Mama’s Shepherds Pie and Mushy Peas

My mother made shepherds pie often, huge roasting dishes of it. It is still my most favourite comfort food.  My Mother NEVER made mushy peas though. Mushy peas are an English side dish and are traditionally served with a steak pie in a pub.  Mum never went to pubs poor girl. I love mushy peas. Anyway half way through making my steak pie  I lost the will to make pastry.  Then I discovered that Miss T was putting some thought into cooking for her British husband. So I thought who better to help her with a Shepherds Pie than a New Zealander living in the United States of America who once lived in London. So I took a left and now I am making you a Sheep Herders Pie aka Cottage Pie. And you do not need pastry.

But first we need to relook at the Mushy Peas. Even the name is cute.  I know that sometimes it is hard to like mushy peas especially if they are too watery and too mushy. These are better. Cook them as a treat for someone. They are a gorgeous colour on your plate.  And then (just when you thought it was safe) try mushy pea sandwiches!.

By the time  I served dinner (someone was very late getting home last night) the mushy peas were quite cold and are even tastier when chilled.  Interesting. 

MINTY! MUSHY PEAS

  • bunch of green spring onions finely chopped
  • small handful of finely chopped mint
  • bag of frozen peas

In pan, slurp in a little olive oil, add onions and mint and cook for  a few minutes, add frozen peas and cook, stir every now and then. When the peas are hot and soft, drop in a couple of dollops of butter, pepper and salt  and either mash them or pulse them in the food processer until not too mushy.  Serve hot or apparently – cold.   Try them.

Shepherds Pie

  • Diced Steak or minced steak (ground beef) 
  • Onions
  • Beef Stock
  • Vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Cheese

Brown your meat in hot  butter in small batches.  Retire to a bowl to rest for a minute.  In the same pan saute onions slowly until transparent. Return beef to onions. Toss about. Add beef broth, a slug of worcestershire, and soy sauce and a little balsamic.  Cook slowly until the meat is tender. Taste. Adjust. Always taste with a clean metal spoon.

Thicken.  Mum used (cornflour) cornstarch. Make a nice medium thick gravy.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Turn heat off. Now add your vegetables. Whatever you have. Usually I add frozen peas but not  today as we are having mushy peas as a side.  Today I have put in egg plant, beans and capsicum and the shaving of a hot pepper and a few leaves and stems of  red silverbeet (swiss chard) .. whatever I found in the garden.  My mother  put in carrots, frozen peas and frozen beans. These will cook in the oven so just gently mix into the hot meat.  Add them raw or frozen -it is fine.  Be generous with the vegetables.

Ladle into your deep dish, top with tons of roughly mashed spud (potatoes)  and then pile a really sharp tasty tasty grated cheese on top of that. Sometimes I add a finely chopped onion to the mashed potatoes.

Into a moderate  oven and cook for an hour or so. Now, if you do not know what time you will be serving this dish it will wait in a low oven for ages. As long as it is well covered with potatoes.

This may overflow so take the appropriate precautions.

Have fun.

c

Farm days

This morning early, I took the dogs for a walk (the two cats who come along think they are taking us for a walk) and checked the fences. In the barn, I fed Daisy( dairy cow, who I really hope is pregnant) some of the new grass hay, she looked at  me scathingly and said I wouldn’t even waste spit on that, where is the good stuff. And then watched longingly as I fed the sheep the same hay.  Mama and Hairy (mama and papa sheep) were not having any of it either. Then they all turned to watch the Baby Bobby as he (not aware of the mutiny in the making) munched into his hay and stood looking back at them chewing and blinking benignly.  He will eat anything which is a good thing as he is the beef steer.

The barn doors have been opened so they can come into the barn from the fields to get some extra feed. Also  you cannot take grass fed animals from summer green grass straight to winter dry hay all in one nasty hit. It is not good for the digestion. The change needs to be gradual so that they keep the weight on and with the cold coming I have to slowly get them used to dry grass as opposed to green grass. But my dry grass hay sits in their mangers- studiously ignored.  The good stuff Daisy is waiting for, and she knows it is somewhere in the barn because she can smell it, (it is in the loft)  is the afalfa hay and that does not come out until it is really cold, and the world is frozen. Alfalfa is a legume, very high in protein. So now we commence the battle of wills.  If all else fails I pour a little molasses on the hay. I use the spoonful of sugar theory!! They are very susceptible to sweet bribes.

I put the leash on Queenie,  (5 month old Hereford cow) she trots along beside me like a large red dog. This morning she is clipped to a dog chain that is clipped to  a long wire, she is grazing some old clover that I grew for flowers for the bees. She will not need hay today.  Little fattie.

The chickens only laid SIX eggs yesterday, instead of their usual 18.  You see we cleaned out the chook house to make the first big pile of winter compost. The chickens get their knickers in a knot if I change anything in there and new straw counts as change.  You would think they would like smelling sweet like that.  Such a delicate bunch.

The compost  recipe is green grass clippings by the tractor scoop full (2 scoops),  chook house litter (6 scoops) and dirty straw from the barn (2 scoops). Wet every scoop on the way past the hose. Turn every weekend. Cook, then freeze for a winter.  We only do the chook house twice a year. I let the straw get quite deep in there over the winter for warmth.  I HATE cleaning out the chook house, hate it!.

