Saturday, 26 February 2011

Tribute to Paul Dunlop ~ the tragedy of the earthquake continues to unfold

Paul's death was reported in today's NZ Herald: 

And in this article of 25th February on the Stuff news site:
Paul Dunlop - quake victims

He had been assisting with the dismantling of the organ in the Durham Street Methodist Church at the time of the earthquake.

Dear Paul, what a tragic loss to those of us fortunate enough to have known him, even if only as patients.  Paul was a king among men: always a careful and caring professional and a pattern card of generosity and kindness; cultured besides, which seems unusual to me these days.  

Paul was our family optometrist and felt like one of 'our' people.  

When I first met him I was going through an especially difficult time;  although my appointment was for an eye examination he was aware of this and didn't brush it aside, but found a way to acknowledge my plight and offered encouragement.

On another occasion he gave me a pair of spectacle frames when I couldn't find a pair that I liked on the display racks and I asked him if he had any second hand ones.  "Well, as a matter of fact..." he had replied, and fetched out a pair very like my old ones which someone had come in with the day before.  A lens had been chipped and the owner had chosen new frames for her replacement.  The style of lens I liked would fit perfectly.  I offered to pay him for them, which he graciously declined saying with a twinkle, "They didn't cost me anything".  I'm wearing them now.  Tears behind the lenses.  This kindness was typical of him.

And no matter how busy he was he always made time for some personal exchange.  He and I always chatted about photography during my consultations, an interest we shared.

Reading through the comments added to the 'Stuff' article, many people who were patients valued him just as I continue to do, and relate their own stories of his great skill, kindliness and ability to engage on a personal level with each of them.  What an inspiration he remains!

Who can match him?  Sue, I never met you, but offer deepest condolences.  We too grieve.

In an news item published today it is revealed that engineers had deemed the Durham Street Methodist Church safe enough for workers to enter to work on removing the organ, and that 'safe paths' had been identified within the building for them to use. 
I find this helpful information.  My observation of Paul from a customer perspective was that care and precision were hallmarks of his personality, so I'm glad to know that safety considerations had been pursued even though the advice given turned out to be faulty.  Tragic none the less.

Later note - 22nd February 2014 - 3 years on: 
Josh Anderson, one of the men who survived the collapse of the church building, met his rescuer, John Abraham, again today:

Photo copied from the 'Stuff' website which noted 'photo supplied', I presume by family.  If there is any objection to it being included here, let me know and I will remove it. 

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Another major earthquake shatters Christchurch worse than before ~

ARTICLE UPDATED by the addition of further content on 22th March 2011

On the 22nd February 2011 I wrote ~
The newspaper 'Stuff' website has been updating this story during the afternoon and evening:

Those trying to locate friends and family may wish to use the Person Finder website Google has made available.  
For those who find the plain http address simpler to copy here it is:
Readers are encouraged to circulate this site address as there are a lot of people in distress over not being able to reach loved ones.

Those trying to figure out what's been going on, the scientific and historical background, may find useful information and links in my earlier article about the big quake of 4th September 2010: Christchurch earthquake ~ things that went bump in the night 

The few sketchy details I can give you which may not have been included in the news bulletins this evening are:
  • Shag Rock, the landmark rock formation at the city end of Sumner Beach has disintegrated and is no more.
  • The bridge linking Ferrymead to Mt Pleasant, Redcliffs and Sumner is impassable
  • Two people I know who were outdoors in Sumner when the quake struck observed the hillsides and cliff faces cascading rocks. 
  • Damage is significantly worse than from the original earthquake although on the Richter scale is was lesser - 6.3 this time.  This was due to the shallowness of the quake - about 5 kilometres, and its sharp jolting intensity.
  • A combination of liquefaction and burst pipes has contributed to flooding due to silt blocking storm-water drains.
It has been a shocking day.  Let's hope we can all get some sleep, especially those in Christchurch. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

UPDATE ~ 22nd March 2011
The loss of major portions of Christchurch's architectural heritage is a source of considerable sadness:
  • Official video of damage to the Central Business District as screened at the memorial service of 18th March 2011.  It has no commentary.  The lack of civilians is due to this area remaining cordoned off to the public.  Note that the video is in three segments which load one after the other.  
Security camera footage of a partial building collapse - two separate videos from different angles (video link added 14th August 2011)

