Monday, 23 March 2009

A foodie post

Despite the title of the blog and the tantalising picture of caramel slice at the top of the page, some of you may be feeling that my entries have been sadly lacking in food content. Rest assured that I haven't given up cooking in the least, and would like to prove it by offering some photographic evidence of the latest creations.

So, first up: the other day at work one of my colleagues grabbed a left-over piece of bread dough, rolled it out thin, slapped some pepperoni and cheese on it and rolled it up to form what she described as a stromboli - basically a rolled-up pizza. I'd never even heard of this delicacy before, but after one slice, hot out of the oven, I had to make it for myself. The ingredients are up to your imagination and whatever you happen to have in the fridge, so mine consisted of a smear of tomato paste, a few blobs of ricotta left over from a spinach-and-ricotta-lasagna experiment, some grated cheddar and parmesan, chopped slices of sandwich ham and some fresh oregano from the herb box. If I did it again I think I might give it half an hour to prove before putting it in the oven, but even without that it came out very tasty. And it was even better cold the next day for lunch!



The second was more of a joint effort, thus showing that baking is an ideal bonding opportunity between husband and wife, or some such thing... anyway, it was fun. It was cheaper to buy a bag of six lemons at the supermarket than three single ones, so that's what I did, and hence ended up on the look-out for lemon recipes. On Friday at work I was making lemon meringue pies (bake off pre-made frozen pie shell; mix water with lemon filling mix, add; mix water with meringue mix, add; bake until brown) and halfway through dinner suddenly realised that the actual thing could be a possible repository for some of my excess lemons. Graham said, "Let's do it now!" so we jumped into the kitchen and got going.

In this land of the baking mix and the ready-made, actually cooking something from the raw ingredients requires an extra adjective, and so the activity we were about to undertake is referred to as "scratch baking" - usually accompanied by a look of incredulity: "you made this from scratch?" Yes, and if you looked more closely at some of the supermarket products, you would too. I was serving a gentleman the other day who asked what the ingredients were in a particular cheesecake, so I gave him the label. He scanned it quickly and remarked, "sounds like a chemistry set!" In order to achieve the uniformity and shelf-life required by such huge organisations as supermarkets, a whole variety of stabilisers and preservatives have to be added, which I can't imagine contribute vastly to the nutritional content of the product.

It seems worse in America, for some reason; I still haven't got over the fact that regular cheddar and such is invariably labelled "natural cheese", which is necessary to distinguish it from the processed cheese slices that have a texture little different from their plastic wrapping (although they are not, I've noticed, labelled "unnatural cheese"). A whole raw chicken for roasting proudly proclaimed that it was "minimally processed" - well, you'd hope so! But this is a land where a certain fast-food chain ran adverts showing that you couldn't buy the ingredients for its fried chicken for anywhere near the price it was selling it at. This didn't make me want to rush out and buy it, but rather raised the question, "what on earth do they make it out of then?" Some kind of super-processed chicken?

Anyway, back to our genuine home-made scratch-baked minimally-processed no-preservatives-added lemon meringue pie. Graham made the pastry and meringue, I provided the lemon filling and overall direction (ie reading the recipe book), we entertained ourselves with a game of tennis on the Wii while it was baking, and very shortly we had ourselves one very presentable and delicious pie to eat! Preservatives were definitely not needed, as it vanished remarkably quickly.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

new toy

We've got a Wii!

I have to say, they are one awesome bit of kit. Normally we'd be a bit leery about shelling out that much money on something non-essential, but we had some vouchers which we didn't know what to do with, and we'd played on Wii's a couple of times at friends' houses, so... we decided to splash out and have a bit of fun.

So far we have mostly tried bowling and tennis, plus a bit of boxing where Graham pummelled me to a pulp several times and then felt too guilty to continue! It's really good; the software is sensitive enough that it feels very realistic, while simultaneously being much easier than in real life, so you get that additional boost of feeling like a pro. A triple strike (turkey) in actual ten-pin bowling is beyond my wildest dreams, yet I've achieved it a couple of times on the Wii. Likewise the most I can do with a real tennis racket is maybe hope to hit the ball, but we got up some fun rallies with our virtual doubles.

What I also like about it is that it's quite sociable. It's fun to play in groups and it's funny to watch others waving their arms about when you're not playing. With your average video game, watching someone else playing is about on a par with watching paint dry, and the players tend to be very isolated from anyone else in the room. The Wii is a fun after-dinner activity - even if it has a tendency to extend the after-dinner time until one in the morning: "OK, just one more game!"

We like Wii. Here endeth the advertising.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

A walk in the park

When my feet take me out the door for my daily walk, they usually head in the direction of Trinity Park. This piece of green space alongside the Trinity River is one of the few nice places within walking distance, and there's always something to see there.

Along the river itself there are usually egrets flexing their long necks and stalking the shallows in search of fish. A group of cormorants stands solemnly on a metal ring in the middle of the stream. Turtles the size of dinner plates poke their square heads out of the water, or sunbathe happily on the bank, slithering hurriedly into the water as you approach.

In the duck pond flocks of multi-coloured waterfowl home in at the first sound of bread hitting the water. A couple of latecomers skid to a stop as they hit the water and join the gobbling throng.

The squirrels, too, seem to have got in on the act, and a couple approach to within a few feet, sitting up on their haunches like a pair of begging dogs. Most of their cousins, though, are happy with the fuzzy-capped burr acorns, and make a dash for the trees when you appear. A few feet up, they pause, spreadeagled on the trunk, and regard you with bright eyes.

If you follow the loop trail around the park, you pass a corner where there are often three or four cats sunning themselves on the grass - a miniature lion pride in tortoiseshell and tabby. They seem to live wild, although traces of cat biscuits on a nearby rock suggests that someone feeds them.

Raccoon trails cross the path, looking as well-worn as motorways, but their users are not often seen. Once I saw a group under a tree, somewhat cat-like in size and appearance except for their zebra-striped tails and panda masks.

A tiny train runs on weekends and holidays, looping around the park and crossing the river on a narrow trestle to reach the zoo. Kids wave from the brightly-coloured carriages as it goes by.

Overhead, a full-size railway supported on massive black timbers crosses not three feet above your head. Standing underneath as a train passes is a test of the nerve - you can see the beams flex as the endless line of freight wagons rumbles past.

As I head home, lycra-clad cyclists whizz past and joggers pant sweatily by. A group of Mexican teenagers plays basketball under the bridge as I go up the green metal steps and back to the city.