Tonton (border collie)  is in serious trouble for digging up Our Johns fall lettuce bed. So he is grounded to Close and Busy. When my tweenage children were naughty  they were put on close and busy for a few days which means they had to be with me all the time. And do whatever I was doing. No time off except class time at school.  Cook if I am cooking, clean if I am cleaning , walk the dog when I walked, write when I write, garden when I gardened, read if I read. The offense is never mentioned after the initial haranguing (which was usually long and arduous until they begged me to stop.. I got, I got it!) Usually naughtiness is a symptom anyway- no point treating a symptom.  The sheer drudgery opens them up in the end.  And we might begin to get the bottom of the problem.  Plus I  never watched TV or talked on the phone to their friends or played in the ditch so neither did they. Once things settled down we always ended up having good discussions usually family wide.   I did this with kids in my classroom too (High School)  and I remember days when I would have three or four of the naughtiest kids trailing after me all over the school, carrying my books.  So presently TonTon is lying at the French doors looking out longingly as I write. Occasionally I drop a pencil so he can trot over and pick it up and give it back to me to relieve the boredom. Close and not so Busy.

The grapes are still sweetening, I nag at the grapes every morning. In their fishnet dress. 

I digress.  Today I shall order 12 more Rhode Island Red chicks. They are great for this environment as they will lay all through the year even when it is so cold that the eggs freeze solid shortly after being laid. If I order them now they will be ready to lay in the spring. The tiny chicks come in the mail. I still want a peacock (sigh).

I fed the two Murphys (sheep for the freezer) in their field a bucket of beet shreds and eggs. They are on a serious get-fat diet now, Mia (girl sheep who will stay) is still with them so she is thrilled to be getting all the good stuff  too and being in the special get-fat paddock.

Soon I will set up the last hive for harvesting the honey. I put a board outfitted with a kind of maze on one side, between the supers. In the cold evenings the bees move down the maze to cuddle together and keep warm. Then they cannot get back up again in the morning. So I can steal that honey unmolested.

I fed the dogs and the cats and fed my ginger beer bug, then fed my sourdough starters.  And began a loaf of bread and put the beef on for a steak and onion pie for dinner. 

Lovely. Good morning.

c

Ginger Beer Bug and Sour Dough Starter

So this week I have started my sour dough starter. Very exciting. Today I will bring in the last of the honey.  Queenie who is still such a short cow I am getting worried that we may have bought a midget by mistake, wears her tiny harness like a grown-up cow and is going for walks to eat the long grass. (Still not a lot of growth in the fields)  I am talking to a local restaurant about collecting their kitchen scraps every day for the animals.  And I have begun my  ginger beer bug.

You need a  fermenting bug to make the ginger beer from.  And ginger beer though a lovely drink on its own is an important ingredient in some of our favourite winter cocktails. So getting the bug fermenting  is my first step.

Back when I was a child Dad used to called in to help with the machinery in a local winery up in the hills, run by Catholic priests and brothers. The Catholic brothers were the ones who made the wine.   This was a large estate with the most glorious buildings and my brothers, sisters and I used to go with Dad if he worked out there on the weekends.  He actually built a number of their aluminium wine vats and worked on developing and repairing the presses. All kinds of stuff.  The brothers always bought out large tins of cookies for us kids and weak tea  from the biggest tea-pot I had every seen.  Then leave us to our own devices. We would play tennis, swim, creep into the cavernous kitchens, roll sideways down the hills, peek into the chapel (Brother told us a story about a young student training to be a priest who was put in charge of the flowers for midnight mass once, they had vast gardens and he chose flowers that closed at night!.. how embarrassing) and I have a distinct memory of learning to make a daisy chain out by the tennis courts. The wine making brothers were so kind, and so gentle, wreathed in smiles and careful politeness. One of the winemaking brothers, (later in life I found that he had been an extraordinary craftsman of taste and renowned wine maker)  was a great friend of my Dads. They worked together on all manner of wine affiliated projects.

One day Brother  gave my Dad some yeast that was left over from making  a beautiful bubbly (the yeast had been imported at great expense from France) and a crate of empty champagne bottles. Dad brought this all home to make ginger beer.

So my dad  started a  ginger beer bug then proceeded to make ginger beer for us to drink. He bottled it in those beautiful champagne bottles. And stored it in a dark cool cupboard in the kitchen.  We had to wait a week. I believe he made a batch every week. As well as being tasty we loved it because it was being poured from a champagne bottle! Though you had to be very careful bringing the bottle up from the cupboard as they were volatile. Liable to blow at the slightest mistep. I believe Dads words were ‘a fiery brew’. I remember once we were all gathered at the table eating   when bombing sounds began to come from the cupboard. Big irregular kabooms. I guess that weeks brew was particularly explosive. Mum narrowed her eyes at us, and we sat in intense silence and  finished our meal  listening to bottle after bottle blowing up in the cupboard. After we had eaten like nice little civilised children and the cupboard had stopped sounding like a war zone, we opened the cupboard to survey the wreckage. I believe that dad tweaked his recipe a little after that and we started to bottle the ginger beer in tall beer bottles.

Here is our  recipe.

Ginger Beer Bug

1 teaspoon dried ginger

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon yeast (Our John rummaged through his wine stuff and brought me a sachet of his wine yeast)

large cup of lukewarm water

Mix and Sit for 24 hours in a warm place covered with muslin or cheesecloth.

