Foodie Googlie

Custom Search

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Steak and Kumera Pie

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

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

Purple, knobbly inspiration.

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

Beef & Kumera Pie

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pasta Carbonara

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

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

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

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

Pasta Carbonara

(Serves 4)

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't Be A Rodney, John Key!

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

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

Don't Be A Rodney

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

Don't Be A Rodney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get more information here:


In your letter, ask for these things:

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

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

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

Rt Hon John Key
Prime Minister
Executive Wing
Parliament Buildings

Dear Prime Minister

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

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

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

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

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




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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Guilty of Poaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lamb Steak

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I have found fresh resolve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pineapple Chicken with Moroccan Couscous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, onto the main event:

Pineapple-Stuffed Chicken

(Serves 4)

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

Halve an onion and jam it firmly into the cavity.

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Leeky Mince

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lamb Forequarter Roast

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Secret Meatballs

This is one of those meals that serves as a double agent: On the one hand, it is a way of making your food go further, which is pretty important in these dark financial times, and on the other hand, it's a sneaky way for parents to get more veges into their kids without the kids realising it.

OK, I know that most parents don't find it an issue to get kids to eat carrot, but you get the idea. Mince is the great hiding place for veges of all shapes and sizes.

Secret Meatballs

(Serves 3)

In a bowl, mix up the following:
200g Beef Mince;
1 large Carrot, grated;
1 large Free Range Egg;
Freshly Ground Salt and Pepper;
1 T Wholegrain Mustard
1 T Tomato Paste
1 t dried mixed herbs or 1 T fresh chopped herbs

Mix well and shape into spoon-sized balls, rolling in flour and placing on a floured plate.

Brown on all sides in hot oil. Remove to an oven dish.

Add 1/2 an onion, sliced, to the hot pan, with 2T of soy sauce. Deglaze the pan and scoop the onions over the meatballs. Open a jar of tomato pasta sauce (homemade if you're that well resourced - otherwise, just use a shopbought one like I did) and pour half of it over the meatballs, so they are just covered. Grate cheddar and parmesan cheese over top. Bake at 200C for 40 mins, then grill the cheese for a further 5-7 mins until golden brown.
Serve over pasta with fresh veges and freshly ground pepper.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

48hrs = Dog Own Fail

It seems that we are just not meant to own more than one animal. Finn is the last surviving cat from a litter of seven. We gave three away, one ran away and two more got killed on the road. Our attempts to keep goldfish tended to end with small masses of dead fishy matter floating near the top of the tank, despite all our best efforts.We tried several times to bring in new cats to keep Finn company, but she invariably drove them out, turning the house into a mini warzone until we found new homes for the new cats instead.

So why did we think we would have any luck owning a dog?

We have never owned a dog before. Dessert Chef had dogs when she was young, but they were Nan & Obi's, so while the kids played with them, they didn't actually train them and do all the hard work of looking after them. What we weren't prepared for was just how very different a dog is to keep from a cat, and we got a taste of what we were in for very quickly.

As a writer, I much prefer the idea of dogs than I do of cats. There's something about being just a few steps evolved from wolves, something raw and dangerous and unbridled about dogs that lends them a poetic power that cats don't have. Where cats are aloof and condescending, dogs are immediate, rugged, and only ever moments from action. Strangely, even though this is how I imagine dogs, I never considered any of this when we decided to adopt Lucy. I had an idealised picture in my mind of a loyal servant trotting along behind us, chasing sticks and curling up by the fire in the winter. So much I didn't know.

We thought Lucy was a calm, quiet, relaxed dog, but when she came to us, she was as tightly wound as a spring, timid, and nervous as all hell.

A dog is a hunter, looking for every opportunity it can to move up the ranks of its pack by showing it is the dominant animal. Lucy decided straight away that in her new pack Dessert Chef was the boss; that she came second; that she would tolerate but not obey me; and that Isaac was by a long way the bottom of the food chain. Had we known more about dogs from the outset, we probably wouldn't have chosen a dog as big as Lucy. Lucy was as tall as Isaac and 5kg heavier. She first batted him with a paw, scratching his face, and later on that day she snapped her teeth right in his face.

This scared us, and rightly so. Lucy was warning Isaac that she was dominant to him, and it would take a whole lot of training before we could teach her otherwise. In the meantime, it would only take a second for Lucy's snap to turn into a bite, and that was an outcome that we were not at all prepared to risk.

I took Lucy to work with me yesterday, and after consultation with the SPCA, we decided to return her to them. There were other families who had been eager to have her as a pet, so she would be found a new home. It was a tough choice, but it was also the only choice.

So for 48 hours we were dog-owners, and then we were not. She'll have a good home, Isaac won't be at risk of being set upon by a dog who just wants to be the boss because she's bigger, Dessert Chef is no longer stressing about keeping dog and toddler apart, and Finn is back sleeping on my knee again.

