Sunday, 28 February 2010

Degrees of Separation

Much has been made of “degrees of separation” – that moment when you realise that the stranger you are talking to at a function is actually your aunt’s second cousin on your mother’s side. This sets you on a road of familial discovery which, if you are lucky, is a blessing, and if you’re not, may just be plain embarrassing.
Here is my “degrees of separation” story. I find I may have made an immense discovery in the last few weeks, which isn’t covered in the history books of Iron Age and Roman Britain. It concerns the Macaroon (or Macaron, as the French would have it).
During the Iron Age, many areas of Britain were settled by Celtic tribes, one of them in the region I hail from. This particular tribe were from the area of France on the Seine where Notre Dame Cathedral is now standing. This tribe reputedly founded the town I was born in.
Fast forward to my Grandma Alice. As a child I was a great fan of my Grandma’s baking. One thing she was a bit of a whizz at was macaroons. Not the fluffy almond sandwich type you find in every arrondissement bakery in Paris, but the type which was a like a mini tart, pastry on the bottom, filled with jam and then topped with the “gooey on the inside, crunchy on the outside” almond topping – the Macaroon.
Macaron in France are the Piece de Resistance of every high end Bakery. They come in hand made boxes with organza ribbons and you take out a second mortgage to buy them. They are quintessentially, elegantly French. Or are they?
Here’s my theory. The Parisi tribe of E. Yorkshire, who founded the settlement which was to become Eboracum (York) under the Roman legions, invented the Macaroon. When the Romans left, the recipe left with them, but the Army cooks couldn’t be bothered with the pastry part, but kept baking the almond topping. I mean, let’s face it, would a retreating army bother with packing its rolling pins? They had to march light.
Hence the fluffy lightweight, oh so elegant Macaron is actually not a French confection at all, but invented in Yorkshire by my Parisi ancestors.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Bee Lore

Today I had one of those “aha moments”. I was chatting with a good friend who has introduced me to bee keeping. It has been a bumper season and we will be extracting the honey from the comb in two weeks.
We were just having a leisurely chat amongst the hives. The bees are at that “grumpy” end of the season when they know that winter is approaching (hmm, I know that feeling). My friend turned to me and said, “Do you have any idea how tidy and clean bees are?” This was obviously a “Bee-keeper 101” question. I shook my head. He went on to explain. His bees had been so busy recently, that they were running out of room for the honey, so he dug out an old comb from storage in his garage. He told me it was in terrible state. The comb was cracked, and dusty; in real estate terms, a real “doer upper”.
Several days later he was checking on the introduced comb and couldn’t believe his eyes. The bees had repaired the comb, thrown out the cobwebs, dusted, cleaned and it was as good as new and gleaming with honey. The ladies had done the spring cleaning and were filling the pantry for the long winter.
So my new theory is that is why bees are grumpy at this time of year – too much extra housework!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Friday, 19 February 2010

Jane / Julia

I just started to read the book “Julie/Julia”, on which the very successful film with Meryl Streep is based. I have had a number of girlfriends tell me that I MUST see the film. One young friend, in her 20’s told me that I reminded her very much of Julia Child and that she’d chuckled at the similarities.
I still haven’t got around to seeing the film, but I have already learned from the book that Julia was 6’2” (I’m also tall, but not QUITE that statuesque), worked for a division of the secret service (ahem, I also aspired to that kind of work post graduation), and didn’t know a bull’s derriere from its elbow when she first started to write her book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.
I suspect that the similarities end there. I’ve never lived in Paris (dare I say, I don’t particularly like the place) and did not teach an entire nation to cook.
What started me on this? Well, I have wandered down yet another memory trail this evening. It involves another cook book, known and beloved to anyone who was raised in Britain in the 1950s or 1960s; The Be-Ro Book. Be-Ro is a brand of flour (a bit like Edmonds in New Zealand). The book contains basics like pancakes, Victoria Sponge, Rock Buns and Melting Moments. The exotic Cream Horns and Choux pastry come later in the book, when you’ve got a few dozen cheese scones and Maids of Honour under your belt.
My Be-Ro book is the Centenary Edition that I purchased in 1980, just before heading off to University. It is dog eared, and marked with imprints left from fingers that had just rolled out marzipan or nipped together short crust pastry. As I flipped pancakes this evening, I have been thinking it would be fun to relive my childhood and student years by baking my way through the Be-Ro’s floury pages. I could impress visitors with my Marmalade slice and Madeleines, and sink the odd battleship with a steak and kidney pud.