Every day add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of ginger for the next 7 – 10 days. In fact you will be feeding your Bug a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of ginger every day or two for the rest of its life.

To Make Ginger Beer.

Mix one hot cup of water with approx 2 1/2 cups white sugar

Add 11 cups of cold water.

and the juice of a lemon, or lime

Without disturbing the sediment in the bottom of your bug strain most of the liquid into your water and sugar.  Stir and bottle and cap.  Just re-use bottles that have the rubber cap and wire thingies. (Grolsch bottles would be ideal)  or even bubbly water bottles with a screw cap. Let sit for at least three days, then chill and drink.   It will look cloudy at first but settle by the next day. NEVER shake.

Be careful. These can get pretty poppy so store out of reach of small children. There are more ways to make ginger beer than you can shake a stick at, this is a very old fashioned drink. So let me know if you have a recipe as well. You can strain in  lemons, limes, I have heard of straining wilted raspberry leaves and dandelion leaves.  Even raisins. Some use brown sugar we used white. You can even use honey. So this could be an interesting winter with all that time to experiment.  Especially if I make a batch a week.  It seems best to drink within the week of making it.

I heard  that if you add a teaspoon of sugar at the bottling stage and let it sit in the basement a bit longer this will develop an alcohol content.  We will see. Beware of flying glass I think.

Add water, sugar and ginger to the remaining bug and start another for next week. And lets not forget the sour dough, this needs feeding and making too….

I have put a call out to Fourth son who used to design cocktails  and we will see what he comes up with from those NZ bars.

c

The day I melted Mum’s Silver Tea Pot- part two.

If you have just arrived and have not read part one go here first, then come back for part two. It is not long, see you back here soon. 

I walked around Dads workshop wiping my nose on my arm. Dad usually had a hanky in his pocket that I could use but he was nowhere in sight. The big doors were open so he could not be too far away. I wandered out of the workshop and down to the jetty. Looking across the little tiny bay toward the fishing boats. Sure enough there was my dads green truck on the wharf and I thought maybe I could see his tufty hair working on the deck of a trawler.  It must be almost tea time,  surely he would be coming back soon.

I sat down on the end of the jetty to wait.  After about two and a half minutes I was tired of sitting, so I tried shouting.  Dad, I called across the water.  Gulls screamed back.  Dad I called louder,  someone waved from a passing pea class going under the bridge. DAAAAAD! Nothing. I looked at the bridge. Too far to ride all the way around this late. I was tired and running away never worked because Mum always came and found me.    Idly I played with the rope that was tied to our dingy bobbing about at my feet.  Pulling it close to the jetty then pushing it out. Close and out. Close, out and I was  IN. With no thought at all I just slid into the dinghy, slipped the rope undone, pushed the oars into the rollocks and began to row. I looked both ways to make sure no big boats were coming by and I just rowed over to the trawler Dad was working on.  It never even crossed my mind that this was BEYOND naughty.  To this day I cannot believe that I did that.

I rowed straight across this deep  lap of water and right up to the trawler, and banged on the hull with my tiny fist, DAAAAD! A rugged hairy fishermans head popped over the side. Celi what are you doing? I promptly burst into tears, sitting in my little  row boat looking far up at that friendly face.  Waaaaa! I melted Mums Silver Tea Pot she said I can never come home ever again. Ever. I blubbed. I’ll get your father he says.

So I was hauled up, the dinghy secured and after some wet dripping discussions it was agreed that I could fire spot for them until knock off time. Then Dad would take me home. Firespotting was in fact the most horrible job of all, so I suppose it was a punishment of some kind but  I cannot remember feeling punished, I loved to work with Dad.  I was shown where they were welding, then I was sent into the engine room  and positioned underneath the site. An engine room is full of grease and diesel  and flammable stuff and must not be allowed to catch on fire.  Ok Dad.  But it is cramped and the air is thick.  I quite like the smell of an engine room but on this day it was terribly hot about 500 hundred times hotter than up on the deck. I manipulated myself into a wee corner and started to sweat and attract grime. Clutching my fire extinguisher, I pointed it at the offending area and waited.  I tried so hard to be good. I could hear my Dad and the guy that worked with him talking, I will call him R. It was dark down in the engine room, stuffy, hot. It had been such an afternoon and I wriggled in my spot starting to feel drowsy.  They started working and I started wondering why I could not do ballet or wear jandals, all the other girls did ballet.  Everyone wore jandals.  I am not even sure now whether they had told me they were welding or cutting but suddenly a wee gap opened in the metal above me and a small hard flame shot down into the engine room.

Without even pausing I aimed and  squeezed the trigger of the fire extinguisher STRAIGHT UP THROUGH THE HOLE IN THE DECK.  I did not put out a fire  in the engine room  (my instructions) I shot a stream of  fire putter outer-er straight up through the deck and  right up R’s trouser leg. And because (I discovered when I was old enough to know this particular detail) it was so hot, he was not wearing much of anything under his boiler-suit (cover-alls) ,   so the CO2 or whatever it was zoomed unimpeded in its journey right up to the um.. top of his leg.. uh..  well you know and froze his .. um thingies.

