming could be fun in the depths of winter came as a complete surprise to me.  I hadn't swum in an indoor pool for years.  There was a time when I did so fairly often but that was long ago and it was only by chance that I ended up taking the plunge once more.

It came about when my blind friend Richard was gifted ten swimming lessons at Dunedin's Moana Pool.  I was delighted for him as I knew he had long wanted to learn, but when he asked me to accompany him as a helper I was less than enthusiastic, my response being one of lagging agreement rather than leaping at the opportunity.  I'm so glad I did!  

Even so, I had no intention of getting into the water - that was for the coach to do, or so I thought, but after having looked on from the side of the pool for that first half hour I felt just a little bit left out.  Here is coach Jeffery Calder, in the water with Richard helping him work things out:

The atmosphere inside the pool complex is light, airy and lively, and the water always looks inviting; lots of other people were in the water and active.  In the above image I captured a moment all the other swimmers was elsewhere, but there were plenty of people about, both in this pool and the other ones:  

Privately I had considered how self-conscious I might feel parading about in a close equivalent to underwear - I've got a bit heavier over the years, but looking around I decided that if other people could assume nonchalance, I could too.  Anyway it's not a fashion contest, and to hang back would have been to miss an important opportunity.

Much more importantly I could see that if Richard was to get the maximum out of his lessons he would need to put in some practice in between them, and on those occasions he would need someone in the water to provide a modicum of assistance.  (Me?!).  His coach readily agreed, and I was pleased to learn that as Richard's helper I would get in for free, an unexpected plus.  

Back home I rummaged through drawers to find ancient togs!  Once found they seemed okay.  Miraculously I was still able to get into them.  My decision to risk it gained conviction!

Next time we went to the pool I felt pleasant anticipation, which, still being wary, I carefully concealed.  

I needn't have worried: climbing down into the comfortably warm pool, pushing off from the side, and feeling the buoyancy of the water felt good as ever.  It all came back.  I swam back and forth from one end to the other ahead of, or sometimes behind Richard, plowing along with more or less competent strokes - and enjoyed myself.   

Richard's coach Jeffery Calder, has been great!  Each time we go we get more out of it.  Richard has responded well to the coach's skilful and patient direction and improves with each lesson, and I am getting in plenty of practice - bravo, and ever so many thanks!

The dreary wet winter weather of recent months has been decidedly depressing, and I know others who have felt the same.  Getting out has seemed difficult and often not that enjoyable, and my usual interests have palled.  Having made a commitment to go swimming twice a week has certainly lifted my spirits.

I do encourage others to give it a go.  Swimming seems to be a lot like dancing: there is no age limit and everyone can choose their own level: those that can't swim at all can still enjoy the smaller shallower pools, or have fun on the water slides, and those who want to swim lengths can do so in lanes set aside for this purpose. There is also a gym as well as a spa pool.  A range of fees apply depending on usage.

Swimming can provide a good outlet for those with disabilities.  Being acquainted with a range of people who are disabled in one way or another I know that it can often be difficult to get suitable exercise.  At the complex there are plenty of pool attendants to ensure that swimmers are safe, and a chair hoist is available for those who are unable to manage the usual steps into the pools.

On the occasion of my first visit I saw this hoist being used to help a severely disabled person into the pool.  It took the combined efforts of the person's carer as well as a pool attendant some time to do so.  It wasn't easy but it worked.  A floatation device was then used to support the disabled person in the water.  I was full of admiration - what pluck and determination!   I imagined what a freeing sensation being in the water must have been for that man!  I award a bouquet to the pool people for providing that facility, and an even bigger bouquet to the carer, whose efforts were inspiring.

Be aware that carers of disabled people get in free if their assistance is needed.  This is great, as it makes it that much easier for disabled people to ask a carer to accompany them.   

Another good accommodation provided is the changing room set aside for the use of disabled people - it's part of the group of family changing rooms.  It is fairly spacious and sensibly includes a toilet.  You'll need to ask for the key.  Belongings can't be left in the changing rooms though, so be prepared to shell out for a locker for valuables.  However, cubby holes within sight of the pools are also provided and these are free of charge. 

There is no need to fear that you might get cold: the water temperature is set at 28 degrees Celsius.  Richard and I compared notes and agreed that it felt more like 18 degrees which may indicate that we sense the temperature of water differently to that of air, but were none the less quite comfortable.  The air temperature is also very mild.  
Moana Pool is operated by the Dunedin City Council.  Within the complex there are a number of pools to choose from, from paddling and swirl pools for the youngsters to water slides as well as the big Olympic sized pool which is at present divided into two by a movable bulkhead.

