Sophie’s Savouries

26 Feb

So I was paging through Delicious by Sophie Gray trying to find something nice but cheap to make that I hadn’t made a million times before. I saw a bunch of things but I did notice that her recipes for empanadas and samosas were quite similar – unsurprisingly I suppose, since they’re both basically “pastry stuffed with a potato-heavy filling”. Neither of them were quite what I wanted but I thought they’d be quite nice if I put them together so I did and here you are.

A Sidebar on Indexing

If you are a publisher of cookbooks, or think you might be one day, can I address you for a moment? When indexing your cookbook, you of course should index by both title and main ingredient. Delightful. However, can I suggest that when you index by title, you also index by what the food actually is? When I am looking for samosas, it is going to take me a very long time to figure out that they’re actually under “c” – for “crispy baked samosas”. Ditto empanadas – under “s” for “savoury sausage empanadas” – and Irish stew – under “slow-cooked Irish stew” (this was particularly difficult to find because while samosas were under potato, and empanadas were under sausage, I actually had no idea the key ingredient of Irish stew was lamb).

Sophie’s Savouries
Adapted from Sophie Gray
Serves four or five depending on how hungry everyone is.  Although Sophie thinks they serve six.

Ingredients

Four or five small-ish potatoes, peeled and diced
200g mince (or three good sausages, with the sausage meat removed from the casings)
One large onion, diced or sliced
A little olive oil
1 cup frozen peas, as-is, or cooked fresh or dried peas
A heaped teaspoon each of cumin, coriander, turmeric, and garam masala
Half a teaspoon of paprika
1 t salt

300g flour
100g butter
Cold water

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, and drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions until translucent. NOTE: I used powdered spices, but if you’re going to use whole coriander and cumin seeds, add them to the heated oil before the onions.

I did not do this deliberately, but doesn't the paprika look kinda like a heart here? ❤

3. Add the mince and fry gently until brown but not dry.

4. Add the potatoes, spices, and peas to the mince and crush it all together with a fork. No need to overcrush or mash or whatever, don’t get fancy. (I mean, you can if you want to, but.)

5. While it cools enough to handle, make the pastry. Sorry, I took a million photos of the boring cooking bit and none of the slightly more tricky pastry bit, but I’m pretty sure you all know how to do this anyway.

6. Rub the butter into the flour, or use a food processor or pastry blender until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

7. Slowly add just enough water to form a soft dough.

Okay, I took one photo.

8. Roll the pastry out, quite thinly, on a floured surface. You’re going to want to do this in a couple of batches and I needed a really quite floury surface, but I possibly over-watered it. (Mine was excellent though, so maybe you want that.)

9. You have some options when it comes to rolling your pastry out. You can either roll out one big sheet or a couple of big sheets and use a plate to cut out circles, or you can divide your pastry into eight to twelve evenly-sized lumps and roll them out into circles by hand.  I did a bit of both and I can’t say I thought either came out differently, although I am a pretty crap circle-roller so that affected some things. The size of the plate for the first method doesn’t really matter. Sophie said a bread and butter plate (actually she said 19cm in diameter) but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use a saucer and have wee ones, or a dinner plate and have as-big-as-your-head ones.

10. As you roll them (trust me, you do not want to stack these up and then try to peel them off each other), place the circles on a greased baking tray. Brush the edge of one semicircle with a little water, then pile a good wodge of filling on that semicircle, leaving the edge clear. Lift the other side up and over the filling, pressing the edges together – I crimped most of them the way I would crimp dumplings, but I have to admit that the ones that I simply pressed down on using a fork looked nicer. You could also do the fancy Cornish pasty twist if you know it.

As you can see, I don't know the fancy Cornish Pasty twist.

I have to admit that the ones I sealed with a fork are probably a little nicer looking than the ones I folded together.

11. When everything is all packed up (you might have extra filling or dough, I just managed it by making one pastry super-sized) and laid out on greased baking trays, bake for 25 minutes or until they go a little brown and crispy. I didn’t egg wash these because she didn’t call for it, but I would if I did it again – make ’em nice and brown. Milk would do the same trick if you don’t want to waste a whole egg.

12. Serve hot with a salad.

You don’t get a picture of the insides because I had run out of turmeric and so my filling looked, to be honest, like grey wet washing, but with turmeric yours will look beautiful, I bet. These are great for lunch the next day, too (although the pastry, unsurprisingly but regretfully, did not stay crisp after spending the night in the fridge & being heated in the microwave). I did not try this, but I imagine that you could freeze these uncooked and bake to defrost, or nearly-cook them and freeze them and bake to reheat. Plus, this filling is very accommodating – you could go all cornish pasty and do it with carrots and swedes, leave out the meat (although then they’re basically samosas), use different spices, whatever, you do you, to steal a line from Autostraddle.