The swearing  and cursing and thumping from up there cut me off  me mid spray. Then everything went very quiet.Then a painful noise came from above. I crouched in the dark trying to hear what had happened, there was a scuffle, more cursing and then there was huge laughter. Huge open mouthed tough working mens laughter, as one man cursed and stomped and then was gone, the laughter continued in loud rude guffaws, slowly dying to choked snorts.  My Dad eventually opened the engine room hatch and shouted Knock Off in a strained voice. I was escorted quite bewildered  past the chortling fishermen, wiping laughing tears from their faces and put in  the truck. My Dad wiped his eyes and blew his nose with his hanky. I looked past the trawler across the water and I could see R , rowing hard crossing the channel to the workshop, grim faced. The problem with rowing is that you are faced back where you have come from so I was able to see his face. It was not a good face.

After loading the truck, I was taken home.  Mum and Dad had a talk and she came back into the kitchen  her fingers across her smiling mouth.  Her shoulders shaking.  I was sent to bed without any dinner. A terrible  and rare punishment. Because Mum had made meatloaf for dinner. I loved her meatloaf.

When I married my first husband my mother wrapped the wonky silver tea pot with its collapsed lid and  little silver button petal feet rattling about inside and presented it to me with a flourish.  R had trouble speaking to me for some time. No-one ever mentioned that I had rowed without permission across the channel.

c

ps I took these photos years ago and they are in a format I cannot resize today but they are from the place where this all happened, except the beach. The beach is from further up the coast. 

The day I melted Mum’s Silver Tea Pot – part one.

In NZ our summer holidays are over Christmas and we go back to school in February. This is the beginning of our school year.   All the summers of all our childhoods seem hotter and longer but this one really was hot and long. We had only been back at school for a few weeks. These were my first  weeks of attending Intermediate School.  Intermediate was for 2 years then we went on to High School. So I would have been 11. This was very exciting for me. I felt grown up and strong and clever. It did not matter that I had freckles and long curly hair that was impossible to brush.   I loved that my bike was a hand-me-down from my brother and so tall that I had to throw my leg over, mount and ride all at the same time or I would fall right off the other side. When a bike is a little too big you have to ride very fast.  Going slow meant falling off and falling off a boys bike is much worse than falling off a girls bike because you cannot fall through a boys bike, the bar will get you. So I rode that chipped pale blue bike without a bell, over the bridge and into town all by myself, fast.  My little stick legs pumping wildly at the pedals. My mad curly hair bursting out of its rubber band and skinny black ribbon and flying out behind. My school uniform was crisp with newness (being the eldest girl I got the new ones) my white blouse was white as white could be.  I was so happy that I could shout. This was the first time I had ever gone to a school without my brothers or sisters being in a classroom close by. I was feeling wonderfully grown up.

This was a typical February afternoon. The sun so hot it was white and the sea  so bright you could hardly look at it, the soft waves were long mirrors and the endless sea breeze was a tangle of salt and sea weed. I came roaring home from school on my bike. Shot up the drive, dismounting, dropping and leaping from my bike all in one movement. I was desperate to get  inside to see Mum and her new stove then into the sea for a swim.

My mother had just taken possession of a brand new gas stove. It sat all white and sparkly in the afternoon light, crouched like a little god  in the corner of the sun filled kitchen.  I was eating my peanut butter on weetbix while Mum showed me how it worked.  Peanut Butter on Weetbix was an important after school snack. Weetbix looked like slim little flaky wheat bricks (salt and sugar free but in those days this was not a selling point),  actually they tasted like slim little flaky wheat bricks too Usually these are eaten with milk and sugar in the morning. But as an after school munch  my brother and I would layer about 1/2 an inch of pure butter on top then a good slathering of crunchy peanut butter on top of that. They were difficult to eat because of the shatter factor, they kind of exploded as we bit into them.  But we practiced.  You see the tilt of the weetbix and the angle of the tilted head was very important. You took a bite and  all the flying crumbs fall into your mouth. Of course then you had to be careful of the choking effect which was a regular occurence whilst learning the important skill of eating weetbix with butter. Adding more butter helped. Well this is how I did it. My brother would lean over the sink and kind of cram the whole thing into his mouth with the palm of his hand. I felt that this did lack a certain finesse but I could see how it was definitely speedier. Where was everyone anyway? My mothers quiet voice zoned in and out as I munched.

Mum was demonstrating the gadget that created a spark and how to hold the knob down to light the gas. I had my head tipped back eating the last of my weetbix and peanut butter. The phone rang.  Mum immediately straightened, patting  her  hair  into place and brushing her skirt down. Presentable, she left the kitchen to answer the phone. “Make me a cup of tea then, Celi.” she said as she left the room. We had been making cups of tea for Mum since we could hold a cup.  Mum had her tea weak and black. Easy.

I stuffed the last of the weetbix into my mouth, licked peanut butter off every single finger and looked around for the jug,  the electric jug, to boil the water.  But it was nowhere in sight.

Perched beside the new stove was Dad’s Mother’s silver tea pot,(she was the one that made the steak pies). It was gleaming at me. This was the old good silver, not the enamel one we used for every day. This was a gorgeous oval,  shiny,  silver tea pot with the most dainty little claw feet and matching little claw hinges on the lid and the tiniest silver button on top. It was very beautiful, was frequently polished and usually lived in the DO NOT TOUCH glass fronted cabinet with the good glasses. I spread another 1/2 inch of butter on another weetbix and covered this with a liberal dose of honey.  I always had my peanut butter first then the honey. This was the way of these things.

