Vindolanda

I have lots to blog about, but I’m about to head up to the north of England to be a volunteer digger at Vindolanda for a couple of weeks.

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This is a picture I took when I visited last year. There will be plenty more to come! I will try and keep my blog updated while I’m gone but I’m not sure how much internet access I’ll have yet. Wish me luck!

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Yoyos

In Australia and New Zealand, it is traditional to have a meal between breakfast and lunch called morning tea. It is very common to stop work at 10:30 or 11 to have a cup of tea and a snack, usually a cake or a biscuit of some kind.

There are a lot of biscuits that are unique to New Zealand and Australia:

    • Afghan biscuits, which you may think would come from Afghanistan but they don’t. They are a chocolate- and cornflake-based confection with chocolate icing and half a walnut on top
    • Belgium biscuits, which don’t come from Belgium but are two cinnamon-flavoured biscuits with jam sandwiched between them and pink icing
    • Shrewsbury biscuits, can you guess where they are from?  That’s right, nowhere near Shrewsbury.  They are different from the British biscuits of the same name, instead they are two biscuits with jam sandwiched between them and a hole in the top one so you can see the jam.
    • Anzac biscuits, which are based on oats, coconut, and golden syrup
    • Ginger kisses, two soft ginger-flavoured biscuits with a cream filling

    As for cakes and slices, we have:

    • Lamingtons (I freely admit these are Australian in origin, but widely available in New Zealand tearooms) – a square of sponge, dipped in raspberry jelly or chocolate icing and then coconut
    • Apple slice, two squares of shortbread with a stewed apple filling
    • Ginger crunch, with a ginger-flavoured biscuit-y base and thick ginger icing topping
    • Custard squares, two slices of mille-feuille pastry with a thick layer of custard in between, and coconut icing
    • Tan squares, a biscuit base topped with caramel and then a layer of crumbled base on top
    • Chocolate caramel slice, a biscuit base topped with caramel with a layer of chocolate on top

    Really, the list goes on and on, so if I’ve forgotten anything please someone jog my memory. Yesterday I went round to Vixie and John’s place with my Edmond’s cookbook (the one cookbook no New Zealander has been without for the past 100 years), to make yoyos.

    Yoyos possibly have the coolest name of all New Zealand/Australian biscuits. They are formed of two thick buttery biscuits with a butter/custard filling in the middle. When I left yesterday I managed to smuggle a couple out with me, and have them for morning tea this morning:

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    Yoyos

    175 g softened butter
    1/4 cup icing sugar
    vanilla essence
    1 1/2 cups plain flour
    1/4 cup custard powder

    Filling:
    50g softened butter
    1/2 cup icing sugar
    2 tablespoons custard powder

    Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients together, then roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls. Place these on a baking sheet and flatten with a fork. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

    While they are baking, mix all the filling ingredients together. Once the cooked biscuits have cooled, fill with the butter filling.

    Soooo rich but so good. Enjoy!

    Eating Fido

    I read an article the other day from my other home country, New Zealand. The article was full of outrage at a Tongan man who had attempted to eat his dog Ripper. The dog, a pitbull-terrier cross, had been given to him by a family member. But as the dog had a nasty habit of biting any visitors to the house, he decided to hit Ripper on the head (thus knocking him unconscious), slit Ripper’s throat, and then put him in an umu (a fire pit) to cook.

    He had just done this when the SPCA turned up and stopped him. According to the SPCA, it’s totally unacceptable to eat dog in New Zealand, although it may be normal practice in the islands. They think the law should be changed so it is illegal for people to cook and eat dogs.

    HANG ON, thought I. What authority did the SPCA have to stop this man? By the SPCA’s admission the dog was killed humanely. It wasn’t against the law. So what right did they have to march onto this man’s property and ruin his barbecue?

    The whole tone of the article disturbed me. It came across as hypocritical and, frankly, racist. The suggestion was that we should be educating these island savages not to eat their pets, because that’s just not done in New Zealand.