Goodbye Lucy. Welcome back status quo.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Upside of the Economic Downturn

A lot has happened in the last week to keep me away from this blog. What with the election which I have commented on here and elsewhere, and important writing stuff and work stuff and the playhouses and the dog and all, it's been a busy one.

Writing-wise, I have been beavering away on what has probably been the most mature and important thing that I've ever written. After publishing a post on my favourite fantasy author, Hugh Cook, who had just been admitted to a hospice where he was expected to pass away after a long battle with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Cook's family asked that I write his obituary. I was deeply honoured by this request, and put all my energy into doing the absolute best that I could to do Hugh's memory justice.

Hugh passed away peacefully on Saturday morning and was cremated on Monday. The obituary will be printed in the NZ Herald on Saturday the 22nd of November.

Writing this piece has been one of the most mixed-emotion journeys of my life. While I never met Hugh personally, I always felt that I knew him in a way, as a reader can think he knows a writer. Hugh blogged for about 6 years, putting many of his thoughts and ambitions on the internet for his readers to digest, so perhaps it's not such a misplaced feeling. He always made an effort to reply to fans' emails and letters, even in his latter years when his eyesight was failing and writing and reading were both a significant strain for him.

I corresponded on an almost daily basis with Hugh's sister and brother over the past week, and in that time, while they shared details of Hugh's past with me to help flesh out the body of the obituary, I was rewarded with rare and touching insights into this very private man's life. More than once over the course of the week I was brought to the verge of tears by what these people, total strangers, were opening up and offering to me about a man I respect and admire but had never so much as met or even seen from a distance. My own grief for his loss was a strange and distant thing, but one which I will always value, because I was given a chance to give back to him something of the wonderful journeys of imagination that he shared with me and so many other total strangers in his lifetime. Catherine, thank you for giving me this chance. It means more to me than you can imagine.

The 400-word limit which I was given by the Herald was far too short to do Hugh the justice he deserved, so over the next week or two I will write a longer obituary to publish here, on his own blogspot, and wherever else on the net I can find a home for it. Please comment if you have a site and would be willing have a mini-bio for one of NZ's greatest writers published on it.

We got more of the playhouse done on the weekend, and I'll post a photo-journal when it's complete - or at least functional.

Oh, and we got a dog today. The SPCA ran an adoption day out here on the weekend and we dropped in for a look around. Now we are the proud owners of Lucy, a black labrador cross (not sure what with, but something smaller than a labrador anyway), which everyone is pretty happy about apart from the cat. But she'll come around. Lucy was very excited to see Finn, since she has spent her first 6 months in the SPCA home surrounded by other animals, whereas Finn has been queen of her house for several years now and doesn't take kindly to intruders. I'm sure they'll work it out between them.

Was there some relevance to the title? After all the doom and gloom of the economic meltdown and New Zealand's ill-conceived swing to the Right, can there be any good side? Well, yes. Mainly, my lovely Dessert Chef has rediscovered the wonderful world of baking.
As well as fresh bread, DC has been making muffins. Yum Yum Yum! I've already posted her Crunchy Lemon Muffins, and here are some Chocolate Muffins based on a recipe by Nigella Lawson. Apaprently she substituted butter for the oil in the recipe, otherwise it's the same. At a time when food prices are climbing and we really can't be sure what's in the stuff we're buying, it makes sense to be making it ourselves if we can. Hooray for home baking!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Beating the Post-Election Hangover

The sad thing is I didn't even drink on Saturday night. It's the result that has given me a headache.

Here's my rant. I need to get it out of my system, so I can move onto nicer things like Chocolate Muffins and Roast Lamb (again).

So, faced with the most dire economic and environmental crises of our times, New Zealand chose greed over restraint and continued ecological degradation over stewardship for future generations. A majority of NZ voters chose a parliament which represents exactly the policies and practices of the governments so recently ousted in Australia and the US because their citizens had the collective wisdom to see the folly of their policies. New Zealand voted in a leader, no less, who trained and worked in one of the very banking institutions that have brought the world economy to its knees. To make matters worse, the party with the plurality but not the majority (National) is now relying on a party even further right of itself (Act) to guarantee their power. We have elected a government that is pro-war, pro-nuclear, anti-environment and anti-democracy, haunted not only by the ghosts of the 90s era National Government, but also the disastrous economic reforms of the 1980s in the form of Roger Douglas (No, I'm sorry, I refuse to attribute the man his title). At a time when we need bold action from both the grass roots and at a policy level to protect our planet and our food supply, the voices that have been so dedicated to preserving these things have now been shut out. We ought to be ashamed.