I looked at the silver tea pot, and I looked at the stove. The old electric jug was not there anymore.  How was I to heat the water. I played with my mess of hair and munched on my weetbix. It seemed reasonable to assume then that with this new gas stove we just skipped the water heating step. So I put two tablespoons of tea from the green tin into the silver pot and filled it with water from the tap. I carefully placed the silver tea pot on the hob, arranging it so that each of its four legs sat on a rung of the little grate that was fitted above each of the burners. Actually it was difficult to get those little claw feet exactly situated on the grate. The teapot kept slipping sideways but in the end I managed it. Then using the most magnificent spark maker and a little apprehensively, because I was a bit scared of the gas, I lit the fire under the lovely silver tea pot,  proudly watched it safely flare with that pretty blue and orange flame, trotted to my bedroom, hauled off my uniform, dropped it on the floor and put on my ‘old clothes’- (clothes for playing in) then wandered outside. I sat on the fence looking at the sea  and completely forgot about the whole thing.

In day dreams we never know how much time has past and I was still sitting on the fence watching the sea with my dog sitting beside me (it was a wide old concrete fence) thinking about going to find someone to go for a swim with me, when I heard the sharp footsteps of my approaching mother. She silently grabbed me by the arm and marched me back into the kitchen. A terrible thing had happened. Sitting on the gas stove was the blackened silver tea pot with all four of its little feet  melted RIGHT OFF. I followed my mothers pointing finger. On the enamel of the stove under the blackened teapot were four little  pools of silver.  Like little silver buttons. Little silver mud pools on the pristine brand new stove. The four little clawless legs hung suspended above the little pools, stumps.  There was a terrible silence. I immediately regressed to the whine, my mother spluttered, I whined some more, increasing the ptich. She let go of my arm and leaned down.  Out and Don’t come back. My Mother’s voice got very low when she was very mad, she  could be terrible in a temper. Not needing to be told twice I ran straight out of the house, stepped into my shoes, grabbed my bike and howling rode at speed down the drive, out the gate, and around the block I pedalled as fast  I could to my fathers workshop.  It took about 40 seconds. I was in terrible trouble.

We lived on a spit of land, well more like a dribble of land really, there was sea on three sides. Our house faced the Bay. If you stood on the shore with the sea at your back  and looked past our house and across a tiny strip of land you would see  the estuary behind. The estuary that my fathers workshop faced. It looked to me like a tiny tiny bay. The bridge I crossed to go to school rose above and across this inlet. Yachts were moored here. Fishing boats and dinghys.  The river that flowed back across the plains emptied out here. Within  this small inlet of water across the way was the deep water, where the fishing trawlers tied up. My Dad built fishing boats. His workshop sat almost under the bridge.

I threw my bike down outside my dad’s workshop and still sniveling, walked out of the sun into the heady dim coolness of my fathers workshop. Inside the big dark building full of boatbuilders tools and smelling of the boats and sea and grease and steel, I looked for my Dad.

Now darlings we have run out of time so I will write the rest for you tomorrow. You just pop in whenever you like and I will have it waiting for you. I feel terrible -but  there is more to come.  Believe it or not that day got even worse for  the people around little daydreaming Celi.  But Queenie (baby Hereford cow) is calling me and I must go out and fence one more little paddock for her.

I will be here tomorrow. See you then.

c

From the underbelly of a bridge

Leading over

the river des plaines… today

I love bridges.. and now to work… I have a story for you tomorrow… c

mama’s easy peasy party recipe

On July 4th this year I started to blog my family recipes and stories for my family and friends. I am in another country from most of you.  It is not as good as sitting around a table and eating and yarning with you all but I feel a little closer to you documenting the stories and sharing my food this way, whilst taking you through the gates of our little farm for tiny tiki tours.   AND along the way I discovered that my family is growing and I am making new friends and renewing connections with my old friends!.  SO for you all .. (bow).. here is a 2 month blog birthday surprise.  Just in time for your labor day desserts and pre-spring picnics in jackets and hatties.  Drum roll please!! I believe TA DA is the appropriate word.  I made you MERINQUES!

Marvellous Merinques.  And they are so delish!  Oh no. Poor you.  What a mean gift. You cannot tap them or smell them or bite them to feel the crackle and then chew the melty bit inside.  What a cruel woman I am.  (chomp, chomp, lick fingers, swallow, smack of sugary lips).

However all is not lost. I do not have to smash them flat and send them in a card for you.  I will  show you how to make them.  And when you make an enormous mess, crunching your way through them, you can sing happy blog birthday, celi.  Now keep in mind that my mother spent years perfecting making merinques. So we must be respectful. Solemn faces please.  Like me she had a gas stove, but she found a way and I will share it with you.  And I heard a few of you have been bemoaning your fate at having an electric oven but the good news is merinques cook better using dry electricity.

Now this has been a heavily guarded secret family  recipe (though not as heavily guarded and secret as the pavlova)- so, ssshh,  don’t tell anyone.

They are remarkably easy and very fast in the prep.

  • 2  fresh egg whites
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup sugar) (pushed through a sieve)
  • 1 tsp baking powder.

I told you they were simple. That is your total ingredients list!