    Which of course is crazy, because white people in New Zealand have been eating their pets since they settled there. In Spring, plenty of children hand-rear pet lambs (often known by names such as “Mint Sauce” and “Gravy”) that later end up on the Christmas dinner table. No one has a problem with that. Why this special status for dogs?

    Although I don’t eat any meat I don’t really see the difference between eating dog and eating any other animal, provided the animal is not endangered of course. In fact, dogs are probably one of the most sustainable animals I can think of. Once the Christmas lambs are gone, you could go down to the SPCA and select one of the hundreds of puppies that are abandoned after the festive season. These puppies often end up being euthanized if there is no one to claim them. What a waste! Why not take them home, fatten them up, and pop them on the barbie? According to our Tongan friends they are very good eating!

    In fact, I would be happier to eat a dog that had had a pleasant life with a family that had played with it, fed it well, and given it a good life, than for example a pig that had been stuffed into a crate too small for it to even turn around. Bacon is pretty much the national food of New Zealand. You can’t order a salad, soup or sandwich without it being full of the stuff. So the national demand for cheap pig meat has led to these poor animals (which are more intelligent and sensitive than dogs) being kept in horrific conditions. Ok, some people have a problem with this, but is bacon off the menu? If it’s not bacon then it’s chickens packed in tiny cages, debeaked and featherless. It seems the message is that animals raised in suffering are ok to eat, but happy animals raised with love are a no-go.

    I wonder if the real reason the country has reacted so violently to this issue is that the entire economy of New Zealand is built upon the raising and slaughter of animals. I suspect no one wants to think about that too hard, or examine their own personal guilt. So draw an arbitrary line, animals on one side of the line are perfectly ok to kill and eat, animals on the other side are not ok and if you eat them you are an uncultured savage. How does that make sense?

    Today the media seems to have realised that perhaps it was a tiny bit hypocritical and one-sided in that last article, and have finally presented the other side of the story:

    Cultural experts in New Zealand have spoken out against a proposed ban on the eating of dog meat, saying to do so would be culturally insensitive and deprive people of a viable food source in tough economic times.

    Euroasia director Kenneth Leong, whose company specialises in cultural consultancy, said the uproar was “a demonstration of cultural insensitivity bordering on ignorance and hypocrisy”.

    So, what do you think? Would you eat dog (or have you eaten dog)? Would you stop someone else from eating it?

    Hidden Gardens

    Last week I decided to do something a little different. I’ve recently joined “Mrs Coots’ Quirky Outings”, a meetup group dedicated to doing things that are, well, a little different.

    On Wednesday I turned up at Moorgate Station ready for my first outing: the Hidden Garden city tour. I love the City for all of its strange juxtapositions. The City is a place where history, mystery, high finance, and religion all seem to ooze out of its pores. Echoes of Roman and Medieval London exist next to concrete and glass office towers, and although the City is only a square mile there is a high potential for getting lost in its twisty-turny maze of streets, alleyways, highwalks, and pedestrian subways. Some of its mysteries will always remain closed to me, so I jump at any offer to learn more.

    We started the tour with a not-so-hidden garden but one that was new to me – Finsbury Circus, which has a bowling green in the middle. Our guide explained how the bowling green is very hard to play on as it is slightly undulating due to the Tube line running under it.

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    We had a brief stop at the Draper’s Hall garden which sadly we did not have access to. It looked rather run down and uncared for with bits of construction debris around the place. This was all the more sad given that the garden contained mulberry trees laden with ripe mulberries that were left to fall on the purple-stained ground. I’d love to go back there with a ladder! The Hall belongs to the Worshipful Company of Drapers, which comes third in precedence among the Great Twelve City Livery Companies. We learned an interesting fact – the Merchant Taylors and the Skinners could never decide who should come sixth and seventh in the order of precedence, so every year they alternate. This is where we get the phrase “at sixes and sevens”.

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    I’ve seen a lot of debt clocks before so assumed this was another, but it is actually a death clock, counting how many deaths there have been in the world this year (about two per second).

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    A beautiful old church right next to the Gherkin.

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    Gherkin cake, anyone?

