From the kitchen to the emergency room

August 22, 2010
Posted in Food  

I did it. I sliced a piece of my finger off. I’ve cut myself a couple of times previously while cooking but this time I really sliced a piece off. Not a big piece of my finger but large enough to create a gush of blood resembling a small slasher movie and prompt a visit to the local casualty ward.

I was chopping some tomatoes for a quick dinner. I wasn’t really concentrating. The next moment my kitchen resembled that of Gordon Ramsey. The F-Word was bouncing off walls and I was hopping around looking for something to staunch the blood flow.

A painful reminder of why good knife skills are essential.

Here are a couple of timely videos about using the pinch and claw grips to avoid ending up in your local emergency room.

Banishing demons: Easy Mayonnaise

August 21, 2010
Posted in Food  

I’m going to say it. Making your own mayonnaise is a big deal. At least to me.

It’s got a reputation for being fiddly and finicky to make, but making your own mayonnaise is a small badge of honour in the cooking world. Homemade always tastes better but most people just can’t be bothered.

Mayonnaise’s hard-to-make reputation is generally well-deserved. I’ve tried many times over the years, each time with an increasingly complicated recipe, but pretty much failed every time. The worst was on a Christmas morning when I had a dish planned for lunch that involved mayonnaise. After finishing off all the eggs and sunflower oil in the house in a number of failed attempts I had to resort to rescuing the remains of a jar of mayonnaise from the back of the fridge and spread it thinly.

I got away with that time but that wasn’t really the issue.

Then one day I happened upon this recipe. I can’t remember exactly where I got it but it looked pretty simple so I gave it a try and I’ve never looked back. We no longer buy that horrible over-preserved stuff from the supermarket any more. It takes just a couple of minutes to whip up this mayonnaise when you need some, and it last for a good while in the fridge.

There are a couple of tricks to getting this right but they’re not as complicated as some recipe writers like to make out.

The first thing to do is use room temperature ingredients, particularly the eggs. The second is to add the oil in a slow (really slow), steady stream. Spend the extra couple of minutes and get it right.

I use a liquidiser to make my mayonnaise, primarily because it has this cool lid with a very small hole it, which makes adding the oil really easy.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup (250ml) oil, sunflower or olive

Put all the dry ingredients and the eggs into the liquidiser and blend for four or five seconds. Next, with the liquidiser running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. You’ll notice the mixture starting to thicken.

Now add the vinegar and lemon juice and blend for another few seconds, just enough to mix it all up.

If you add the oil too quickly you ‘ll probably end up curdling the mixture. If this happens add a couple of drops of water. If this doesn’t work, you’ll have to start again.

The mayonnaise can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks, though you’ll probably use it all up before then.

I sometimes leave out the mustard or add some more cayenne. It still works and you can change your final flavour by doing so. You could also use a red wine vinegar to give it some colour.

No-fuss, simple Ciabatta bread

August 17, 2010
Posted in Food  

I’m going through a bread phase. There is something uniquely fulfilling about making your own bread; it’s not just that it tastes better than the soft, sliced bread you get in supermarkets, it’s more than that.

Perhaps it is because in its simplest form bread-making is such a basic skill. And yet it can also involve great skill and artistry.

One of my favourite breads is Ciabatta. Making a good Ciabatta bread can be time consuming and pretty fiddly. This is my super-simple version which gives a great result but doesn’t take much time. It also produces excellent rolls for things like hamburgers.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

You could make this by hand but I tend to stick all of the ingredients into my bread machine and use the dough setting. I start with the water and flour, add the rest and set the machine. The resulting dough is pretty soft and sticky, which is another good reason to use a bread machine.

Once the dough is ready, take it out of the bread machine, place on a board, cover with a large bowl and let it stand for about 10 minutes.

Next, split your dough into two and shape into oval shapes. Alternatively, split the dough into six or eight pieces to make bread rolls.

Leave these to prove for about an hour. In warmer climates this may take less time, and in colder ones you may need more.