Whisk  egg whites until fluffy and proud.  With beater still going strong – trickle the sugar in as slowly as you can,  no – even  slower than that – add half the sugar and beat until peaky. Mix the baking powder with the last of the sugar and slowly FOLD this in. You are adding air.  Now with a teaspoon and a twist to get that dear little peak, pop little meringues onto a buttered and floured baking (cookie) sheet. 

Into the oven at 250 for 10 minutes then turn down to 150 for one to two hours (if they start to brown turn the oven down some more), until they move across the sheet when you push them and are hard on the outside.  Then turn the oven off.  DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR AGAIN.  Leave to cool in there.  When the oven is quite cold you can retrieve them, in an electric oven you can leave them in overnight!

I so look forward to seeing what you eat these little darlings with. They are wonderful with all kinds of desserts. But for me. I eat them with freshly whipped, heavy, whole, decadent, real, unsweetened whipped cream, (from a cow) using nothing but my sticky fingers and drinking a glass of cold fruity Sangria with lots of lemon from Kay.  See summer is not coming to an end!  No more of that talk!

Now, these are simple, but every oven will cook differently so sometimes you need to tweak the times and temps. But always turn off at the end and leave in there to cool. They store very well in a sealed container, or lovely glass jar.

Have fun. Have a great weekend.

c

My Mother had a Purple Suit

My Mother had a Purple Suit. But we only saw it once.

Today I have to get some house work done. I am a butterfly housekeeper. I flit from room  to room about the house, gently flapping my wings in the heat and wondering why it is that I have come to this room anyway and wishing I was outside.  I am at the dining room table, tidying,…is that a hummingbird moth outside the window, wait where is my camera,  oh look I made a note about Mums purple suit,  mm,  where is my big notes pad,  A3 should not be that hard to find. Where did this empty wine glass come from?  Oh I had better dust the vitrola,  there’s that picture of Great Aunt Sis,  now where are Great Aunt Sis’ pearls.  I think they are in this drawer,  look, there is my pocket knife,  is that Hairy Mclairy (sheep)  I can hear bleating,  Now, where is my dog,  oh there he is on the verandah,  gee my hanging canvas chair looks comfy, oh look at all those tomatoes on the harvest table, I better bring them in and start some more summer sauce, this kitchen needs cleaning,  etc, etc, etc.

And you see I write at the same time, on the backs of envelopes, torn off bits of paper, paper towels, bank statements, shopping lists, margins in the newpaper.  My ideas cannot wait, they must be written immediately or lost forever. And the little bits of paper get condensed into the big planning book. So as I attempt to house-keep I will find these little notes and drift with a handful of unfolded clean laundry, or a half dried saucepan,  or cheese knife back to my desk in my cool summer study, make some vague notes and  start to write again.

Ok, phew, housekeeping is exhausting.  My Mother did have a purple suit.  And I will tell you about it. It is a very short story. But made her laugh for years.

My Mother was going out to some kind of gathering with my Father.  She was wearing a brand new purple suit. Maybe purple is too bold a word for the fabric, it was lilacy i suppose. As a child I  thought it was quite awful, though I would give at least a tooth to have it now.  It was a jacket and a skirt.  The skirt straight, with a kick pleat and a trifle shorter than my mother usually wore. A slim long jacket that reached the hem of the skirt. In my memory the fabric was a little bit shiny but  it was pre-miami Vice so I would say it was some kind of wool. She had cleaned her diamonds with toothpaste and a tooth brush that she kept specifically for this purpose, clipped on her gold bangles, a little foundation, red lipstick  blotted on a tissue, black heels, spray of perfume, pat of the hair, kiss kiss, green eyes shining, hanky into the handbag  and off they went.

They were back much sooner than expected. Here is what happened.

They were still at the appetisers stage, the men mooching about in one corner, the women mingling with their triangular handbags hanging on their arms, a little plate and nibbles.  My mother was gregarious, she loved people and so was happily chatting, in her broken voice, with her friends, when she saw to her absolute horror that there was ANOTHER woman in the room wearing the SAME suit in the SAME colour. Oh the poor woman she thought. My mother ducked slightly and cast about for Dad. When in doubt find Dad.

She gave him The Sign. He was confused by The Sign so early in the evening and so she had to move closer, stepping out of her ring of friends and gave him the sign again. We have to GO. She simply could not stay in the same room, they must leave.

Then the woman appeared in front of my Mother. Loudly proclaiming: Oh look we are wearing the same suit, where did you get yours?  My mother, casting stricken glances about for  Dad,  smiled sweetly and mumbled something. She never told me what. Trying to extracate herself from this conversation, before the woman became embarrassed. She just felt terrible for her because obviously my Mother looked better in that suit.  The poor woman. So the story goes.

My mother put down her tiny plate, she had not met this woman before she must be new,  then noticed that the lady had food on her face,  a little something had caught on her chin.  My mother felt doubly dreadful for the woman and trying to be kind,  made those universal Food on Face motions. The woman, oblivious, just kept chatting about this happy purple coincidence. So stepping closer my mother’s hand darted  in (of its own volition evidently) and wiped the food off the womans face!  But it would not move, so she quickly pecked at the stuff with her thumb and  finger every so delicately, to pull it off.  But it was attached to the womans chin. My mother had hold of a HAIR on the womans chin and was pulling at it!

Well the other shorter dumpier purple suited lady, squealed, leapt back and froze in silence.