Gripping stories of earthquake survival:
  • David Hayward, a Christchurch writer, wrote this powerful account of his ordeal for the Guardian, which was published just hours after the event:  New Zealand Earthquake: 'There was a moment of silence. Then a wail of sirens'.  He wrote the article on his phone!
  • Pat Deavoll wrote in her blog the story of being in Sumner on that fateful day, and of her arduous journey home.
  • Vicki Anderson related her harrowing story of getting out of the  damaged Press building and the frantic time that followed in this article: "Reunited after the quake: mother and child"  The article was published on the Stuff website on 25th February 2011
  • Naomi Magee was also in the Press building but did not get out so easily.  She was trapped in a collapsed area of the building for five hours and did not expect to get out alive.  She was interviewed by TV3 as recorded in this clip which aired on the 24th February: Press building survivor tells her story
  • Included in that same clip is the story of Tara Snell who outran a falling building fa├žade in a burst of speed prompted by her friend's dog Honey, who was with them.  In this privately filmed clip we see the wall collapsed as they flee.
Other stories from those caught up in the chaos:
The Christchurch mayor tells of standing on a building-top balcony in the central city when the earthquake struck in this article published on the Stuff website on the 8th March 2011: Broken city haunts Christchurch mayor Bob Parker

Matthew Walker has written three articles about his experience of the quake and its aftermath in his blog Things no longer weigh what they used to.  In his writing he is lucid, carefully observant and heartfelt - as usual.  These are compelling reading.
His preceding article High Street, could well serve as a requiem for that city street, which Christchurch residents know so well.  In it Matthew notes the evidence of the previous earthquake. who could guess of the devastation to follow so swiftly and decisively on its heels.

We remember  those who did not survive:
I imagine that most New Zealanders know someone who died, or someone who knows someone who died.  I have written a separate tribute to Paul Dunlop, our family optometrist, who died in a building collapse.  I now know of the deaths of three other people who were connected to those close to me and expect to hear of more in the weeks ahead.

The official death toll at 17th March stands at 182 as noted in this article on the Stuff website.

These deaths were completely random - those killed were not doing anything risky or unusual.  It is a spectacular example of many people simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  How many people have since thanked their lucky stars that they were out at lunch at that time, or did not go to town that day after all, or..., or..., or....

However, after a week or two of living in a severely disrupted environment any euphoria about having survived is likely to have lessened considerably:
At this point a different toll emerges.  Life has to be resumed in something approximating normal, and the enduring difficulties of living an ordinary life amidst widespread devastation can be decidedly arduous.  Plain old grumpiness sets in as Vicki Anderson relates in this article published in Stuff on 17th March 2011: "Christchurch is grumpy"  I'm pleased to claim slight acquaintance with Vicki and can assure readers that ordinarily she is a lovely, mild mannered and peaceable person!

Those who are impatient with this description of city-wide moodiness might bear in mind that since the 22nd February, residents have experienced 648 quakes.  This was just as aftershocks from the September earthquake seemed to be subsiding.  Since the original earthquake last September they have endured a total of 5,553; that's right: five thousand, five hundred and fifty three - those of them who have stayed put.  

For many residents it has all been too much:
Not surprisingly a large number have packed their bags and headed for more stable ground and access to facilities which actually working properly.  An article in the ODT of 28th February states that at that point 50,000 residents had left the city. I have heard that this total has increased considerably since them. 

It's not just the on-going quakes that are wearing residents down, it's the damage to so many homes and workplaces; disruption to travel due to damaged roads which has made travel around the city very slow and frustrating; widespread lack of sewage services; and in some areas the patchy nature of other basic services such as power and water.  Loss of a number of the usual supermarkets has been a source of additional pressure and there has been a marked shortage of fresh produce.  Everyone is coping as best they can, service crews are working non-stop to restore roads and other basics, but all this takes time, a lot of time, and weeks stretch into months.  It will be years before the city gets properly back on its feet.  In a recent visit to Wellington even the stoically cheerful mayor, Bob Parker, remarked on the surprise he felt as he observed that everything there 'worked'.  I know others who feel the same.  In Christchurch the abnormal has become normal.  Everyone is tired.  All strength to you, Christchurch!  Lots of us are doing what we can to help.