Not quite in the league of Julie/Julia, more Jane dreaming of Delia.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The silver of Yemen

I have had a weekend indulging very happy memories with three visitors from my time in the Arabian Gulf. One was my former boss and longtime friend. The other two guests a fantastic couple that were friends, confidantes and the “guardians of my sanity” during my years in the desert. This morning, I cried when they left – thankfully they didn’t see me.
Later in the afternoon my husband and I took advantage of the good weather and had a wander in town. I dragged him into a new shop in the waterfront, which to my surprise was filled with jewellery from Israel. I had fun trying on the silver rings and giving a short lesson in the history of Jewish silversmiths to the young shop assistant. My day had came full circle; I had learned these snippets of jewellery history in Yemen, meandering through the labyrinth that is the Old City of Sana’a. The unique designs belonged to dynasties of silversmiths, each craftsman known by his particular pattern. When the Jews left Yemen, they took their craft with them to Israel, where the marks of Beit Badihi (“The House of Badihi”) and Beit Bawsani, now adorn the fingers of trendy sabra girls in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
And just for fun, here is a picture of me 11 years ago, adorned with wedding jewellery made by some of the old Yemenite silversmiths.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Thursday, 11 February 2010

It's a question of perspective!

The great chefs of the world maintain that the flavour of most food is carried in the that case, I must be one tasty babe!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Things were better then?

I lived for the first ten years of my life on a small housing estate on the outskirts of a very old Yorkshire village (records date it as a settlement in the 11th century). Mainly bungalows and small houses were built there in the mid 1950’s. They were designed by the Yorkshire equivalent of a “hood”, and scandal surrounded the building company for decades afterwards.
The local primary school was no more than five minutes walk away, and in the early 60’s you could let your child walk to school in a village without fear of them being abducted. I used to walk with my “best friend” Linda. She was a year above me at school, so I was lucky to be tolerated as the squib who tagged along with her satchel.
My dad painted a coat of arms for the primary school. It hung over the stage in the school hall where the Head Mistress orchestrated the assemblies. That particular Head Mistress reputedly had a love affair with the music teacher who was considerably younger than her. She lived in a big house next to “The Annexe” a three room Victorian school, which was the overflow for the modern primary school. It had segregated playgrounds and outside toilets. In the winter, the cisterns of the Victorian plumbing were kept ice-free by burning storm lamps in each loo. It was really spooky and somehow the shadows they cast made the spiders look bigger. The lamps didn’t exude enough warmth to stop your bum freezing to the seat though. Happy School Days!
So, I lived in a house designed by a controversial architect, went to a school where there was a sex scandal and was cruelly treated as my derriere sported permafrost from the loo seat.
Hmm, the Good Old Days.

Monday, 8 February 2010

A box of Cookie

We bought a new office chair at the weekend. The happy "side show" was that the cats got a new house to lounge in on our verandah. The first photo was taken pointing the camera through the cat flap. Her majesty was not amused.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

He saw it coming

Yesterday, I had occasion to stop by the Diocesan Office of the Anglican Church in Wellington. Just as I was about to leave, the door opened and in stepped the bishop, wearing jeans, running shoes and smart grey tee-shirt. I teased him "I'm not used to seeing you in Mufti Bishop", he replied as quick as a whip "I'm going to the rugby and figured there would be too many people dressed up as nuns and bishops, so thought this would be a good disguise" How right he was. Today, walking past the Central Police station, I bumped into these delightful "Ladies of the Cloth", who were somewhat the worse for wear.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Gladiator and The Beatles

I apologise for the blur - but I was running for a train, and they were running to the Rugby match....... more tomorrow.

7 up

We don't have Carnival or Mardi Gras in New Zealand, we have the Rugby 7s. For two days the city is transformed into a pantomime of amazing costumes which have taken months to dream up. Friends head to the game in groups of 7. As I rushed to the bank this afternoon, I bumped into Three Blind Mice at the traffic lights - complete with white sticks. On the way back I met the Fallen Angel outside of Subway - the other 6 Angels were queueing for the "Sub of the Day". Met the Bees outside of the Beehive, our Parliament building, then again outside my office. Stop by tomorrow, I hope to catch a few other 7s.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Scone recipe

Hi Katherine - at your request, here is my "secret" scone recipe. It may be quite different to what you are used to. It hovers between a scone and a cake, and the mixture is very sticky. You don't roll it out, just get a great big dollop of it on a spoon and make a round shape with it as best you can!

3 cups S. Raising flour
2 eggs
50 grammes butter
1 cup milk
quarter tsp salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon and quarter teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup of chopped, softened dates (I pour boiling water on mine for about 3 minutes, and drain thoroughly)

Preheat oven to 220c

Sift flour and spices in a bowl and cut butter into it until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in well drained chopped dates
Add milk and whisked eggs and mix quickly into a soft dough.
When well combined, drop large spoonfuls onto a greased baking tray. This is a bit sticky, but well worth the effort.
Bake for 10 minutes at 220c then 5 minutes at 180c