My mother  was so mortified, she smiled an apology, shook her handbag higher into her elbow, raised her head, tried very hard not to look at her friends who were open-mouthed and about ready to roar laughing  and exited the premises immediately, to wait for my father in the car.

When she got home she sat on my bed and told my sisters and I this terrible tale, eyes alive with laughter and  horror, her hand over her mouth. She never wore the suit again.

Now back to my relocation housework.

c

c

The day I almost married the Marlboro Man.

Do you remember The Marlboro Man? The cowboy hat, the look, oh God that look.  Back in the bad old days before Politically Correct Behaviour and the ugly C word, there were cigarette advertisements.  Shock, horror and all that. A long campaign for Marlboro Cigarettes featuring the sexiest men in the world.  Well when I was 16,  I sure thought so. Do you remember the Marlboro Man?

I just wanted to make sure that you knew what the Marlboro Man looked like because I almost married him once. Oh well, yes you are right, there were more than one.  So just roll them all together, the swagger, the  slim hips, those shoulders, those boots. That look!  The pick-up truck.  The horse. That dip down to light his cigarette. Got him in your minds eye. Whether you loved him or hated him you have to admit that guy was all sex.

Now let us time travel back to teenage Celi. I passed my drivers license on my 15th birthday, well you could in those days. In fact the traffic cop who took me for my test said ‘You’re not a bad driver, you’re  just not a very good one!’  Huh.  Well it goes without saying that I went to sit my test in my convent girl school uniform!

My Dad had bought a little white mini van for the teenagers of the house to drive. So this one sunny summer morning I had stuffed my books into a bag, grabbed a towel and my confiscated bikini top that I had confiscated back without my Mothers actual knowledge, so it wasn’t really stealing  and driven out to Ocean Beach by myself.  I would read and work on joining all my freckles together into something resembling a tan. We were not allowed to sunbathe on the beach at home because Mum said it was bad for your skin. We had no idea what she was on about!  It was hot. Dry. Perfect. The beach was delicious, I lazed about for a few hours swam, read, you know the thing.

Fast forward. I was on my way home. The windows down, radio blaring when I felt the tell-tale wiggle of an approaching flattie (flat tire).  So I pulled over, driving in bare feet as you do and climbed out.  Sure enough. The tell tale hiss. Not a problem, as kids we had been thoroughly coached by our dad on how to change a tire. In fact he used to send the girls out to rotate the tyres on his Rover just for the practice. What the boys were doing I have no idea, probably baking cupcakes or something. I proceeded to get out the spare, and the tools. I was dragging  the jack into place  (no mean feet in a long summer skirt and barefoot) when I heard a truck rattle to a stop behind my car. I looked up and guess who  I saw.

You guessed it Laurel and Hardy but ancient, Laurel and Hardy gone bad and in messy old fishing garb. Two gents were beginning a slow descent from an old rattly truck. One emerged really really Tall and one really really Fat.  Both pushing eighty or maybe ninety, well now that I think about it they could have been approaching a hundred. They were clambering down with great difficulty from their truck. Muttering and talking to themselves like these old codgers do. Thrilled to bits about having discovered a damsel in distress. All in flickery  slow  motion.  The really fat one sort of toppled tippsely over and collapsed weazing onto the spare tire. Oh, we’ll do that,  he said as he took the spannery thing out of my hand, and he proceeded to mash at the bolts, or lugs or whatever you call them. By this time Tall had reached us. He moved very, very slowly, it became painfully obvious that he was afraid that one or other of his limbs may fall off at any minute, every movement considered.

So to make a long story a trifle shorter, Tall had a bad back and could not bend over, Fat had bad knees and could not stand for long.  There was a lot of heaving and creaking, and mumbling and sighing  and huffing and puffing  and that was  just getting the pair of them situated  in front of the flat tyre. I had to physically close my mouth a dozen times. No, no we’re fine lass don’t you worry. Together, though, they seemed to have worked out a way to create one reasonably useful old man. They told me to sit on the bank, don’t stand in my light. Watch out for the traffic, did I want a wee tipple? Oh no, probably too young. We will take care of this. Well I will just wet my whistle, don’t you worry, you will be on your way in no time. They worked at the lugs or whatever you call them, Tall ended up standing on the wrench to loosen a couple while Fat held it in place.  Tall shoved the jack in and Fat jacked up the car. Together they levered the bad tire off. Then Fat swapped tire seats and they rolled the spare into place.

With enormous difficulty, no thats fine girlie we have it, they were trying to lift the spare tire on (mainly Fat as he was the low man, Tall holding it upright) when I heard a truck stop across the narrow country road. I stood up and looked across. The truck door opened and all I could see were The Marlboro mans boots, then his long long legs encased in those studio jeans.  He unfolded himself out of his cab, his body lean and strong, turned to reveal a rebellious thick blonde mane of hair that blew up  in the gentle summer breeze. He stood to his full height, adjusted his belt with two hands and smiled straight at me.

