You knew I was going to do this didn’t you. Because I am a pastry fiend. I love pies. Not so much the American sweet pie. Though some of those are nice in really tiny doses. Savoury pies. Meat pies. Vege Pies. You will all remember that at home in New Zealand someone who is getting a little chubby is described as ‘Putting On the Pies’. Or if you are a horse they will say you have been ‘In a Good Paddock’ but I digress.
My Fathers Mother had a pie shop in Napier, NZ, during the war years (WW2). My Fathers Father was away at war for almost 6 years. So she had to make her own way. Her pies were made in beautiful oval tins. Both of my Fathers parents died before I was born but I do still have my Paternal Grandmothers cookbook. In fact we grew up in their house on the beach. We had stacks of pie tins in the baking cupboard when I was a kid, though those have been lost. However genetics and my Grandmothers cookbook have won out and I am carrying on the pie tradition for her.
Make or buy your pastry. Refer here if you need the easiest butter pastry recipe in the world. Dads Mum did not have a food processor and her pastry was made from shortening or lard but I use butter.
Now I have to add here, that I have struggled with taking shots of these tiny pies. The pies above are cooked, and will be thoroughly heated and browned just before eating, but still. Roger very sweetly commented to me yesterday that he liked my shot of the dishwashing liquid and this pretty much says it all. I am more than happy to agree with him! He knows what he is talking about. I take shots of dishwashing liquid very well. What I like the most about Roger is that he is bloody honest. My food photography is a work in progress.
I roll out the pastry thinly and then using a small wine glass I press out as many small discs of pastry as I can (well what else would a small wine glass be good for?) Line the little muffin tins/chocolate molds with the pastry discs, cover with a wet cloth and return to the refrigerator (keeping your pastry chilled is essential) , cut all the lid discs and wrap these in a damp cloth and pop these in to chill as well.
Fillings: I am leaving it up to you to work out the portions as it really does depend on your personal taste. Each pie will be one bite, so design a filling that will have a real taste pop in the mouth, make it a taste sensation in that bite. I have so many variations. Here are a few. My grandmother made good hearty meat pies. They were filled with well cooked beef stew. I have posted this recipe before for you. Though I am fairly sure that Grandmother would not have added cheese.
Chicken and Apricot Pies. Cut the chicken strips into tiny pieces. Marinade in Wine, Lime Juice and Black Pepper. Pan fry until browned, add cooked onions, deglaze with a little juice from the canned apricots so the chicken and onion pick up all the tastiest bits, toss in a handful of chopped coriander and sliced apricots turn off heat. Cool before packing into pie shells.
Caramelised onion and leek with gruyere cheese Pies. Soften onions and leeks until melty, about 30 minutes, add a little honey or balsamic vinegar and stir as it darkens. Spoon into shells and top with a paper thin slice of cheese. No pastry top needed.
Bacon and Egg Pies. Spoon cooked and chopped bacon and onion into the bottom of the pie shells. Pour in egg and cream mixture. Mix plenty of pepper into the egg mix. Sprinkle finely chopped fresh or dry parsley on top. (I dry my parsley by picking big bunches and stuffing them in a brown paper bag, then the bag goes in the back of the fridge for a few months.)
Mince Pies. Browned and slow cooked ground beef, with finely chopped onions, thyme and seasonings.
Curried rosemary lamb and mushroom.
Chickpea and spinach with cumin and paprika.
Mozzarella and basil with a cube of tomato. Let your mind go free!!
Fabulous Cheese and your home-made chutney! Tuna and Parsley Sauce! Brie and Walnuts!
You see where I am going don’t you. Design your own fillings. Create your own teensy weensy tasty savoury pies. Serve hot, but not too hot.
John is a bit sad that the Teensy Weensy Pie Trials are over as he and his workmates have been having very fancy lunches this week! But it looks to me like they have been in a pretty good paddock! Celi’s Diet Coleslaw from now on!
Toot Toot (just because I can)
Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial has a lovely tradition at her place. She encourages us to post a wee peek into our kitchens,then let her know and she posts our sites, in a column on her page. So here we are. Have a wee look at a couple of things in my kitchen. Not many though as I can’t be cleaning more than one corner at a time!!
And look what I found in an Illinois supermarket. Dishwashing liquid advertising a New Zealand spring scent. Right out here in the MidWest! I am not very sure about that. I mean did they ask New Zealand if it was OK to use it’s smell as an advertising gimmick. Naturally Our John had to rudely sniff at it. Oh, he said, New Zealand spring smells like dishwashing liquid and why is it written in French. I very tartly told him that that is NOT how our spring smells. And we do not speak French. Well really! All very misleading.