Knowing what we know about National's support of GE technology and their policies of propping up big businesses at the expense of people's health and well-being, now would be the time to get out in the garden and take control of your own food supply. You can be sure that National-Act will do nothing to protect you from the vultures of the food production world over the coming three years.

But here's the worst thing: Act are the only party in the NZ political spectrum who continue to deny the fact of Climate Change. And rumour has it that in return for supporting the National Party into government, Act leader Rodney Hide could well be given the portfolio of Minister for the Environment.

That would be a kick in the guts, as well as an oxymoron.

There is a silver lining, however. The Green party vote is up on last election, giving them more MPs in the House, even if they are in opposition. And with the departure of Helen Clark and Michael Cullen from the front ranks (Cullen may have retired from politics, but I'm not sure), Labour has a chance to shed its dead wood and reinvigorate themselves for the battle to come.

In one of the ironies of the election, however, we can see that Green MPs won a lot of the electorate vote even though they didn't get any electorate seats. Several of Labour's stronghold seats were lost to National, but a quick look at the voting numbers shows that this was because the voting left were split between Labour and the Greens. Perhaps the left-leaning constituency has something to learn about strategic voting that the right has mastered. Not that it would have made a difference to the overall representation, as far as I can tell (but other more qualified commentators may tell me different).

But enough politics. When looking down the barrel of three years of right wing rule, the best thing you can do is indulge. No recipes here, just pictures of how we enjoyed a quiet Sunday with friends.

Breakfast: Crispy Waffles
Whipping the eggs - like morning sun on the roof of the world.

Waffles with banana, cream and syrup.

Lunch: Salad Sandwiches
On fresh homemade bread, with salad fresh from the market on Saturday.

Dinner: The Electric BBQ
It would've been a nice day for a BBQ, but we still haven't filled the gas bottle. So we did it the old fashioned way, grilled chicken drumsticks and fried sausages with fresh bread, salad, new potatoes in butter and beer-fried onions.

There were also beers and rum, because what else would you do on a day like that?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Going Green

On my way to work this morning I witnessed something which has made my stomach turn in disgust.

Right across Wellington, the National Party have had their little goblins out overnight stapling up expensive hoardings on the basis that if you repeat something often enough, people will think it's true. What is appalling about this is not that they have done it - we all know that a party like National think they can buy the election, and anyone with half a brain can see that this is what they're trying to do. What I find absolutely unforgivable is that the goblins have hit every available surface - including other party billboards.

Now, I don't like the hoardings anymore than the next guy, but every party has the right to go to the expense of getting their message out there if they so choose. For National to come along in the middle of the night and post their own advertising over the top of other parties' is not only rude, it's plain undemocratic.

This is what this country is likely to see if we are foolish enough to allow National to form a majority after tomorrow's vote: A right-wing party willing to run roughshod over everyone else to push their agenda through. This has been a lacklustre election campaign as a whole, overshadowed by the global credit crunch and the US elections, but the rhetoric that we continue to hear from the Right is all about greed: Gutting the Resource Management Act to favour business over community; Canning the Emissions Trading Scheme because it will cost money (in the short term - another sign that financially driven policy is fatally short-sighted); Scrapping the Greens' billion dollar home insulation fund; and pushing economic growth at the expense of all else.

Economic Growth is synonymous with consumption, and a hundred years of massive growth and consumption have brought this planet to the brink of collapse. Everything that National plans to do if they take the election tomorrow will only push us further towards complete ecological ruin.

The only way to stop this is by getting out there and voting tomorrow. And that vote should be Green, if you care for the planet, or for your children, or for your own health and wellbeing in the future. Don't let all the hard work that the Greens have done over the past 9 years go to waste.

Get out there. Vote Green.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Labour Weekend Lamb

For us Labour Weekend was just that: work.

I'd like to say that we got out into the garden and got rows of corn and tomatoes and carrots and lettuces planted, but sadly, nothing of the sort happened. I did manage to weed a bit around the potato plants (which are coming up nicely, from what I can tell), but the weekend was not dedicated to the garden as it should have been. Rather, we kept building Isaac's playhouse. I'm keeping progress photos, and will post a timeline once we've actually got to the end. Right now the cladding is on,and we still have to do the fascia, the roof, and the windows and door. Then I guess we think about paint and stuff. And attaching a slide, somehow. But that might be a pipe dream (now there's an idea...).

So to reward all our hard work of cutting leftover fence palings and nailing them to the playhouse frame, I cooked up a lovely rolled forequarter of lamb from Wai-Ora. Will I ever get sick of praising these guys? Seriously, if you're in the Hutt, get down to the riverbank market on Saturday. (No, I repeat, this isn't a paid plug nor do they give me free stuff.)