The cost is modest as can be see on these schedules:
The location is a big chunky building on Littlebourne Road where it intersects with Stuart Street on the north western corner.  Free parking can be found around the corner off Littlebourne Road.

International swimming champion Danyon Loader has had a lengthy association with the pool, and is honoured by one of the big pools being named after him, I'm not sure which one.  I remember how media-shy he was as a young man and what a surprise it was to see him participating in the television show 'Dancing with the Stars'  I remember being captivated by the distinctive fluidity of his dancing, which I didn't see in any of the other dancers, no matter how accomplished they were.  He was so graceful, no doubt a result of how his muscles had become conditioned to moving through water. 

This remarkable video of 'The Presets' song "Ghosts" features a number of divers who show comparable gracefulness.  To me they look like birds!  And I do like the song!

And lastly, from the sublime back to the mundane: a little show-and-tell about my togs bag:  regular readers will be familiar with my earlier articles about giving up the use of plastic bags, the links to which can be found in this article:
I have more to write about this important topic but in the meantime here are two photos of the bag I made for the purpose of carrying wet gear.  

I purchased the material for it at 'Spotlight'.  It is called 'parker nylon' and cost $10 a metre.  One metre was enough to make three bags across the width.  I chose this bright yellow so I can easily find the bag in the back of the cupboard.  

Tip: an easy way to check the degree of waterproofing is to place the material against your lips and see if you can blow through it.  If you can't blow through it at all, it's likely to be waterproof.

The construction couldn't be simpler: 
  • It's cut from a single piece with the handles cut on the fold so these have no joins.
  • Construction is created by a single seam: down one side, along the bottom and up the other side
  • All the edges are neatened with a simple zigzag stitch. 
  • Note: it's easier if you zigzag the edges around the top and the handles before you do the side seams.  
If this works for you, remember that you read about it here first, because yes, the design is original.


Footnote: information on the Moana Pool website is good on the whole but there are areas which could be improved: 
  • There is no address given
  • Old job advertisements for swimming coaches from the beginning of the year are surely well out of date.  
  • I do think too, that a few photographs of the pools and environs would do much to encourage prospective swimmers.  

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

2 Degrees tower to go ahead despite local opposition ~ protest action planned for 19th June 2013

Local residents strongly object to the installation of a twelve metre cell phone tower on land at the Brighton end of Scroggs Hill Road.  The placard pictured below neatly conveys local sentiment of this unwelcome invasion of a small suburban street.  The street view shown is of the actual street where the tower is expected to go up:

My understanding is that the site is owned by the Dunedin City Council which gave permission without informing residents - as it was not required to do so.  It is a great pity that there always seems to have to be a rule in place for ordinary people to be treated with a modicum of respect.  In this case there wasn't a rule, so the basic courtesy of engaging with ratepayers and residents was not considered necessary.  If this is indeed the case it was a poor show on the part of our Council!

When locals did find out about it heated opposition developed.  Concerns were expressed at a community meeting on the 29th April, after which 2 Degrees went away to reconsider its plans.  It was a great disappointment that the telecommunications company did not change its position as a result.  

Residents object to the cell phone tower on three grounds: the aesthetics of the tower, potential health risks, and that this use of the site would ''rule out road improvements on that corner''.  

It certainly is a very beautiful location with panoramic views.  Here is the view looking north towards Dunedin:

The photograph below shows the site from the main road below.  It can be seen on the skyline directly above the car:

That really is one very tight as well as narrow hairpin bend and much in need of being re-engineered:

In recent months a huge amounts of money has been spent on upgrading the road beyond this point where it covers several kilometres of farmland.  It is surprising that this short stretch of road at the Brighton end was not included.  It would have been logical, and certainly carries far more traffic!

The long term health risks of the electromagnetic radiation associated with cell phone towers and their usage is documented in this Wikipedia article:
Here is a paragraph which relates to cell phone towers:
Experts consulted by France considered it was mandatory that main antenna axis not to be directly in front of a living place at a distance shorter than 100 metres.[74] This recommendation was modified in 2003[75] to say that antennas located within a 100-metre radius of primary schools or childcare facilities should be better integrated into the cityscape and was not included in a 2005 expert report.[76]
Why, oh why has this location even been considered, given the relatively small concentration of residences so close by in what is an essentially rural setting?  