Then I looked out the kitchen door and who should be looking back at me! On the verandah, stealing dog food! Snapped! Katherine’s rooster. Yes, I do mean you Katherine, I know how you like roosters, he is arriving in a box shortly, addressed to the Rufus household! He will be your Christmas pressie so you have to pretend to be grateful. You can keep him in your pot cupboard and he is very partial to pomegranates in his champagne!
And on a very separate and exciting subject, Mary’s Cat has got all famous and has been interviewed by RumpyDog. The barnyard is agog. There are noses seriously out of joint. Rumours flying. For a mute cat she seems to have a lot to say. Hope it doesn’t go to her head. I think the interview will be up today, so pop over if you have a moment and have a read, Rumpy is such a sweet doggie fella.
Everyone has their own favourite cheese ball. I am willing to bet that you all have a tried and true recipe. They do not need to be elaborate when you use good quality ingredients and chill for at least a few hours for the flavours to exchange. We keep the flavours to a minimum so that the clean taste of the cheese is allowed to shine. I make variations of this all through the summer with labneh which is a homemade yoghurt cheese that is very easy to make.
Celi’s Cheese Ball
I was going to roll this in rosemary and cracked black pepper, but then I forgot!
I serve this on crostini or some robust crackers, there is nothing worse than a disintegrating cracker. Now, we remember that the party rule is, small and simple to eat, so pipe a little cheese ball mixture onto the tiny cracker or crostini and top with a tiny curl of chilled spring onion.
To make your little spring onion curls, slice your green (spring) onions longways and then across in 2 inch lengths. Separate the slithers of onion. Submerge them in a bowl of icy cold chilled water. After a while they will curl up quite delightfully.
Mums cheese ball was quite different. No onion here.
Mums cheese ball.
Roll in almond chips.
For those of you who cannot eat nuts just omit them. It is still a lovely surprising collection of tastes. Mums favourite snack was a slice of tasty cheese on a slice of apple so you can see that this mixture was an easy jump for her.
I was writing this last night and realised it was time to go outside and finish up in the barn. I sat on the stool in the kitchen to pull on my warm clothes. I sent TonTon off to find my gloves, he found them and brought them to me one by one, then stole them back off my lap and gave them to me again. He did the same with my top pair of socks and my hattie but is fairly useless at getting my big wugga jacket down off the hook inside the basement door, so he just stared at it until I got it down myself. When he heard the zip going up, he retrieved the flashlight from its corner by the door (it has a convenient handle for dogs) and stood watching his own reflection in the french doors, waiting. I took the torch and turned it on and we proceeded outside into the cold and across the grass to the barn. We wrapped Big Dog up in his two eiderdowns, (he was waiting in his bed of straw) said ni night to Daisy and Queenie (the sheep were still outside), checked the water, the feed, the doors and the baby chicks and then turned off the big barn lights. It was very dark.
I shut and latched the old barn doors behind me and turning I saw a light running to and fro out in a field, across the grass, around the back of the rat house, past the chook house. The light leapt and nodded through the fence, over the gate and then this ghostly wavering searching light jaggedly made its way back towards me, randomly catching trees and fence posts and cameos of surprised cats in its white beam.
TonTon the BonBon had run off with my flashlight. But was bringing it back. He had never done this before so I stood out in the cold with my blimp layers on, all alone under the stars and laughed out loud. He gave me back the torch, looked a bit disappointed when I declined to throw it for him to fetch, then we both trotted back to the warm house and our beds.
Make beeswax! Didn’t expect that did you?
I have these beeswax cappings left over from this fall’s honey making process. They have been sitting and waiting patiently for me to render the honey out of them and collect the wax. I have a special pot that I keep just for this job. It is impossible to clean up after working with wax, so I don’t bother. This is actually pretty simple. Take all the cappings left over from your honey gathering. Wait for a miserable gloomy day. Pop them into the big melting pot. Sit it on a warm woodstove and slowly heat until the whole mess is melted.
Now get those beautiful new black silk stockings that you never got to wear because you never go anywhere in those ridiculously high heels. Tie the nylons firmly over a little old bowl kept specifically for this purpose because you will never get it clean, so don’t bother trying. Carefully strain the mess through the stockings. And there you have it. The wax will rise to the top and the honey will sit below. Wait while the wax cools and sets.
