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Archive for the 'Home Front' Category

A Lesson in Cheese Making

I stepped out of routine last weekend. After packing my handbag with necessities, including my camera, I went off to be a Cheesemaker for a day at the New Zealand Cheese School.

There were about ten of us on the Dairy course, and we learned how to make milk ricotta, sour cream, cultured butter, yoghurt, quark and mascarpone.

We listened and learned. We made our own cultured butter and milk ricotta. We tasted samples of every type of dairy product.

It was so much fun.

One of the people who ran the course owns her own cheese company. She took a course much like this one back in 2000 and loved it so much, she started her own cheese company. We tasted several of her cheeses (ranging from cow and goat brie to a tasty blue) for morning tea.

Since the course, hubby and I have made our own yoghurt and some mascarpone. I like making things from scratch. They don’t necessarily turn out cheaper, but I can control what goes into my products, they taste good and I get satisfaction from making something myself.

As a side benefit, I have the perfect occupation for my next book—a cheesemaker!

Here are a few photos from my cheesemaking adventure.

Greek Yoghurt

Here we’re straining yoghurt to make it thicker – the consistency of Greek Yoghurt. When this is done commercially, milk solids (i.e. milk powder) are added back into the yoghurt to thicken it. This is why most thick Greek yoghurts purchased in the supermarket are higher in calories.

Cultured Butter

This is cultured butter that we made from sour cream. When I was a kid, we used to separate the cream from the cow’s milk in a machine called a separator. (Funnily enough!) The milk would come out one tube and the milk out another. When we had a lot of cream, we’d make butter in the butter churn. Both the separator and the churn were of the manual variety and used a lot of energy. I remember churning the butter—not an easy chore! The butter above was made using a kitchen mixer. So much easier.

Shelley_Milk Ricotta

This is me in my cheesemaking outfit – an apron and hairnet. I’m in charge of the milk ricotta. The curds have lifted to the top of the liquid, and I’m placing it in molds. The milk ricotta reminded me of scrambled eggs when I tasted it.

I enjoyed this course so much, I think I might go back at a later date and learn how to make feta and some of the molded cheeses like brie and blue cheese.

Are there any cheesemakers out there? Cheese fans?

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!

Bella Hot, Hot, Hot!

It’s definitely summer here in New Zealand with higher than normal temperatures scorching the country. Bella has taken to cooling off by lying on her back with all her feet in the air. I call it her hot, hot, hot! pose.

Later today I’m visiting Not Your Usual Suspects blog where I’m talking about Scarlet Woman—the little book that could!

What are your favorite tips for cooling down during a hot summer?

Merry Christmas

Pohutukawa tree

Pohutukawa flowers

This is one of our native trees – the pohutukawa tree. It’s an evergreen and bears these gorgeous scarlet flowers around Christmas. Our local council has planted these trees all down our street and in some of the neighboring reserves. They make for a pretty picture.

I wish everyone a happy and safe Christmas. Enjoy your day.

Animal Antics – A Report from the Home Front

A report from the home front today.

Bella, our puppy, continues to challenge and delight us. She’s an active wee thing and loves to help out with jobs around the house. We’ve trained her to carry some of the recycling out to the bin, and she also enjoys toting the mail from the mailbox to the kitchen. Sometimes she likes the mail so much she refuses to give it back and a chasing game ensues. Most of our mail arrives in the kitchen complete with teeth marks.

Here’s a photo of Bella on recycling duty…

Bella

I had breakfast with my father and sister on Saturday and talk turned to some of their animals. My father hand milks his house cow every morning. Donna is a rangy black and white cow, and she and Dad have been a team for many years. These days—at twenty years of age—Donna’s eye sight is failing and her hearing is going, but she still kicks up her heels and charges through gates. My sister says if you see Donna coming it’s best to stand back.

But the funniest thing is that Donna goes to sleep in the middle of milking and starts snoring. Evidently the snoring is very loud. Who knew that cows snored?

I have a review for The Zombie Always Knocks Twice (seems to be free at Amazon at present so grab a copy) posting on 25 Sep, but apart from that I’m taking a blogging holiday. Hubby and I are off to Europe, so I’ll see you when I get back at the beginning of November.

Shelley’s Tip for Lazy Zips

I love my jeans. During summer I enjoy wearing shorts. Unfortunately most of my jeans and shorts end up with the same problem—a zip that keeps falling down.

The last thing anyone needs is to walk into a room with their zip at low mast. Who knows what people will see?

Maybe it’s the fact my puku sticks out—that’s Maori for stomach—but whatever the reason, it’s totally frustrating.

Then, a brainwave!

Jeans

Instead of struggling to replace the zipper or paying someone to do it, why not find a cure? This is the answer to my lazy zips.

Paper Clip

The humble paper clip.

I chose one of the feet paper clips because I liked the funky look. I hooked it into the zipper tag.

DSCF1497

 

I pulled up the zipper and hooked it around the stud/button thingie.

 

Jeans and Paper Clip

 

Then fastened the button hole over the top of the paper clip.

Tamed Lazy Zipper

Result: One tamed lazy zipper!

