Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hope for Haiti – A Food Blogging Charity Raffle

Jeanne at Cooksister has put together a great raffle to raise funds for relief work in Haiti. Now you can donate money and have a chance of winning some great prizes at the same time. Just visit Cooksister and see if some of the prizes don’t tempt you into bidding for them. I’ve been having trouble deciding between several signed cook books and some delicious French baking goodies, but I’ve made a choice at last.

If you can afford a GBP6.50 (about $10 or R80) ticket then go and choose a prize to bid for now… the draw closes at midnight on Sunday 28th Feb and prizes can be shipped worldwide. Just remember to note the code for the prize you’ve chosen to enter it at the end of the donation process.

About the campaign:

H2Ope for Haiti is an online raffle that Cook Sister! has launched together with BloggerAid - Changing the Face of Famine (BA-CFF) to raise funds for Concern Worldwide's relief effort in Haiti. They've selected Concern Worldwide because of its long track record and quick response after the quake to provide clean drinking water and water purification tablets. This non-governmental international humanitarian organisation founded in 1968 works around the world to reduce suffering and work towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty in the world's poorest countries. Concern International has been working in Haiti since 1994 and had over 100 staff members on the ground when the earthquake struck. Despite losing several team members in the tragedy, they have been quick to act with distribution of supplies.

Concern Worldwide estimates that its initial response to the emergency will last at least six months. The money raised by this raffle will be paid directly into Concern Worldwide's account by Justgiving and will be used exclusively for the Haiti relief effort.

On Cook Sister! you will find the list of all the wonderful prizes from the generous donors - from personally autographed cookbooks to parcels of French baking goodies to original art - there is something for everyone. Unless stated otherwise, all prizes are available for worldwide shipping and tickets cost £6.50 (roughly $10) each. Once you have chosen the prize or prizes you want to buy tickets for, take a note of their prize codes (very important!) and click through to our Justgiving donations page where you will find complete instructions on how to buy your tickets and specify your chosen prizes. Please read and follow the instructions carefully and e-mail my friend Jeanne (emailcooksister AT googlemail DOT com) if you have any questions.

Be My Guest – A Review

I love cooking for people, having friends round for supper or lunch, Sunday lunches for twelve people or one of our festivals with forty. I’m great at tastes and flavours, feeding everyone well, but presentation is not my forte. A le Creuset casserole is one of my favourite inventions, going straight from the oven on to the table. We always eat at a long table in the kitchen end of our main room, which can be extended with another table, and another when necessary. Candles will be there and usually flowers, paper napkins only if I remember and no elaborate place settings. It’s more family kitchen meal than dinner party, even when I am doing a dinner party. It’s not that I don’t like beautiful styling, it’s just that I’d rather focus on the food and it would drive me crazy doing both.

So when I was asked to review Fay LewisBe My Guest, I was thrilled. A book about entertaining might give me a few tips to smarten up my table. The book duly arrived, a beautiful thick hardback with lots of glossy photography. I settled down for an evening’s read on the sofa. And my Virgoan critical facility started to niggle. At first glance it is all about styling. Various beautiful scenarios have been created, with the help of several stylists and we are invited to recreate them at home… without a stylist. The photos are beautiful but intimidating for a non-style orientated person, with a minimum of practical tips on how to create the effects, leaving me with the feeling that I’d have to go on a major shopping expedition at a hip home store to throw a dinner party ever again.

There are lots of delicious sounding menus proposed for various events: a pool party, a tea party, a cocktail party, a festive celebration and so on. The recipes look good, are well-researched and well photographed, but, here’s my Virgo niggle again, I like recipe books that write about the food with introductions that tell you how it tastes or evoke something of the crunch or gooey ooze… tactile writing. I like to read about what I’m going to cook and I’ve just realized that the words are just as important to me as photos in gauging how a recipe will taste. This is just a personal preference, but I’d like to see more writing in this book!

Having said all that, I think this book could be a great help in planning menus and finding achievable recipes, when you want to put on a special event and have everything just so. Just remember that the effects in the book were most likely achieved by several people working together and if you are cooking and styling it all yourself, it will probably take a couple of days’ solid work to achieve the same.

I’ll probably have another read through, pick out a few recipes to try and carry on throwing my food on the table with a scattering of candles and flowers and then have to use kitchen towel for napkins… but that’s just me!

If you want to have another opinion, Homemade Heaven enjoyed the book much more than I did!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Heat, Hearts and Long Division

I opened the door just now to be greeted by a wall of heat that was almost solid to the touch. Greeted is the wrong word though. It was more like the welcome you might get from a bouncer at a happening club when you turn up in a dirndl skirt and a neat blouse. The best option would have been to retreat inside to the cool shadowy interior of our house, but determination to conclude my mission drove me on. The laundry must be hung out to dry.