Preparedness:  how prepared are you?
Here in Dunedin the land is stable for the moment.  I feel tremors from time to time, some of which register on the national GeoNet site, others which don't.  Earthquakes are part of life in New Zealand, but usually don't affect people all that much due to our fairly sparse population.  But all the same it's good to be prepared for eventualities.  The Civil Defence national website "Get Ready, Get Through" includes lots of essential information.  Let's be sensible: are you prepared?  Am I?  Well, partially, but more work needs to be done.  Time to get back to it.  This is not scaremongering, this is plain old sensible planning - a good way to get a little bit in charge of potential situations which are otherwise well out of our control.  In the event of a severe local earthquake a modicum of sensible preparation can go a long way. 

The New Zealand landmass is constantly changing but so little that we usually don't notice it.  Those who are interested to read more about this aspect of our history, and indeed that of our changing planet can read my earlier article New Zealand ~ land of earthquakes and volcanoes.

Readers can find more information in my subsequent article:
Christchurch ~ two months after the big quake ~ demolitions, cliff collapses, shipping containers and portaloos

All my articles about the Christchurch earthquakes and aftermath can be found via the page linked to below, or at the upper right of this screen:

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Apricots ~ gold, gold gold!

For those of us fortunate enough to live in parts of the southern hemisphere within reach of apricot trees the time for harvesting and enjoying this delectable fruit is NOW!

I feel very smug in that I've 'done' mine for the year already - last weekend in fact - three boxes which totalled over 20 kilos in all, from which I made enough jam and preserves to last us through the coming year.

It really is worth taking notes about this sort of thing: from notes made in the previous two years I knew exactly how much fruit I needed to buy so that we will have what we want in the year ahead.  It took all the worry out of wondering how much to buy, and when I had finished the work of getting it packed into jars I knew I didn't have to do any more.  Hooray!

This is the only fruit I pay for that I put into storage and at $25 a case I have to be clear about the quantity I want and take care that none of it is wasted through delay or indecision.  

When I bought the fruit it was perfectly ripe, containing within itself the nectarous flavour that we remember from our childhoods - what fruit used to taste like.  These are not false memories but true ones as is proved by biting into this tree-ripened, straight-from-the-orchard fruit.  

Apricots at their peak of ripeness don't last long so I needed to get them cooked and into jars pronto.  I did!  The result: thirty jars of preserves and twenty jars of jam.  It took me two day of solid work but it was worth it as this fruit is not to be missed!

Here is what my pot of fruit looked like just before being ladled into piping hot jars: 

It is no exaggeration to say that the smell was divine!

Although there wasn't much difference between the price I paid at the farmers market and what I would pay at the supermarket I have a strong commitment to buying direct from orchardists.  Big food retailers drive the hardest bargain they can with the result  that many orchardists in New Zealand have found their profits cut to the bone and as a result have chopped out their trees and put in grape vines or other crops.  I do pray that we may always have good fruit available from local growers.  Buyers need to play their part in ensuring this survival by being prepared to pay realistic prices.

My one quibble with buying produce at the Dunedin Farmers Market is that it tends to be very crowded and parking is awkward.  It's not that I can't walk, but if I buy the quantities I want getting them back to the car is a strategic manoeuvre of no small order, making any browsing of other stalls quite beyond my capability.  

For those interested in making jam and preserves I have brought forward information from previous articles and updated it here:

Which variety? Most people prefer Moorpark for both jam and preserves.  These are excellent.  I can  also highly recommend Ettrick Gold, a variety which no doubt has its origins in an Ettrick orchard, which is where I got them on one occasion. 
     All of it has had that superb sun-ripened flavour which is so rare in shop bought fruit.  May yours be as good!

Wastage: In the normal scheme of things wastage from the removal of stones and blemishes  amounts to about a sixth of the original weight if the apricots are in top condition and are dealt with promptly, but will be considerably more if fruit has been left over-ripe or has been badly handled.  All measurements for fruit given here are for the weight of fruit once it has been prepared for cooking.  

For those starting out on jam-making my earlier article Making jam ~ general instructions can be read in conjunction with this one.