You could probably make a loop with a piece of waxed string, but I think the funky paper clip looks better. I can remove it easily when I want to wash my jeans.

What do you think? Do you have clever tips to share?

Want to win a print copy of Summer in the City of Sails? Check out my giveaway at Goodreads and enter the draw.

Summer in the City of Sails

Summer in the City of Sails – Goodreads Giveaway

The Mystery of the Mesclun Salad

Mr. Munro planted a tub of Mesclun salad not long ago. The tub sat outside our kitchen in a nice sunny spot. I even remembered to water it each day, and we’d started harvesting the leaves, eating them for dinner.

Then I arrived home to find this…

Squashed Mesclun Salad

Flat Mesclun salad!

At first I thought it needed water, but water didn’t help. I’d come back from a day out to find the leaves looking sick and limp.

Something clicked and suspicion started to bloom.

Bella, the puppy suspect!

This was my main suspect – Bella, the puppy.

Then on Saturday, I caught the suspect in the act. The first sun of the day shines on the tub of mesclun salad, and Bella was using the plants as a comfortable bed. I let out a shout, unfortunately before I snapped a photo to prove the crime, and she jumped off.

Oh, yes. She pleaded guilty. Her low, tucked tail wag was an indication of complete guilt.

Another crime solved by Shelley Munro.

Adventures in the Coffice

Coffee and Cake - dreamstimefree_216999

During the last few months I’ve been attempting to complete three different manuscripts. When I’m at home it’s easy to become distracted. Too easy! There’s all the housework, the Internet, my email, the puppy wanting to play and the phone, just to mention a few things likely to derail my writing day.

Since I know myself well, whenever I can, I leave the house and work in one of my favorite cafes. I’ve posted about the benefits of a coffice before (coffee shop/office), and for me writing in a cafe really works. For instance, I’ve completed the first draft of a 50K manuscript this month, writing the final words today.

But there is an interesting by-product to working in a cafe. I meet some entertaining people.

Most people are attracted by Rufus, my pink netbook. They stop to chat about the cute pink computer and want to know what it does and where they can get one.

At one particular cafe, a group of retired men and women meet after doing a twice-weekly walk. Usually, I get there before them and gradually become surrounded by their group who range in age from early 60s to 80s. They’ve started chatting to me and discovered I was a writer. I received the normal questions about research, along with a few smirks. I told one man that writers who write about murder don’t go around killing people therefore it wasn’t logical to assume I participated in all the kinky stuff he was smirking about. I heard him repeating my words verbatim to two elderly women about two weeks later. The lecture must have sunk in.

One of the elderly ladies in the group wanted to know if I’d speak at her book club. I asked what sort of books they read. “Oh, we’re very relaxed,” she said, waving an airy hand. “Each month we have a theme. This month our theme is color.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said.

“Yes, I’m reading 50 Shades of Grey,” she said. “The first bit was all right, but I’m not sure about all this bondage stuff and tying people up. How am I going to explain that to my book club?”

Yesterday, I was in my cafe around eight in the morning and was busy tapping out my words.

“Excuse me,” the man beside me said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but could you tell me a word to describe addiction.”

I must have looked a bit blank because he said, “This is my sentence.” And he read a sentence about how his gambling had overtaken him, causing him lots of problems.

“Oh,” I said, and I gave him a suggestion.

Wondering just what he was scribbling about in his notebook, I went back to my writing.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Could you spell…” He proceeded to ask me how to spell about half a dozen different words.  “Thank you,” he said politely once I’d finished.

I went back to my words.

“Excuse me,” he said.

I was starting to get the drift of what he was writing, and I was a bit nervous about what was coming next.

“I need a closing paragraph to read out to the judge. I’ve been very stupid,” he said. “I’ve done some bad things, and if this letter doesn’t work, I’ll have to go to jail.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, how about something like this? Your honor, I am truly sorry for my actions and have learned the error of my ways. I want to be a role model for my children. I’ve worked hard, gone to rehab and done everything required of me to turn my life around.”

He nodded, scribbled my suggestion down, adding a few words of his own. After a few minutes, he said, “Excuse me.”

I smiled politely and wondered what was coming next.

“Thank you for your help. I’m going home to shower and change now.”

“Okay, good luck,” I said.

He nodded and left. I watched him get in his car and drive away before going back to my words.

Life is never boring at the coffice!

Bread:The Staff of Life

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” ~ James Beard (1903-1985)

About a month ago I watched a River Cottage cooking episode featuring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The entire show was about making bread. Mr Munro is a champion bread maker, and while we have homemade bread on occasion, we purchase bread on a weekly basis. After watching the show, I started to wonder. The price of bread in New Zealand has jumped during the last two years. It’s not cheap. What would happen if we made our own bread and didn’t buy any?

I thought about it for a few more days before mentioning the show and my idea to my husband.

“Okay,” he said. “We could try it and see how we go.”

Since there is only two of us, we’ve made bread about twice a week. It’s been a fun project and we both enjoy making bread by hand. The kneading stage is very therapeutic, especially after a crappy day at work.

