Friday, January 26, 2018

Pork Pies

One of the things that I miss most about living in the US rather than the UK is food and drink.  Not that anything is necessarily better over there: but there are options that cannot be found in this country, or are hard to find.
For example, we've recently managed to find places to buy crumpets (at much less than four times the price we'd pay in the UK), and I've persuaded a brewer friend that making British style bitter is a fun thing to do (and he's produced some wonderful beer for me).
Pork pies, though, are unknown here.  So this afternoon, I embarked on a journey of at least two steps.  I made hot water pastry, I filled tins with pastry and pork, and once they were cooked, I poured pork stock into the pies to gel into aspic.

No, it wasn't a success.  I was worried about the pastry, but it turned out to actually be really good.
But the filling wasn't the nice, jelly-wrapped gentle pork goodness I'd hoped for.

But at least I'm batting .333 (to put it in a US perspective).  All I need to do is fix the rest:-)

Yours, in failing, inspired to fix the issues,

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Playing with ancestry

I've been enjoying playing with for a few years now: Boo's particularly delighted that it claims (with several dubious links) that she's Cleopatra's 63rd great grand-daughter.  She likely is, just not from the path they claim!

My favourite find so far is perhaps that I'm related to Jim Callahan, former prime minister of the UK.
How, you ask?  Oh, let me tell you:
Rt Hon Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, KG is my 6th great aunt's second great niece's husband's son's wife's first cousin's husband's great niece's ex-husband's great nephew's wife's grandfather.

Yours, Feeling connected,

Sunday, January 21, 2018

And it's not just Boo!

This week, Skibo has been following in his sister's footsteps.  He's  currently in the kitchen making waffles.  Independently.  Well, largely independent: he's come through to ask where the salt is (and then, finding several different types, to ask which sort to use).
He's making a mess, and he's yet to learn how to clean up all his bowls and jugs and spoons and whisks, but that will come with time. 
The big thing is that he's cooking!

Yours, celebrating this new thing in the New Year,

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Boo, the baker

Boo has suddenly started cooking: LOML and I went out a week ago to take the dogs to the dog park, and to check on the status of the new-stove-to-be: when we returned, the house was fragrant with the aroma of pancakes: Boo had decided to make them for her and for Skibo.  A couple of days later, she decided that waffles were the order of the day, then -- get this -- scones.  And the scones in particular were impressive.   They are not something I've had much success with, so colour me

Yours, parentally proud,

Friday, December 22, 2017

New stove

As a Christmas present this year, I was given a new gas stove: the old one didn't work right (burners wouldn't ignite without a lighter, the broiler wouldn't reach a decent temperature, one of the burners wouldn't light at all, etc) and we decided it was time for a replacement.  The old one had lasted 20 years, so it worked out to about pennies a day --- a worthwhile expenditure, especially since a good friend was willing to chip in too.
It's been transformative --- the high-power burner is so much more effective than on the old stove that it has changed my appreciation of deep-frying --- two days later I almost have chips down to perfection: crispy texture with fluffy interior, just like Mum used to make.

Yours, knowing that a bad workman blames the tools, I'm choosing to praise them!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Welcome to the teenage years, Skibo

And now there are two.

Yours, wondering if I should be saying this in trepidation,

Friday, June 16, 2017

Thoughts on teaching

I'm teaching two classes this summer, and both finish next week: one with a final exam, and the other, potentially, with a performance.
The mathematics class, of course, is the one with the exam (and homework, tests, etc).  Lots of evaluation along the way to see how students are doing, and to help them assess their progress themselves.
The other class, teaching the Tai Chi 24 form is going very nicely: it's a ten class session, once a week for 90 minutes, and I'm finally, I think, getting the hang of how to teach it.  In previous sessions I'd stuck with a traditional "teach the moves sequentially" style: this time, I started on the first day with practicing the end of the form too --- trying not to give it short shrift in the last couple of classes.
We have a continuing group of former students in the class who meet weekly, so there have been plenty of opportunities for them to continue to learn the end of the form --- but not everybody chooses to continue to practice with us.  So, I'm happy with this group's progress, and with my developing insights into how to teach.
As for assessment, and the potential performance, I'm thinking of inviting my old instructor to come view the final class of the session.  I'd love him to see the progress these folks  have made!

Yours, proud of my students in both classes,

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bringing things into the 20th century

 Both Boo and Skibo are in the middle school now (which here in our little town is where 7th and 8th grade go to get lessons, if not necessarily to be educated).
Last year, we struggled with issues of dress codes: Boo wanted a blue streak in her hair, so we got her one, only to discover that the school didn't allow it.  Then she got called out a few times for wearing "inappropriate" clothing (this, I should add, was ridiculous --- and Boo is most definitely not one to want to break these sorts of rules, or to dress to shock, or worse yet, to "distract the boys").
At one point, a counselor at the school asked her if she were a "bad girl", and did she "regularly get in trouble?"  Just a couple of weeks into school, she was being labeled a "bad girl".
She's not.  Far from it: she knows her own mind, and as her T-shirt puts it, she's at "Sarcasm Level: Expert".
But she's not a bad girl at all.