On the basis of the information above I would not want to be living in this property opposite the site, which I have always greatly admired.  Even without that literature I would be very uncomfortable living so close by. 

Also in the same article a lawsuit about a cell phone tower in France is cited, in which the more common burden of proof was placed on the other foot:  

Harm from such installations might not yet be conclusively proved, but neither had it been disproved.  This is the crux of the matter.

French High Court ruling against telecom company

In February 2009 the telecom company Bouygues Telecom was ordered to take down a mobile phone mast due to uncertainty about its effect on health. Residents in the commune Charbonnières in the Rhône department had sued the company claiming adverse health effects from the radiation emitted by the 19 meter tall antenna.[84] The milestone ruling by the Versailles Court of Appeal reversed the burden of proof which is usual in such cases by emphasizing the extreme divergence between different countries in assessing safe limits for such radiation. The court stated that, "Considering that, while the reality of the risk remains hypothetical, it becomes clear from reading the contributions and scientific publications produced in debate and the divergent legislative positions taken in various countries, that uncertainty over the harmlessness of exposure to the waves emitted by relay antennas persists and can be considered serious and reasonable".[85]
I reject the installation on one further count: this big company is riding roughshod over locals in the face of outcry.  If this tower goes ahead 2 Degrees will lose my business.  How dare these out-of-towners come in here and act as if they own the place!  We live here and we don't want it.  We already have cell phone coverage in the area.  It may be a bit patchy, but that doesn't bother me one bit.  We are managing just fine as we are.

Protest action is planned for today, Wednesday the 19th June at 4pm.  Those who want to show their opposition can meet at the site at 4pm. Protesters are encouraged to come a little earlier if possible.  Billboard welcome.  As we used to say when I was young (!) Be there or be square!

News articles published in the Otago Daily Times:

Later note ~ 20th June 2013:
The protest meeting was heartening: about sixty of us turned up in the wind and rain to make our position clear.  Let's hope this clears the heads of 2 Degrees administrators.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Aubergine / eggplant casserole ~ a family favourite

This casserole is always greeted with enthusiasm.  Eggplant as the central ingredient of this dish is very good indeed.  It's an unlikely-looking vegetable: the one pictured here weighed about 400 grams - the right amount for this recipe which makes enough for four adults with good appetites.  Its beautiful purple colour shows up best in this brightly lit photo:

For those unfamiliar with eggplant here is what the inside looks like: very pale and rather pithy-looking; firm but a little spongy in texture.  With the exception of the green stalk all of it is edible - just chop it up!  It does need to be cooked however - or at least I never knew it to be eaten raw!

You'll need a reasonable amount of time to prepare this dish: I allow preparation time of about 40 minutes, then baking time of about 45, after which it can stand for ten or so minutes.  That having been said, all of the preparation is fairly simple.

A selection of the ingredients used (although not exactly) - all wholesome and delicious!

Preheat the oven to about 180 degrees Celsius.
Preparing the eggplant:
  • Eggplant - 1 - of about 400 grams
  • Bread, wholemeal - 2 to 3 slices
  • Eggs - 2
  • Salt - 1 teaspoon 
  • Oil, vegetable - enough to cover the bottom of a large baking dish
Firstly: chop up the eggplant into cubes of about 1 cm and put it into a large bowl; whisk the eggs with the salt and tip over the cubed eggplant and toss it to coat it; whiz the bread into breadcrumbs and tip that over the eggplant and toss it to further coat it.  Pour enough oil into the base of a large baking dish to coat it (heat slightly first if you wish), then tip the eggplant onto it and spread it out.  Bake for about 40 minutes, taking it out once to fork over the eggplant so that it bakes evenly.  It's appearance will be slightly browned when done.

While the eggplant is baking make the sauce:
  • Onion - 1 large 
  • Oil, vegetable - to sauté onions 
  • Capsicum, green or red - 1 
  • Tomatoes - I use a tin of about 400 grams, chopped.  You can use fresh tomatoes but I find the tinned ones cheaper and easier to manage.
  • Pesto or a generous amount of basil
  • Cornflour - 2 rounded teaspoons
  • Water - about a cup
  • Salt - 1 teaspoon
  • Pepper - if you wish
Chop onions and sauté a little before adding the chopped capsicum, then cook thoroughly.  If you don't have pesto add the basil with the capsicum.  Add the tinned chopped tomatoes and salt and simmer well.  Add the pesto.  Put cornflour into a cup and mix into a paste with a little water and then fill up the cup with the remaining water.  Add this to the sauce and cook a little to thicken it.  The sauce needs to be a little bit gluggy but not too much.  If it seems too sticky add more water.  If it seems to watery, cook a little longer.  Test taste to be sure that the flavour is good.