Working out fruit, sugar and water ratios - and pot size and yeild:
Sugar: For apricot jam I use a ratio of six parts of fruit to five of sugar.  To give you an example of how ratios can be worked out: take the weight of your (prepared) fruit, divide it by six to get one sixth, and then multiply by five, to get five sixths.  The five-sixths is the amount of sugar you'll need - easy!
15th February 2015 - Additional notes regarding the sugar ratio: this year I used quite a lot less.  The fruit was very sweet, so I experimented with the amount of sugar: I started by working out the sugar in sixths, ie: 4 kilos divided by six equals .666 of a kilo; then multiplied it by three to get three sixths, which is 2 kilos; then working out additional steps in sixths, ie: four sixths equals 2.7 kilos; five sixths equals 3.33 kilos.  I had that written down before I started adding the sugar so that I knew what I was doing!  By the time I got to four sixths I had the flavour I wanted - perfect, so stopped right there!  (Four sixths is of course two thirds, but for the sake of adding sugar by degrees to get the flavour just right working it out in sixths is sensible as it gives smaller steps for adjustment.
Water: my rule for jam is half a cup of water per kilo of fruit - just enough to give the raw fruit something to start cooking in and prevent it from catching.
Pot size: my 8 litre pot can take 4 kilos worth of fruit plus the sugar that goes into it.  My six litre pot can take three kilos worth.  This allows room for the jam to froth and so on. 
Yield: six kilos of prepared fruit cooked in two batches produced twenty jars of jam of mixed sizes, both small and medium.

Preparation: I do mine in one kilo batches so that I can split the jam making process overnight.  This means that I have to have a number of containers which then have to fit in the fridge but I then have maximum flexibility in terms of how much I cook at a time.
     I have an aversion to finding large pieces of fruit in jam or indeed any preserves, so I cut the fruit into the sized pieces that please me, removing the stones and any blemished skin, then place the pieces into a container of water so that they don't brown.  Once I've done each kilo, I drain the water off and weigh the fruit, put it on to cook, starting with a half a cup of water per kilo of fruit.  Next I check how much sugar I'll need and make sure I have enough in the house!  
Cooking: I start by placing the total water required in the pot and then gradually add the fruit to it so that the fruit mush can build up slowly contributing its own liquid as it cooks.
     Once the mush is cooked you can break the jam making process overnight if you want to but do be sure to keep track of the quantity of fruit you started with so that you know how much sugar you'll need when you set to work on it once again!  
     Add the sugar only when the fruit is hot, then adjust your element to a medium heat as you do so.  When the sugar is being added take care not to let it sit on the bottom of the pot as it can rapidly caramelise which will spoil your jam.  If it catches, empty your fruit into a clean pot and continue on from there.  If left it will spoil not only the colour but also the flavour of your delicious jam.
     Once the sugar has dissolved the heat can be turned up as the jam needs to boil briskly before it will be ready to set.

Finishing the process: If you are unfamiliar with the process or need more detailed instructions these can be found in the article referred to above.

Making preserves is almost as simple as stewing fruit and not much more work.  It's a lot less time-consuming than making jam and requires a fraction of the sugar.  Having said that, it is more demanding in terms of timing, and the appearance and texture of preserved fruit is important, a key difference to jam-making in which it matters little if at all.  Do be careful not to overcook the fruit, which makes it mushy. 

Many people freeze produce rather than preserving it, but I find preserving simpler: the great advantage is that when you want to use the fruit it's ready immediately, and if the power goes off you have nothing to worry about.

Ratios, batch sizes and yields: I did mine in batches of two and a half kilos each, which is what easily fits into my 6 litre stock pot.  It's worth keeping batch sizes for preserves relatively small as the fruit still in the pot continues to cook while you're ladling fruit into jars and you won't want it to cook too much more while you're working your way down the pot.
    I used two cups of sugar (450 grams) and ten cups of water, just enough water to enable me to easily move the fruit around with a wooden spoon.  This makes an excess of syrup but it's far better to have too much than too little, and besides, it's delicious to add to cereal or simply to drink, so it is never wasted.
     The syrup worked out at about five parts of water to one part of sugar going by the number of cups.
     Going by the weight of the fruit and sugar the ratio of fruit to sugar is also five to one, which gives it an excellent flavour.  (The Edmonds Cookbook suggests much more.)
     I know this sounds confusing, but it does work - it's what I've used repeatedly.  Needless to say, it makes it easier if successive batches are of the same size!
Yield: I used my six litre stock pot to cook up four successive batches of two and a half kilos worth of fruit.  From these I got about 8 largish jars per batch. 

If you need more information about the general preserving method you can find these in my earlier article Preserves ~ notes both general and particular .

More of my articles about jam and preserves as well as other food articles can be found listed together via the link below:

A close-up view through the bottom of a jar of freshly preserved apricots