OK Daisy, maybe you can have a little honey with your beet shreds in the morning. Such a spoilt cow. She is getting bigger you know. Such a spoilt pregnant cow!
I will rummage about and find all the makings for lip balm and we can cook up a batch of that soon. Now I am off to make miniature Party Pies!
My sister is having a few parties in NZ this month. And as I am 8,961 miles away (14,421 km) I am not sure I can make it. So I am going to join in by sending her a couple of my favourite party nibble recipes. Though I never called them parties, we had gatherings.
Mini Apple Sponge cakes have a pastry base, unsweetened apple centre and sponge on top. The tart apple hits the sweet sponge with a crunch of pastry. Perfect. I make them in the tiniest muffin tins you can find. In fact the tins I use are little round metal chocolate moulds. Very small.
My rules with nibbles are: You only have One hand for the food! Think about it. The other hand is obviously going to be in possession of some kind of sensational sparkly beverage! So nibbles must be little. They must NOT be explosive (you know the ones) . And they should be small enough to pop into your mouth without overflow because juggling a drink, a bite, a plate and a napkin is not going to work. The drink always wins.
Make or buy some flaky pastry. Line your greased tins with little circlets of the pastry. Cover in a barely damp cloth and store in the fridge. Make little tiny leaves or shapes with your left over pastry, wrap these in a damp cloth and store in the fridge as well.
Cook 4 granny smith apples in a tiny bit of water until they fall apart then roughly mash with a fork. Allow to cool. Often I do this the night before. It is easier if the apple is cold. Do NOT sweeten. The sponge does that for you. And no cinnamon either. Let that poor apple be!
Now spoon a little apple sauce into the pastry. Place a small dollop of sponge on top of that (be careful not to overfill) and then top with a tiny hat of pastry. I glaze the little hat with apricot sauce or egg. Work fast so that your pastry does not get warm.
Maybe I should have put a guard on them.
We are going to sow a sustainable living fence in the spring. An old fashioned hedge-row. The hedge will be made from Hedge Apple. Early settlers planted the Hedge Apple (Osage Orange) which is in the same family as the Mulberry, as hardy hedgerows and the trees can grow to 50 feet high if left unpruned. The tree is very thorny and when pruned to be quite dense it is very effective as a livestock fence. Horse High, Bull Strong and Hog Tight my Old friends tell me. Well, we will see what Daisy says about that. There is an old wives tale that the actual horse apples repel mice and insects, and there was a time when the apples were lined up around the outside of the house to keep the home pest free. No-one can tell me if this was actually a useful practice. I think I will leave that work for the cats.
So with direction from the Old Codger who I visit twice a week, (everyone needs an old person remember and he is mine) I have gathered the hedge apples. They are called oranges. This gets very confusing. In fact they have many names – Monkey Balls, or Horse Apples among them. These are very old trees and because of their thorns they are no longer popular. But they have dense hard timber, good for fence posts as the wood does not rot and even further back the Osage Indians used this wood to make their bows. That old.
I have filled two big buckets with the strange alien looking oranges. The buckets will be left outside beside the barn for the whole winter. They need to sit out in the weather. They will be rained on, snowed on, frozen, thawed and frozen again and by the spring thaw they should have started to go nice and mushy.
The Old Codger tells me that I should get a potato masher in the spring and ‘smash the mess up’ making a kind of slurry. Then down the back of the potato paddock I shall dig a straight long shallow trench and pour the seeds, pulp and water into the trench in a stream. Then we cover it with soil and see what pops up. I am sure the Old Codger will come down and wave his walking stick about to make sure we do it right. He is 93 and very sprightly. He calls a spade a spade, is an endless source of local information with a razer sharp memory for everything, except when he is meant to take a shower. He loves my fudge.
When the wood is young I can train the young canes into arches, creating a fast growing living fence that will control wind erosion, encourage critters (as the Old Codger calls them) and birds, create shelter and shade for the livestock and of course become a living fence. These hedges were used extensively in the midwest during the 1800’s, before barbed wire was used. My old friend told me that when he was young he saw huge steam engines come in and tear them all out. He said they tore down hundreds of miles of fenceline and hedges, making room for big horticultural monoculture. Sending all the native animals and birds looking for cover elsewhere. And setting the soil free to fly away.
He is thrilled to bits that we are going to plant a hedge-apple hedge again. Squirrels love ’em, he said. Don’t tell John that, I said.