Once the dough has risen, place it in a pre-heated oven at 220 degrees C for about 20-25 minutes, until nicely browned. Spray the loaves lightly with water ever three minutes for the first ten minutes of cooking. This prevents the crust browning too quickly and keeps the crust moist enough to keep on rising. Spraying more than this can make the loaves very pale.

If you’re making bread rolls out of this, brush the surface with milk or egg before cooking. The milk gives the bread a lighter shade than the egg and the egg gives a deeper glaze.

Remove the bread from the oven and stand on a wire rack to cool before eating.

Chillies brave the storms

November 2, 2009
Posted in Garden  

chilliesThe vicious hailstorm which smashed up most of my seedlings just over a week ago was followed exactly a week later with another huge downpour. Although this one lacked the hail of the previous one it did last for a good hour and in that time turned the vegetable garden into a small lake. The seedlings, a little more protected by a neighbour’s large tree, weren’t washed away but they were drenched and many of the pumpkin, cucumber and watermelon seeds I had planted a couple of days earlier, were washed out of their seed trays. The more established seedlings like the lettuce and spinach managed to weather the storm and were not too badly off at the end.

But with two of the biggest storms in quick succession the seedlings have endured more than they would like. The storms have also washed out the weaker plants, wiped out seeds and left a real jumble on the seedling table. Because of this I decided to do a clean-up over the weekend and work out which of the plants and seeds were worth saving.

Surprisingly (perhaps) it was the various chilli plants, which have been pretty quiet until now, that seemed to be thriving. I had almost forgotten about the chilli seeds we had planted a month ago but quickly over the past week they have shot up from being barely visible to now being very obviously “there”.

So, on Sunday I washed out 20 small pots from the garage and set about transplanting all the chilli seedlings into their own pots using a mixture of seedling medium (bought from a nursery) and potting soil. After all this time of waiting expectantly for some of the chillies to appear it’s a rewarding feeling to now have 20 pots of chilli. Apart from the mixed hot chillies (a packet bought along the way) I also have Habanero and Serano chillies as well as a collection of sweet peppers.

31 SA beaches to get Blue Flag status

October 28, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

Muizenberg. Copyright http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifijay/

Muizenberg. Copyright ifijay http://www.flickr.com/photos/ifijay/

31 of South Africa’s beaches will be awarded Blue Flag status on Thursday in recognition of their cleanliness and positive environmental management. The 31 beaches span 13 of South Africa’s municipalities and is almost double the number of beaches awarded Blue Flag status last year. Last year just 18 beaches around the country received Blue Flag status, nine of those in the Western Cape.

The Blue Flag award is run by the Foundation for Environmental Education and is given to beaches and marinas that have met stringent standards of water quality, safety, environmental education and information and general environmental management criteria, set by the FEE. Globally almost 4,000 beaches and marinas globally are being awarded Blue Flags.

Of the 31 beaches being awarded Blue Flags tomorrow, seven of them will be in Cape Town, one more than the city received last year. Last year, six beaches were awarded Blue Flags: Clifton Fourth, Mnandi, Bikini in Gordon’s Bay, Muizenberg, Strandfontein and a section of Camps Bay.The Western Cape last year had a total of nine beaches with Blue Flag status with Grotto, Hawston Beach and Stilbaai adding to the City of Cape Town haul.

The 31 beaches being awarded Blue Flag status will be announced tomorrow by Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

More at IOL and News24

Hail setback for Project Green

October 26, 2009
Posted in Garden  

The hail starts to pile up around the back steps.

The hail starts to pile up around the back steps.

Living in Johannesburg we’re used to regular summer thunderstorms. So much so that they are the first thing we miss when not in Johannesburg. But Friday night’s version of a highveld thunderstorm was a lot more than we bargained for and Project Green took a heavy knock.

Early on in the afternoon it was obvious a storm was coming, but after countless false alarms with just a handful of raindrops, I didn’t take it too seriously. I did cover as much of the seedling table as I could with fine plastic mesh that I had lying around, just in case, and left it at that.