I was ablaze with light I am sure. I simply glowed at him. The soundtrack burst into violins and cellos and the birds sung the melody. I was 16 and I was in love. An unbearably handsome man was smiling at me! I mean I had beaten up and sometimes shouted actual words at my older brothers friends . One fell out of a row boat into the sea once and hit me in the face, with his head, when I was swimming.  He apologised in a spluttery way, which was kind of intimate I suppose, if you didn’t count the black eye. But you see I went to a girls convent school.  No man, no real grown up man had ever smiled straight at me before… well not like that.  Choirs of angels.  Pan in the woods. I almost fell flat on my face from lack of oxygen.  I wished I had been wearing something more flattering other than this silly little hand me down top that didn’t fit properly and my long batik wrap around that only showed my bare toes!.   And why was I so thin, I had no curves. I knew that men were meant to like curves. My Dad said that he could rent me to a deer hunter cause I was so thin. I could just sidle up to the deer and bonk it on the head with a stick. Save on bullets. That thin. A deer would not notice me. Thanks Dad. But the Marlboro Man noticed me. He smiled at me and said

‘You need any help?’  Oh , that  smoky deep voice. Oh, he wanted to help me. My knees trembled. I opened my mouth to speak, drew in a breath.  Mouth gobbing like a fish.  Then Tall popped up  from behind my tiny car, like an ancient jack-in-the-box stringing himself out to his full considerable height, dropped the tire which rolled onto Fat. Fat grunted, struggling against the tire, weazing to his feet.  Hauling himself up the side of my car And before I could even make a sound.  “Nope!” the old fella’s bellowed in unison. Their voices were suddenly strong and hale and hearty. “Nope,  no we’re right. She’ll be right mate,  Thanks.. yup, yup, mumble mumble”  and DISMISSED my Marlboro Man with a wave of their stained and gnarled old hands.  Then, galvanised, soaking up energy,  they shot back into place hauling the tire onto the pins and practically twirling the wrench!  Suddenly they were twenty years younger.  Straightening their backs and rounding their chests. Eyes glinting. Off with you young chappy!

I turned and looked at Marlboro Man and he looked back at me. He raised his eyebrows. you ok? I looked at my old men as they muttered to each other, their youth pulsing alongside their age and looking back at my Marlboro Man, standing beside his truck, shimmering in the afternoon heat, an Adonis (in jeans).  I raised my eyebrows back, with a shift of my bony shoulders and a head tilted to my old men and a nod.  Marlboro Man lifted his head in assent,  slid back into his truck and just drove away. As he drove off I realised that he had new tires in the back of his truck and a big Dunlop sign on the side.  I am not making this up! He was a tire man! He would have had tools and everything.

Fat, now sitting on the deflated tire, taking another quick swig of his medicine, muttered ‘Showed that young buck!’ This is exactly what he said, I have never forgotton it.  Tall snorted with satisfaction.  And back to work they went.  Darling, rusty old fellas.  The whole thing had quite made their day.

I sat down again in my designated spot on the bank, watching the dust settle back down onto the road and could not help a small smile at my old knights in their battered grumbling armour as they worked on my car.  Bless them.

c

Longing for scones

In my accent scone rhymes with long.  Just so’s you know. This  blogging is such a silent affair. Because we are not making a scone that rhymes with bone today we are going to make light fluffy scones for which we long! Am I getting weird?

When I was growing up in the big house on the beach, overlooking Hawke Bay in New Zealand, I was the Martha of the household. I was the little cook. So when someone popped in for a cup of tea and a yarn, the catch cry was “Celi, can you whip us up a batch of scones?” So I would take my writing or the book  I was reading into the kitchen  and whip them up a batch of scones. Then eat mine hot in the kitchen with my books. My sisters were the Mary’s you see, even my mother was a Mary  (her name was even Mary) and I was the Martha.  I did not mind. I mean I really did not mind. Small talk is not my forte. Never has been and still is not.  I am the one who says something completely out of context  just as there is a chatter-pause.  And you get that freeze of politely raised eyebrows- did she speak? Oh, I’m sorry, what was that dear?  No.  I was happier making scones and ferrying cups of tea in and out, while everyone else chatted, sitting on the couches in front of the big windows that overlooked the bright sea. In fact this second story room had a wall of windows and doors overlooking the bay so all the couches faced the sea – you could not turn your back on that view. 

So when you hear the cry “Whip us up a batch of scones”  from the Mary’s in your house – turn the oven on. Because you need a very hot oven. And it takes longer for an oven to heat up than it does to prepare your scones.

  • 2 cups flour and 2 tsp baking powder and 2 heaped tablespoons of cornflour/cornstarch.
  • a pinch of salt. (and pepper or tsp sugar depending on your other ingredients which you will add now)
  • 3oz cold butter grated into the flour. 

Quickly mix with your fingertips

  • Make a well in your flour and add 1/3 cup milk and 1/3 cup cold water mixed together.

Mix with spoon until you have a nice doughy ball.

Pat and shape gently. Set on buttered and floured cookie sheet and into your hot hot oven. Great Auntie Mid always said to cook scones for 5 minutes at 500. Which was fine on a big old coal range.  In my gas oven I cooked this mornings scones for 10 minutes at 450.

The best bit is the variations. You can put almost anything you like in a scone. Or have them plain with a little sugar in the mix. This mornings were bacon and onion (add these at the flour stage) with cheese on top. My favourite are date scones with a sprinkle of sugar on top.  Sultana scones were standard at the house on the beach.  Another one I love is cheese and fresh parsley. If you add cheese you can decrease the butter a little.

See? I told you they would not take long.  Now I am going to eat mine with a cup of tea, while I do tomorrows planning. 

c