Prepare the two other components:
  • Walnuts, coarsely chopped - 50 grams.  The texture of these is significant so chopping them on a breadboard is more suitable than using a food processor.
  • Cheese, cheddar - grated - 150 grams.  I use Edam, for its low fat content, but expect other cheddar would be fine. 
Putting it together:
Place half the baked eggplant in a large casserole dish
Sprinkle half the walnuts over it
Spoon half the sauce over it, 
Sprinkle half the grated cheese,
Repeat these steps making one more layer and your casserole will then be ready to go into the oven.  

Bake for about 45 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.  You can then let it stand for about ten minutes before serving. 

This dish goes very well with steamed potatoes and lightly cooked cabbage. 

All my other articles about food and favourite recipes can be found via the link below:

Monday, 29 April 2013

Death by plastics ~ what are YOU doing about it?

Rubbish picked up from our own beach
I recently saw a film trailer which shocked and sickened me more than anything I have seen in recent years.  I challenge you, the reader, to click through and watch it for yourself.  It is about what is happening on Midway Island, a remote place in the heart of the Pacific: the Laysan albatrosses who use this island for nesting and rearing their young ingest objects of waste plastic mistaking it for food - and feed it to their chicks.  Very many of them do not survive...
Now take a look at this short video of the plastics that wash up on the beach - not just big stuff that can be picked up and carted somewhere out of the way, but numberless tiny fragments that wash in with every lapping wave to form a line along the sand - this is being ingested by every living thing that feeds there - micro-plastics for dinner...
It's heartbreaking - and irreversible.  It simply can't be cleaned up.  At best a portion of the bigger stuff can be removed, but the tiny fragments are there to stay and their volume is increasing all the time - or can someone tell me that the production and usage of plastics had reduced?  Dream on!  We must apply the brakes.

Our glorious beach - it could be anywhere in New Zealand - imagine it infested with fragments of micro-plastics!

My heartfelt view is that this horrifying phenomenon, which has always been completely foreseeable and preventable, can only be addressed by individuals taking responsibility for their own part in it.  Never mind that the film about the albatrosses shows a situation remote from our own shores: if we are to have any influence over the headlong course to ruin that we are all ultimately a part of each of us needs to have a good think about our own patterns of waste and indifference and start with how we live and what we do and do not buy - then act, not just now, but consistently and forever.

I have written a number of articles which relate directly to this topic which I list here complete with click-through links - in the hope that they will provide useful points of reference for readers.  Believe you me, I have been living what I recommend:
Packaging is one of the worst offenders:
There is absolutely no need to buy plastic-laden items for gifts on any occasion:
We don't actually need to buy the amount of new and pre-packaged stuff that is commonly available - we simply don't need to buy, or even to have, the amount of stuff that we think we do: we can make our own or mend and make do with what we already have - or share and swap what we have with others.  I've written lots of articles in this vein which can be found on these pages:
I'm sure that lots of readers would say that the world economy would collapse if we all reduced our consumption of new and ready made goods in the way that I suggest.  My view is that we can't afford not to - this planet is the only home we have and the results of our wasteful way of life are rapidly accumulating on all sides; they look set to overwhelm not only us, but multitudes of blameless creatures and other life forms as well.  Those of you who have seen the children's cartoon movie, "Wall-E" will recognise the scenario, especially the opening scenes - of deserted cities piled mountainously high with waste.   

For the sake of this Good Earth, when you are out on your walks if you spot litter pick it up!   I would not believe for one moment that anyone reading my articles would drop rubbish themselves!  I've written about one of my litter collections here:
Polystyrene foam is one of the worst offenders as it it not known to ever decompose - just rapidly disintegrates in to smaller and smaller particles.  Pick it up if you can.

I'm about to start on a campaign of letter writing to businesses whose products I buy which are packed in plastic, and to my supermarkets suggesting they offer packing in paper rather than plastic bags.

I'm sure you have your own ideas of what could help.

If I sound somewhat militant here it is because I'm upset - I can't watch the video about the birds without crying.   
The cry of "My God, what have we done!" must be followed by "What can we do?" - and then doing it - now and forever.
I feel deeply about birds so will close with this poem:
Everyone Sang
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields;
On - on - and out of sight.

Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun;
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away… O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless;
The singing will never be done.

Siegfried Sasson

A young shag rests on our beach