29 July 2011

Radicchio, so pretty, so revolting

It really is beautiful. It made me ache with longing while it was growing. Fantasies of radicchio with walnuts and goat cheese might have occupied an unreasonable proportion of my early winter thoughts.

Radicchio 'Treviso Precoce Mesola' (seed from Thompson & Morgan, UK)

24 July 2011

Anysberg Nature Reserve

Lately work has been a little too office-bound. Now while developing good norms and standards is really important, as is writing great tender documents, it's getting into the field that makes my job worthwhile. And not the 12 hours of driving for 2 hours of site meeting kind of get into the field. No, the nice slow day pottering around the veld looking at plants kind. So I was really glad when a couple of weeks ago I had to head up to Anysberg Nature Reserve to have a look at some problematic eroded road areas.

17 July 2011

in which we invade the privacy of very small animals

It's mid-July. Something is wrong. The few balmy days between winter cold fronts in Cape Town have always been something to cherish. Gentle sun and no wind. The still air holding a hazy blanket of smog over the flats. But usually a cold front or ten roll through within days, howling north winds preceding several flavours of rain. This last week however, has been unrelentingly balmy. I write this wearing shorts, my bare feet propped on my desk in a beam of afternoon sun. For me it's quite pleasant, but I am concerned about the natural order of things. The small creatures of this area appear to be under the impression spring has arrived. My cockatiel has been alternating between vicious screaming, mild violence and vigorous masturbating (a strategy that works about as well for him as it does for most teenage boys). And then I walk outside and find an orgy in my garden. Not just the ladybirds:

10 July 2011

the secret to perfect pastry

I am feeling magnanimous. Pie can do that to a person. So I will share with you you another of my closely guarded secrets. We all know that most pastry requires quick work and cool hands. Work it for more than a few moments, or too warm, and whether you're aiming for shortcrust or flaky, you will never achieve that melting tenderness that makes chubby angels sing. Marble work surfaces? Pish and nonsense! Unless actively chilled, they are the same temperature as any other material in the room. If anything they will conduct the ambient temperature into your chilled pastry faster than wood, or God forbid, melamine. So what's a pastry maker to do? Easy, just modify that one silly step that appears in every recipe but makes no sense at all. Do not cut your fat into small pieces and wait for it to soften before rubbing into the flour. Simply freeze the required quantity (I prefer butter even though lard is healthier - hard to believe I know - and lighter), then grate it straight into the flour, dusting regularly so that it doesn't stick together in a great clump. The finely shredded and still cold fat is then a complete doddle to quickly rub into the flour without warming or working it much at all. Voila! Pastry perfection.

Pork filling braised in gin and rosemary, with a stock reduced to sticky unctuousness doesn't hurt either.

03 July 2011

Blue-footed Booby

BirdLife South Africa is not only doing a fair bit to improve the conservation plight of birds, and especially seabirds, but they are now giving away a Canon 5dII + 100-400 L IS USM Lens (link at end of post) for the best photo of any flying, crawling or swimming ocean beasties. That's R42,000 of very nice kit, and not even an entry fee required.

Sadly I don't think I have competition winning pics. But while despondently scratching through some 2002 slides from Ecuador I did come across these rather delightful Blue-footed Booby photos from Isla de la Plata in Ecuador - not doing anything interesting enough to win me a prize, but hey, they've got blue feet. They were nesting, some right next to walking trails, so it was possible to get some great portraits. Note the very pretty ragged pupils.