Dessert Chef and I were trying to decide what it was about this particular lamb that kept us coming back, week after week. To her palate, the meat is not as strong as the lamb from the supermarket, possibly because it spends less time getting from farm to the table. In my more self-indulgent way I imagine I can taste the fresh air, the greenness of the grass, the wild clover and thyme, the vibrance and energy of the farm. It's a delicate flavour that needs nothing to mask it or heighten it, which is why I tend to keep my dressing of the meat simple and lightly fragrant.

Rolled Forequarter Lamb Roast

(Serves 4 - just)

Take 1 Rolled Forequarter Lamb Roast.Raid the herb garden, which is absolutely brimming with Spring growth, and chop up a pile of mint, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Season the lamb with olive oil and freshly ground salt and pepper, then roll in the fresh herbs. Quarter an onion and drizzle it lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Place the lamb and onion on a rack over a roasting tray and leave to rest for an hour. Dress some chopped veges for roasting. Roll in olive oil, salt and pepper, some paprika and the rest of the fresh chopped herbs. Place these on some baking paper on another roasting tray.
Cook both trays at 190C for 1 to 1 1/2hrs, depending on how well you like your lamb done and how small your veges are cut.
I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Slow Descent

Today I learned that my favourite fantasy author, Hugh Cook, has gone into a hospice.

I was writing a post on lamb roast when I read this. Suddenly, the significance of seasoning and cooking temperatures paled.

Hugh was struck down some time ago by a brain tumour. He fought the cancer and survived, and was told that if it ever came back, there was nothing more that they could do. In December last year, he posted this (Warning - understandably harsh language).

I've posted in more detail about Hugh's Work here, and I suspect I will post again when he has passed away.

But very quickly, I want to consider what legacy Hugh leaves us as writers and readers of the fantasy genre. He published a series of 10 novels which grew increasingly edgy and eccentric as they progressed, which his core of fans loved but which failed to take off commercially. Publishers shied away from his 60-novel vision - much to the chagrin of his fans - due to his non-formulaic story and character developments, as well as his tendency to exploit the medium of the novel as much for its poetic potential as its narrative value.

Hugh told stories that weren't always black and white in language that wasn't always black and white. He challenged the reader to reconsider what they knew of the sf/fantasy convention, and he went places that more prudent (and arguably more financially successful) authors wouldn't dare.

Through the lens of fantasy Cook could strain real concepts, from history to religion to philosophy to politics, and explore the darkness within. And all of this with the dryest and most subtle of wit.

From a teenage reader to an adult writer I have constantly reread these books and reminded myself that they are a benchmark for how not to fall into the bad habits of writing hack. He also provides us with lessons of what not to do, but always to ask if we are pushing ourselves and our writing as far as we're able.

As well as being a champion of E-Books and Publish-On-Demand (he got back the rights to some of his works which his publishers had discontinued and made them available over the Internet) Cook posted this, one of the best creative writing guides you're likely to find on the internet for free.
This is the first time I've seen a photo of Hugh, and it has been more inspiring than his sister, who was kind enough to post it, might have thought it could be. I see a normal guy, sitting at his laptop at a table in the evening, grinning.

Much like I do.

May your final journey be a peaceful one, Hugh.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Another Pumpkin Risotto

I've come a long way down the Risotto highway since I first had a crack at making one back in June. Since then I've learned that as long as you have patience, anything goes. Also, once you know the steps in your head, you can prep as you go, so you don't lose all that time getting everything ready beforehand. After all, once you put the rice in, you're pretty much committed for the coming 30 minutes or so anyway.

This one was, by unanimous agreement, my best ever. Better than the Bacon and Leek effort, and even better than the other Pumpkin and Ham one. Isaac wanted more, and more, and more, so it must have been good!

Pumpkin & Ham Risotto (MKII)

(Serves 4)

Finely chop 1 onion and 3 cloves of NZ garlic. Grate up 1/4 of a grey pumpkin. Add the veges to heated oil in a large pan and stir as the moisture evaporates. When the veges become a bit sticky add 3/4 Cup of Arborio Rice. Keep everything moving until the rice starts to turn translucent. Tip in a mixture of 2T Balsamic Vinegar and 1/2C Warm water. Keep stirring.
As the liquid is absorbed, start adding heated chicken or vege stock by the ladel, probably about 2 1/2 Cups in 1/4 Cup increments. Add another ladel of stock as each is absorbed and before the rice starts sticking to the pan.

During this time, chop up a whole tomato, 125g of deli ham, and grate 1/4 Cup of Parmesan cheese.

When the rice is so nearly done you can tell it only needs a couple more minutes, add the tomato and ham and stir through. Check the rice, and when done, remove from the heat and stir through the Parmesan and 3T of cream. Mix in and allow to stand for just a minute before dishing. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground pepper and salt, and a wee grating of Parmesan.

What's the best thing about this meal?

Only one dirty pan.