Every Christmas our mother would make three different kinds of fudges. We would carefully wrap a selection in crackly difficult, transparent cellophane, then we gathered the corners together, with a red ribbon, tied in a bow. We made a number of little packages. A large number. Us kids would make tiny cards that we attached to the ribbons and then with baskets loaded with fudge we would walk along the beach and around the block giving out our Mothers little christmas gifts to all the neighbours she knew. She knew plenty. Everyone smiled at us. We were as popular as the florists delivery boy.
Of the three fudges that I remember making, I have the actual recipe for the Russian Fudge. This seems to have its origins in an old Scottish fudge called Tablet. Though that does not explain where the Russian came in. It is definitely one of the retro recipes. I have cruised the New Zealand sugary sites, comparing Mums recipe to others, and they are all almost exactly the same so I think if I look further I will find a 50’s version in New Zealand Woman’s Weekly or The Edmonds Cookbook something.
3 tablespoons of Golden Syrup. (I cannot find Golden Syrup out here on the plains, so I used sorghum/molasses which is close. But Golden Syrup is the NZ flavour. )
1/2 can of sweetened condensed milk
3 1/2 cups white sugar (told you it was bad for you)
4 oz (about 125 grams) butter
1/2 cup milk
pinch of salt
Heat all the ingredients to a gentle rolling boil, stir occassionally, after about 10 minutes drop a little into cold water, if it balls you are done. (or slowly heat up to 150C, though mine was ready before it got that hot) Take off the heat. Add 1 big tsp of vanilla. Now the important bit. Beat with a hand beater until it looks duller and is thicker. I beat it for at least 5 minutes. But it is cooling, so once you feel it change consistency and get thicker, quickly pour into a greased pie dish. Mark your little squares with a knife while it is soft.
For some extraordinary reason this is perfect with a wee dram of cognac. In the bad old days I often took a medicinal shot of good cognac just before I went on stage. It warms the vocal chords, I would tell my disapproving stage manager, as she gave me the five minute call.
TonTon and I fed the cows, sheep and the useless, non-egg laying, bad tempered, locked up forever in their own little minds chickens, this morning, in a lovely crisp 26F (-5C). One day I shall show you the particularly sexy quilted farm overalls that I don for the job. But not until I know you better.
I had to go and find my sharp garden hoe to bash through the ice in the water troughs. Of course the garden hose is now officially frozen solid and later today I shall put it away for the winter, and then my darlings we are CARRYING buckets of warm water to the animals each morning and evening. One day the barn will have its own water line, but not yet. However as I have told you before this is a tremendous workout for my arms. When I was little my dad used to say to me “And the muscles on her scrawny arms stood out like spiders knees!” It was not kind. He always said it is a Scottish accent. The ‘out’ was an ‘oot’. I have real muscles now Dad!
Also today I will scrub, fill, then plug in all the heated water buckets. Each pen in the barn has one, the chook house has one, even the dogs and cats have one. As an aside the pens in the barn all still have their exterior doors open, so the animals are wandering in and out from their home paddocks, at will.
Food first though I think. I bet that when you were little you thought a sand witch was at the beach. So did I. Every time I heard the word I SAW a Witch made of Sand. A SandWitch on the beach. I still see her with my little girl’s mind’ s eye. She is not pretty. And how does one Toast her?
What is that hunk of old junk doing sitting beside the ham, I hear you say. It is a very old castiron hand iron of course. It is part of my toasted sandwich arsenal. Though some time ago it lost its detachable handle. I know it is around here somewhere. But where?! You see, old irons are not only good as door stops (or toe stoppers as the case may be… ouch), they are useful in the kitchen too!
The fire is hot in the wood stove, the stove top is ready for cooking. So we will compile our ham and cheese toasted sandwich. Just a yellow rubber cheddar today – someone needs to go shopping! Often in NZ the sandwich is called a sammy, and the cheese will not be dyed yellow, just keep that in mind in case you visit.
And on with the hot iron. These came before panini machines you know! Where is that handle? (sigh) It would be very useful at this rather heated juncture.
OK, interlude is over, it is warmer outside now. Beautiful sun today. Time to fill the buckets and get to work.
December is on its way. You are all in the countdown until Christmas. I can hear you all wrapping and plotting. Writing lists and checking off names. Putting up Christmas Trees. Rediscovering decorations. I know you are thinking about what you will eat and who will be at the table. You will wonder whether your present is the right one and maybe what you might receive. You will think about the music and what wine to serve. Christmas will be a delightful focus for you in the month ahead.