The summer has at last asserted itself with a vengeance, having had a half-hearted flirtation with autumn most unlike February, who usually doesn’t allow the faintest wisp of morning fog and chill nights to intrude on her dominion of heat. Two nights ago I went to bed with a hot water bottle and winter pyjamas. Today it is heading for 40 degrees and an afternoon spent by the swimming pool.

Middle Daughter made a batch of iced heart biscuits for her grandmother’s 88th birthday today. She also baked them for Valentines Day with a cluster of heart-shaped cookie cutters that were a Christmas present, and lovingly iced each one.

We had trouble getting the icing to the right consistency to pipe but she persevered, making one for each member of the extended family, with their initial on as well as silver balls and sprinkles. Unfortunately they didn’t all get delivered to their intended recipients. By Wednesday there was still a fair selection in the box. I was attacked by the munchies and consumed one or two that had somebody else’s initial on… I have been forgiven and this second batch should make sure that everyone gets a heart cookie baked with love. We used Nigella’s recipe for birthday cookies from Feast and they taste great.

And the good news is that I have finally got long division sussed. For some reason I never picked up how to do long division with remainders at school and it has been a mystery to me ever since. Middle Daughter missed two weeks of school with mumps and tonsillitis and, when she went back, her class were in the throes of long division. She came back with a homework sheet, saying she had no idea what to do. I got her to show me what they had been doing in class and was finally able to figure out the whole process they were supposed to use stepping down the page from each number. I have become an expert on it now and she proudly came back the other day saying that she had got 10/10, so I guess she has got her confidence going again too.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Pizza and Cape Town Food Bloggers Conference

I found another delicious use for our profusion of bite-size tomatoes yesterday. With the weather getting close to a true February scorching summer's day on Valentine’s Day, I deemed it way too hot for a Sunday roast and decided to make pizza instead. Youngest feels hard done by if we don’t have a proper lunch on a Sunday, and pizza is one of the few acceptable substitutes for roast chicken and roast potatoes.

On one of the pizzas I drizzled olive oil and then scattered halved cherry tomatoes, diced mozzarella and a little chopped garlic. When it came sizzling from the oven I scattered some fresh basil over it. It was so delicious that it almost disappeared while my back was turned rolling out the next pizzas and I only managed to grab one piece. Next time I’m making more!

Now that I’m blogging about food again, rather than mumps, I am really excited to discover that there is going to be Cape Town’s first ever food bloggers conference next month on the 21st March. I have been envying from afar all the blogger get togethers that happen in London and elsewhere, so it is wonderful to have the chance to be part of one. Jeanne from Cooksister will be speaking as well as several other experienced food bloggers.

Here is the link to the conference site if you are interested in attending.

RSVP: Please can you let Colleen know as soon as possible if you are planning to attend by contacting her on collywolly@24.com or collywolly50@yahoo.co.uk and leaving her your details so that she can get back to you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Accidental Harvests

In between all the sicknesses afflicting our household, it has been a time of abundance here on our farm. A lull between the tonsillitis and the mumps had the whole family out harvesting almonds from two of our trees, resulting in a huge basket sitting on the table to be de-husked and often munched straight away, as some of the shells are soft enough to open with your fingers,

a deft twist and a tender milky fresh almond is revealed to be crunched up immediately leaving you wanting more. Even after all this we have a large bowl spilling over with almonds to keep us going on the snack front for a month or two.

We’re heading out to harvest the next two trees with a different variety later today, so more almond indulgence is on the cards.

The fig tree has also been generous this year. For the first time we have as many fresh green figs as we can eat and we have been sharing with the birds too, who leave the skins hollowed out on the tree for us to find if we have been slow to pick the ripening figs.

The tomatoes in the veggie garden have been prolific but my best accidental harvest has been the self seeded tomatoes that we discovered last week, all tangled into a wild profusion at the end of the drainage trench that takes the grey water from our showers, washing machine and basins. Some seeds must have washed down from the kitchen sink and there are three different varieties of tomato, bursting with ripeness and flavour and scattering themselves on the ground when they can no longer cling to the vines. We harvested two big bowls full last week and the small ones were like sweeties to pop into your mouth and let the sweetness burst into it.

I had great thoughts of canning and preserving them, but we managed to polish off that bowl quite easily, what with tomato and basil salads, pasta with fresh tomatoes and herbs, tomato sandwiches for school (Youngest’s favourite) and then this wonderful roasted tomato recipe… well not even a recipe really.

Roasted Tomatoes Not A Recipe
Whenever I’m baking bread I toss some small tomatoes in olive oil, sprinkle them with sea salt and put them to bake alongside the bread. Then we eat them hot or cold squished onto bread or as a filling in tortillas or any other way you can think of. I think they’d work well cooked like this to freeze in small batches. They’d also make a great pasta sauce with some fresh basil thrown in, but we ate them too quickly to find out.

So my canning experiments never happened but we have been enjoying sun-ripe tomatoes without tiring of them all week. Now we are just wondering how we can get them to seed themselves again next year, as we are planning to level the area where they are growing now and make a grassy play area.