Today they had a drill.  An "intruder" drill --- they were to pretend that there was a bad guy roaming the school, and act appropriately.  But before the drill, they had an assembly, at which the principal called up the male teachers, and all the boys, and informed them that they "had to care of the women, to keep them safe".
My god, but what an unreconstructed attitude.

Now we have to decide how to approach this.  Something must be said, but how best to actually effect real change, and not just piss off the basket of deplorables.....

Yours, protected as much as protecting,

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bringing things into the 21st century

Boo, being in 8th grade, has been told that she should buy a calculator.  An expensive calculator.  A piece of equipment which was pretty radical in the late 80's, and costs just as much now as it did then.  The reason being, of course, that they can't figure out how to get the students to use their chromebooks (which cost about the same as the calculators, and are almost infinitely more powerful) to work without letting the students have access to files, the net, etc.
The reason for the calculators is not pedagogical.  It's a reflection of a lack of understanding of how to use technology appropriately.

When I complained to the principal, he proudly told me that his son, a freshman at university, had had to return home to pick up his calculator because he needed it for his freshman calculus course.  This told me two things.  One is that his son is taking business calculus, where the instructors haven't been given the time and encouragement to figure out how to do things better.  The other is that the principal is not willing to think hard about this issue.

Yours, unhappy at being decades ahead of the educational system,

Monday, September 5, 2016

Moroccan recipes

Promised these four years ago: went to print them out to use today, and the printer is out of paper.
Couldn't find them on the blog, so perhaps I never fulfilled the promise.  So, here I am blogging, so
I can see the recipes on my phone in the store.  All because the printer is out of paper.

Chicken Tagine
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup olive oil
1 (3-lb) chicken, cut into 6 pieces, wings and backbone discarded
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 fresh cilantro
5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons mild honey
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1/2 cup dried Turkish apricots, separated into halves
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds

I add a tablespoon or two of ras el hanout as well as
the spices called for.

Stir together ground cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, pepper,
1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl.
Add chicken and turn to coat well.  Heat butter and 1 tablespoon
oil in base of tagine (or in skillet), uncovered, over moderate
heat until hot but not smoking, then brown half of chicken, skin
sides down, turning over once, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a
plate. Brown remaining chicken in same manner, adding any spice
mixture left in bowl.
Add onion and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to tagine and cook,
uncovered, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add
garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Tie cilantro
and parsley into a bundle with kitchen string and add to tagine
along with 1/2 cup water, chicken, and any juices accumulated on
plate. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.
While chicken cooks, bring honey, remaining cup water, cinnamon
stick, and apricots to a boil in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan,
then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until apricots are very
tender (add more water if necessary). Once apricots are tender,
simmer until liquid is reduced to a glaze, 10 to 15 minutes.
While apricots cook, heat remaining 1/4 cup oil in a small
skillet over moderate heat and cook almonds, stirring occasionally,
until just golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon
to paper towels to drain.
Ten minutes before chicken is done, add apricot mixture to tagine.
Discard herbs and cinnamon stick, then serve chicken sprinkled with
almonds on top.

Tomato and Cucumber Salad
eggous or cucumbers offer crispy contrast to tomatoes in this Moroccan salad (shlada) with vinaigrette and fresh mint. Sometimes referred to as shlada 'arobiya (country salad) or shlada nationale (national salad), it can be served as-is or used to make Salade Marocaine.

Mixing the salad at least 10 minutes before serving will allow the flavors to blend. A spoon can be offered, but the salad may also be eaten as a dip with Moroccan bread (khobz) for scooping it up.

Also see Feggous Salad with Orange Flower Water.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.


1 lb. (about 1/2 kg) feggous or cucumber
1 lb. fresh, ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or mint
2 to 3 teaspoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

Lightly peel the feggous so that some dark green skin remains, and finely chop it. (If using regular cucumbers, you'll want to remove the seeds before chopping.)

Peel the tomatoes, seed them, and chop them into small pieces. Mix the tomatoes with the feggous, parsley or mint, onion, lemon juice or vinegar, oil and salt and pepper to taste.

If time allows, leave the vegetables to marinate at room temperature or in the fridge for up to an hour. Serve in small bowls or on individual salad plates.

Red Lentil Soup
Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 heaped teaspoons ground coriander
2 heaped teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt (to begin with), then to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7 cups vegetable broth
1 24-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed and picked over
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
juice of 1 lemon
a small splash of red wine vinegar (about 1/2 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Add the onions and cook until tender, about 6 minutes.
Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, and allspice.
Cook for another minute or two, stirring to coat the onions.
Add the broth, tomatoes and salt, and bring to a boil.
Pour into a slow cooker, and stir in the lentils.
Cook for 4 to 5 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low, or until the lentils are tender.

Stir in the lemon juice, a small splash of red wine vinegar,
red pepper flakes, cilantro, and parsley.  Season to taste again with kosher salt.
Cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Yours, paper free!