But not for me. You see I don’t have the Christmas spirit. I don’t know where it went. Well actually I do know where it went. I am quite prepared for a blinding silence as you read this. That hauled in breath. I know it is your favorite season. But I need to get this said. I need to get these words out of the way if you like. I am not good with Christmas. Our John calls me the Grinch. But that is OK because it means I don’t have to explain or pretend to behave any differently. And really it is hard to understand. I will try to explain it to YOU though, why my heart elevates to an unreachable place at Christmas. Why my soul becomes a watcher. Why I go into a hiatus. A waiting time. A flux.
When my children were small their father and I separated, then divorced. I was in my late twenties. I had five live children. My own mother had already died, my own family dispersed. Every year after that, for fourteen years actually, I spent Christmas alone. My children went to have Christmas with their beloved Grandmother. Their fathers mother. She was a wonderful person, she adored her grandchildren. She died a year ago and I know my children will miss her terribly this Christmas. Every single summer they would travel almost to the top of New Zealand with their father and have Christmas with Oma and Opa. This was their tradition. I am deeply grateful that we ensured that they were with her each year. My kids and I are very close. We kind of grew up together. They understand this Christmas thing. We did the right thing at Christmas.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I was not a sorry orphan at Christmas. I woke up alone on Christmas morning but I had friends to visit, usually for an early breakfast. Then they would go to their families for lunch, (twice I was even kidnapped to go to their parental homes with them but it was not right because my aloneness followed me like a silent cat, I was hopeless) so turning down all their kind offers to accompany them, I would proceed to my project. I always set myself a Christmas Day Project. I had a wonderful darkroom in an old walk-in safe in a very old abandoned railways workshop right beside the sea. It was an enormous mystery of a space. So I would take my dog and work in there. Just close the door and be gone for hours. With my antique enlarger and my rickity timer with its loud click, click. Darkrooms are perfect for absenting yourself. Time means nothing in a darkroom.
When I came up for air (literally) I would go home smelling of fixer, wet black and white prints drying on a towel on the back seat of my family sized station wagon and I would make my Christmas lunch. I always ate the same thing. For my Christmas Dinner every Christmas, I had fillet steak and mashed potatoes with gravy (made with Marmite of course) and a salad. For years I rented the movie Breakfast at Tiffanys. Every year I would pour myself a glass of champagne, sit on the couch, put my bare feet up on the old scarred science classroom coffee table with fifty year old rude words carved into it, all the windows open to the day and eat my fillet steak and mashed potatoes with gallons of gravy and say Holly Golightly’s lines for her with my mouth full. I know this sounds a bit sad but really it was not. My kids were having a great time. They would spend the whole afternoon at the beach with their grandparents, cousins and family. They always did. They were not with me so I was with myself. I was still. Does this make any sense? No-one bothers you on Christmas day. Stillness and aloneness are allowed.
Later that day in the lovely warm Christmas evening I would take my three legged black dog whose name was Marzellet Mazout the Marzipan Kid and we would go for a walk. A really long walk. No-one is on the roads at Christmas, all the shops are closed. All the cars are gone. On Christmas afternoon New Zealand goes to the beach, so the coastal town became my own town. There was a magical Christmas hush that I used to believe was my consolation prize. This massive empty moment, when you long for your children’s voices but know that they are well and loved. Not being all together is OK. My aloneness was OK. I walked. Time ceased to matter. The endless clatter in my head gentled.
But along the way I lost the day. Christmas Day lost me. Like a bright red balloon my Christmas Spirit unravelled from my fingers and floated away.
Of course Boxing Day was a completely different story. Boxing day was party day at Celi’s. My bright scented garden would heave with friends and music and laughter on Boxing Day. We would carry couches and tables and chairs under the trees and have ourselves A Time. But I can still feel my Christmas Day stillness. The Christmas Day waiting. It was strangely precious. No mirror. No acting. No pretending. Just a deep quiet that no other day offers.
I do give Christmas presents, but not always on Christmas Day. I love to give presents so I give them when I find them. I am hopeless at wrapping and keeping secrets. I do not understand Christmas Trees.
I am again without my children this Christmas and so I feel that stillness approaching like a silent cool low mist. You never grow out of missing your children. From the moment they are born you are afraid when they are out of your sight. There are many, many parents like me who know this. Many, many parents who spend Christmas Day alone. Many, many people without children who spend this day alone. A few of my own children will be without family far away out there in the world.
And if YOU are alone on Christmas Day, then you are in good company. Being alone is like being Free. You have time to Make a Plan. Let it be special.