As with most thunderstorms it started fast and hard. And within a minute or so, when it was obvious this storm was going to be a big one, it was already almost too hard to get outside. A minute or two after that and the hail starting pelting down so we had to watch from the back door and hope things survived the storm.

All told the storm lasted about half-an-hour, but by the end of that time absolutely everything was white with hail, and not a herb (the closest to our back door) peeked above the layer of ice. The front path was almost a foot deep in hailstones and the vegetable garden in the back (at the bottom of the slope) was as much under water as anything.

After half an hour we ventured outside to see the damage. The herbs were smothered, the vegetables underwater and the pots of tomato and green pepper seedlings I had not managed to put under cover were smashed to pieces, just a handful of stems poking out the ice.

The green pepper and tomato seedlings didn't survive the storm very well.

The green pepper and tomato seedlings didn't survive the storm very well.

Fortunately the seedling table with its half-length cover had avoided the worst of the storm. I was pleased about that because I had trays full of lettuce, basil, thyme and chillis that were almost ready to go into the garden. I also had a tray full of 288 recently planted seeds of lettuce, parsley, thyme and spinach that had just started to show themselves and wouldn’t have survived the hailstones if they had not been covered. The portion of the seedling table not covered with the extra mesh was a sad sight with whole trays submerged in ice and leaves full of bruises and holes.

The beauty of the seedling table outside is that the seeds get the benefit of the sun and the rain and the gentle breezes mostly prevent them from getting fungal diseases. The downside is that occasionally along comes a storm too big for the baby plants to survive and you can quickly lose a lot of plants. And when that happens you wish you had a greenhouse rather than table with a tiny mesh covering. But, fortunately, these type of storms don’t come along all that often so it’s a risk I suppose you have to take. Although I am now considering having handy a fine, strong mesh covering for the next time a large storm looms.

SA government rejects GM potatoes

October 23, 2009
Posted in Food, Green News  

Copyright: iStockphoto

Copyright: iStockphoto

The South African government has rejected the Agriculture Research Council’s (ARC) application to provide genetically modified potatoes to local farmers, saying it was concerned about its safety and economic effect, reports Business Day.

“This is probably the most significant victory of my career,” said Mariam Mayet of the African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), which spearheaded the campaign against the GM potatoes. “For a pro-genetically modified government to refuse a commercial application on safety grounds is quite ground breaking.”

The ACB campaign focused on the ARC’s application for commercial release of its SpuntaG2 potato, which has been engineered to kill the tuber moth, a common pest that damages crops in the field and in storage.

Potatoes SA, fast food outlet McDonald’s, and food retailers Pick n Pay and Fruit and Veg City have also expressed objections to the ARC’s application, saying they were concerned about consumer choice.

Full story: Business Day.
African Centre for Biosafety statement

350: Saturday’s climate change number

October 23, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

4017582490_99c5b0a97a_b350. It’s the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists believe is the safe upper limit for our planet. It’s also the name of a global movement that is mobilising the world to take action on Saturday October 24, the International Global Day of Climate Action. The day of action will include actions from almost every country in the world and will call on all governments to take action to reach achieve an “ambitious, fair, and binding global climate deal”.

Two years ago scientists issued a series of studies showing that a carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere of more than 350 parts per million (ppm) would be disastrous for life on earth. Right now the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 390ppm and the 350 campaign on Saturday will be to call on leaders to set goals to reduce this to under the 350ppm threshold.

Around South Africa there will be a series of events celebrating the 350 declaration. Johannesburg celebrations will include the Jozi 350 Climate Action Day at Emmerentia Dam, and the Tree planting for carbon offset. Cape Town events will include the Human 350 on Table Mountain and the 350 melting iceblocks on Muizenberg beach.

The campaign has also attracted support from a number of prominent people including Bishop Desmond Tutu, who penned an article in support of 350.org which has been published in major US newspapers. In Unity doomed apartheid. Next up: climate change, Tutu wrtites: “In South Africa, we showed that if we act on the side of justice, we have the power to turn tides. Worldwide, we have a chance to start turning the tide of climate change with just such a concerted effort today.”