    The highlight of the tour was seeing St Dunstan’s, a church that was burnt down in the Great Fire, rebuilt, rebuilt again in the 18th century, and then destroyed in the Blitz by an incendiary bomb. Instead of rebuilding it for the third time it has been turned into a public garden. The garden is quite stunning and seems to exist in a microclimate of its own where a banana palm and fig tree thrive.

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    It was lovely to take time out in the middle of a very busy week (I have a few projects afoot, of which more later) and discover some peace and tranquillity in the middle of the busiest part of London. I can thoroughly recommend the walk, especially given the modest £5 fee goes to charity.

    Ghanaian dinner

    A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a dinner for food bloggers by Cadbury’s PR, Lea Simpson. This was to celebrate Cadbury using fair trade Ghanaian cocoa in their Dairy Milk bars. I must admit, my first thought was “but I don’t actually like Dairy Milk”. It’s true. Give me white choc, give me 70% or higher single-origin dark choc, but don’t feed me anything in between.

    However, I am a big fan of the fair trade cause and I put my money where my mouth is. I buy fair trade wherever possible, whether I’m buying food or clothing. I recently sewed myself a shirt using fair trade organic handwoven cotton, that’s how much of an earth-loving hippy fair trade evangelist I am. So what if I don’t actually like the chocolate? I can still tell you all to go out and buy it!

    So on the appointed evening I turned up at the Underground Cookery School with a bunch of other food bloggers. Lea gave us a talk on what she’d learned about fair trade chocolate. There is a minimum price per tonne of cocoa which is set by an independent board. Cadbury cannot pay under this price for their cocoa. The market price is currently well above the minimum anyway. On top of this, there is also a premium paid. This premium is shared between all the farmers and can be used for development projects such as building schools.

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    The food for the evening was Ghanaian-themed. There were some delicious canapés to start off with like little deep-fried rice balls, and mackerel on slices of fried plantain. The wine flowed freely and it was good to meet some of the bloggers I hadn’t met before. Dinner consisted of zebra stew and jollof rice, a spicy tomato rice. Instead of the zebra stew I had more mackerel with my meal. The rice was delicious and luckily we were given the recipe by the catering company, Jollof Pot. I will definitely make it again.

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    We were all stuffed to bursting by then so it’s lucky dessert consisted of some chopped up fair trade chocolate. It tasted like Dairy Milk. Presumably Cadbury will eventually extend their range to include dark chocolate, and then I’ll be all over it. In the meantime my friends love me because I’ve been handing out the samples we got in our goody bags.

    Lea’s currently in Ghana seeing where they produce the chocolate and blogging her adventures here. It sounds like she’s having an amazing time. It’s really great that a big corporate like Cadbury has made the decision to go fair trade. Here’s hoping it makes a big difference in the Ghanaian people’s lives.

    Broad bean treats

    I love broad beans. Back in New Zealand I grew a dwarf variety in my garden and took care to pick them when they were still small enough to eat raw, without peeling the skins off. This year, I’ve had them in my Riverford box a couple of times. The first time I made a pea and broad bean risotto. It was fairly simple with some shallots, celery, white wine, pureed peas, homemade vegetable stock, thyme, mint, parsley, and the blanched, peeled broad beans added at the end, with lots of parmesan and a fair amount of sharp, grassy Spanish olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, and Maldon salt.

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    The result was a revelation. I had honestly never tasted risotto so good.

    This week, when broad beans appeared in the box again, I was tempted to make the risotto again, but had run out of stock and felt like trying something new.

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    I think I saw Nigella make something like this years ago, and when I had broad beans in my veg box again this week I dredged the partial memory up. It goes something like: pod broad beans, blanch them and then skin them. Mash together roughly with a chopped up garlic clove, grated lemon rind, lemon juice, olive oil, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Serve on freshly toasted ciabatta bread and top with shaved Parmesan. It was absolutely delicious.

    There are so many people out there who don’t like broad beans. I agree that they’re horrible bought frozen from the supermarket, and you can only get away with eating the young ones with their skin on. But if you can get hold of some freshly picked beans, either from your garden, veg box, or farmer’s market (by they time they make it to the supermarket they’re probably already too old) then they can taste amazing.