We make the same basic recipe every time and vary the flavor additions. (nuts, seeds, dried fruit, onion, sundried tomatoes, olives etc) The only limit is our imagination. Sometimes we make focaccia bread while this weekend we made one loaf and half a dozen pull apart rolls. We’re finding the bread is staying fresh. It makes good toast, and it tastes good. Best of all we don’t have all the additives and extras commercially made bread contains.

Pull Apart Rolls & Loaf of Bread

Here’s Hugh’s basic recipe, which is quite similar to ours.

For one loaf or focaccia or to make half a dozen rolls:

1 Tablespoon yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/3 cups warm water

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Mix these ingredients together and let sit until the yeast starts to froth. This won’t take long if you purchase special bread making yeast from the supermarket.

3 cups flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

sprinkle of salt

Add the wet yeast mix to the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until a dough is formed. At this stage we knead the dough then cover with a plastic shower cap and leave to rise in the bowl. When the dough has doubled in size, we remove it from the bowl, knock it back, and place in a greased tin. Leave to rise again before cooking.

The cooking time depends on what we’re making, but we cook a loaf for about 20 – 25 minutes at 200C.

Note – Hubby always uses baking powder, but Hugh’s recipe doesn’t contain it. I’m going to try Hugh’s recipe next time.

Do you like fresh bread? Have you tried making bread before? What is your favorite type of bread?

The One About Afternoon Tea

Thursday Thirteen

Recently my husband took me to a traditional afternoon tea at Cornwell Park in Central Auckland. It’s always fun setting aside the jeans for something a little dressier and enjoying the occasion. Our afternoon tea inspired my TT this week.

Thirteen Things About Afternoon Tea

1. We had our afternoon tea at the Cornwall Park Restaurant. They’ve been selling refreshments and cups of tea since 1908.

Cornwall Park Restaurant

2. Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is said to have invented afternoon tea. At the time most people ate two meals during the day—breakfast and dinner, which was taken late in the evening (around 8 pm). The Duchess started to have light refreshments and a pot of tea in the afternoon. She invited friends to join her and took the habit with her when she returned to London. Other women liked the habit so much, they started to follow suit. Afternoon tea was born.

Cornwell Park, Afternoon Tea

3. A traditional afternoon tea consists of scones (usually still warm from the oven) served with jam and cream, a selection of sandwiches (usually egg, ham, salmon, cucumber) and finished with a selection of delicious cakes. This is all washed down with lots of cups of tea.

Afternoon Tea selection

4. Tea was first drunk in China and it’s said that Catherine of Braganza, the consort of Charles II first introduced tea to England.

5. The British government placed taxes on tea, which meant smugglers played a big part in bringing tea into the country. They found that churches were excellent places to hide their smuggled goods.

Lapsang Souchong tea

6. I chose Lapsang Souchong tea, which has a very smoky taste, while Mr. Munro chose Nepal Masala Chai tea with cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

7. No one knows where scones originated, but they’ve always been associated with England, Scotland and Ireland. It’s thought that they most likely came from Scotland.

8. Our scones came served with whipped cream and raspberry jam. Personally, I prefer them with clotted cream. Yum!

9. Clotted cream is thick cream, which is obtained by heating milk slowly and allowing it to cool. The cream content rises to the top in coagulated lumps. It’s decadent and delicious and not exactly good for you Who me?

10. John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich is associated with the sandwich. He loved to gamble and didn’t want to leave his game. He ordered his valet to bring him meat placed between two slices of bread. Other men called for meals the same as Sandwich.

11. We had egg, salmon and ham sandwiches, but most British afternoon teas have cucumber sandwiches. Here’s a link to two versions of a cucumber sandwich that look delicious.

12. Cakes. Yummy cakes in small bite sized pieces. We had chocolate cake, lemon meringue pie, sticky date, lemon friands, a flourless nut cake. Chocolate eclairs are also a good addition. Just saying!

13. My favorite place to have afternoon tea is the Ritz in Picadilly, London. It takes place in the Palm Court, and there’s a dress code. No jeans allowed. This is something that must be booked ahead of time—weeks ahead—but it’s well worth it with relaxing piano music and very attentive waiters. Here’s the menu for the Ritz afternoon tea.  I highly recommend this experience if you’re ever in London.

Are you a fan of afternoon tea? Do you have a favorite afternoon tea spot?

A Day in the Life of Bella

The other day Mr Munro found a dog toy in the cupboard, one we’d purchased and saved for later. Bella was very excited since she is definitely still a puppy at heart.

Bella

 

This is what the toy looked like after about five minutes.

 

Puppy Toy

 

This is what our floor looked like after a few minutes of playing. Exhibit A.

 

Toy Stuffing

 

She had a lot of fun playing with her toy, and over the course of several days I picked up lots of stuffing. It was a magical toy, and the stuffing went forth and multiplied! Trying to separate Bella from her toy—not gonna happen!

 

Bella and her Toy

 

After playing all day Bella was exhausted. She retired to her bean bag for a nap.

 

Bella on her Bean Bag

 

She looks so cute when she’s asleep. No one would ever guess how naughty she can be during her waking hours.

 

What mischievous antics do your pets or children get up to during the day?