A full list of SA events can be found on the 350.org website.

Universal phone charger to slash waste

October 22, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

microusbTired of having a drawer-full of old, worthless chargers that can’t be used to power up your new cellphone? Well, the days of proprietary cellphone chargers are coming to an end.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) today approved a standard for a one-charger-fits-all format for future cellphone chargers. For consumers this means that they will not need to buy a new charger each time they change cellphones and they will be able to share a single charger between multiple users. For cellphone makers it will reduce the need to ship a new charger with each and every phone they produce, significantly reducing the number of chargers in production.

The move to a universal charger comes just two weeks before the Climate Change Talks to be held in Barcelona in early November and cements a decision first made at the Mobile World Congress in February. At the time all major manufacturers, excluding Apple, agreed to work towards a universal cellphone charger. Apple subsequently joined a European initiative to promote universal chargers by 2010.

The ITU says the new Universal Charging Solution (UCS) is expected to reduce standby energy consumption by 50% and “eliminate 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers, and a subsequent reduction of 13.6 million tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions each year”.

The new charger format will use the MicroUSB input jack, a connection already built into many newer cellphones.

Public space, public fruit

October 20, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead  

In years gone by, village residents and even early city dwellers were familiar with the notion of “The Commons”, collaboratively owned and managed resources such as grazing land, rivers, forests and water sources. But gradually over time private ownership and corporate growth have whittled away at these all-important resources and today the idea of publicly-owned space and food is all but forgotten. There are, however, some that are trying rekindle an interest in public versus private space and the resources that can be developed in these.

Fallen Fruit

One of these is Fallen Fruit, a US-based artists project that offers a new way of rediscovering the Commons and aims to re-educate city dwellers on public versus private space.

At its heart Fallen Fruit is a mapping project that collects data publicly accessible fruit in various suburbs around Los Angeles. Most of the fruit mapped is on trees in private gardens and parks but which cross the border line into the public space of pavements and roads. Fallen Fruit – aka David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young – encourage residents of their suburb to pick these “public” fruits, tell friends there whereabouts and even plant fruit trees on their own property borders. The group also organises nightime “forages” involving residents who are educated about the public fruit available and the idea of public space.

Matias Viegener says that their are multiple motivations for the group, apart from its art origins. “One is ecological and environmental. We’re interested in changing the actual the organic shape of the city and suburbs. The other reason is social and cultural. We’re interested establishing relationship between people that don’t have existing relationships. LA is a very anonymous city. Most people don’t know their neighbourhood and their neighbours. It’s about walking, knowing your neighbours, knowing your neighbourhood.”

Guerrilla Gardening

Another project challenging the relationship between public and private space with horticultural tools is the UK-based Guerrilla Gardening.

Founded by London-resident Richard Reynolds, the Guerrilla Gardening website started life as a record of his own secretive night time gardening expeditions around his home. Frustrated with not having a garden of his own and by the generally poor state of public gardening in the area, Reynolds took to the street under cover of dark to plant flowers in land not owned by himself. He documented the progress of his garden on his website and quickly attracted other like-minded gardeners eager to improve their suburbs and cities with greenery.

Like the Fallen Fruit project, Guerrilla Gardening is as much about the plants as it is about public space and getting residents to get involved in improving their surrounds. In his recently released book, On Guerrilla Gardening, Reynolds talks extensively about the erosion of public space over the years and how there are few places left where citizens can simply enjoy being without being expected to pay for a drink or entrance fee. Using neglected public spaces, Guerrilla Gardeners aim to both make neighbourhoods more attractive as well as creating more spaces for residents to enjoy the outdoors.

Because guerrilla gardeners work with land that is not their own they technically fall foul of the law. Reynolds explains how this can very often bring them into conflict with authorities but how residents are generally more welcoming of the positive changes and very often get involved themselves.

Both the Fallen Fruit and the Guerrilla Gardening projects offer interesting approaches to challenging the perceived wisdom around food production, public space and community involvement.

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