Coconut Hot Fudge Sauce

18 Feb

Necessity is the mother of delicious ice cream sauces, apparently. I wanted to make this sauce a few months ago and didn’t want to go and get cream, so I used coconut cream instead and turned the deliciousness up to 11.

image of chocolate sauce in a bowl

Coconut Hot Fudge Sauce
Barely adapted from Alexa Johnston’s What’s for Pudding? She got it from Lois Daish, so I don’t feel bad about stealing it, renaming it, and possibly making it 10 times a week for the rest of my life.

ice cream in a ceramic cup shaped like a blue ice cream cone

Check out how cute my flatmate's ice cream cups are. I guess she isn't a total life ruiner.

Ingredients

1/4 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup cocoa – I like this stuff
3/4 cup sugar
50g butter
1/4 cup coconut cream (okay, look, or you can use regular cream, if you are a life-ruiner like my new flatmate and don’t like coconut. We shall have separate, personalised sauce jars.)

ice cream in ceramic cup and bowl of sauce on a blue teatowel

Method

1. Chuck everything in a medium-sized saucepan.

2. Stir until everything is dissolved, then bring to the boil over a low heat and allow it to boil for two to ten minutes, depending on your patience. This will boil over if you let it, so stir it every now and then and I wouldn’t leave the room for too long.

3. Remove from heat and let cool to the point at which you can pour it over your ice cream and the ice cream doesn’t melt too much. (You can see from my photos that I was impatient. It will still taste good if you don’t wait long enough but it won’t look quite as cute.)

ice cream with sauceclose up of sauce on ice cream

Easy Summer Dinner

30 Nov

I’m the least reliable blogger in the world but dinner tonight was a) delicious b) so quick and easy I still have time and energy to blog about it.

Avocado Cream Pasta with Tomato Salsa
Adapted from Oh She Glows
Serves: 2 with a side salad, or a very hungry 1.

Ingredients

2-3 cloves garlic
1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ripe avocado
1/2 t salt
Basil – original recipe called for 1/4 C but my basil plant is pretty sad at the moment so I just grabbed a few leaves
A little fresh coriander or mint or both
1-2 large tomatoes or 4 small tomatoes or a punnet of cherry tomatoes
2 servings of pasta of your choice. I like spirals or farfalle.

Method

1. Put water on for your pasta. As you bring it to the boil and add the pasta, continue to the next steps.

2. Peel and slice your garlic – I used one big clove and a couple little ones. I will warn people who don’t like garlic that this is really *quite* garlicky, and two or even one cloves would be perfectly acceptable. The other thing that might be delicious but that I didn’t try is to use roasted garlic. That actually could be amazing.

3. Use a stick blender or a food processor to whiz together the garlic, the oil, and the juice of half the lemon. If you use a stick blender you’ll want to go a bit longer to get the garlic as small as you can, but relax if it still is in diced bits. If you don’t have a stick blender or a processor you can try just dicing the garlic very fine and using a potato masher for the next step.

4. Add the avocado, salt, and basil, and blend until you get creamy green delicious guacamole. Try to refrain from actually eating it directly out of the bowl. (Or, actually, I’m not the dinner police. This + corn chips = totally awesome.)

5. In another bowl, place tomatoes diced reasonably finely and toss with the coriander or mint (also diced very fine) and the juice from the other half of the lemon.

6. Wait for your pasta to be cooked (this meal is really that fast).

7. Drain pasta. Toss with avocado sauce and top with tomato salsa. Nom it good.

Sweet Orange Ice Cream

11 Sep A small bowl of pale yellow ice cream - french vanilla colour - viewed from above.
A small bowl of pale yellow ice cream - french vanilla colour - viewed from above.

Artistic outside photo for the light didn't actually improve my photography skills. Sigh.

Well, it’s been awhile, for a whole range of reasons. First my computer’s card chip reader stopped working, meaning I could take, but not use, photos of food. And since I’d taken photos I didn’t want to go and make the posts without them. Then I entered a prolonged food funk, where everything I made came out … not exactly the way I had envisioned it, none of my modifications worked, and basically all I was good for was making Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies and spaghetti bolognese. This was depressing, but fine, because there are after all much worse things than spaghetti bolognese twice a week for a month. Then I could cook (but not bake), and only if I followed a recipe exactly – and something just seems wrong to me about posting food that’s freely available on a million other blogs (for the record though I made this tofu & brussel sprouts dish about 1000 times during that period, it is AMAZING.)

Finally I decided yesterday that there was nothing for it but to power through making something I’d never even thought about making in my life before and, since Laura at Hungry and Frozen had just posted Seven Habits of Highly Effective Ice Cream Makers, I felt immediately galvanised and ready. (Check our her shiny new URL, by the way.)

Also, I had approximately a crapload of very over-ripe navel oranges. With the exception of my mother’s profiteroles, I’m not actually a big fan of citrus in baking. I love oranges and lemons and limes – in cooking. But orange muffins leave me cold, I dislike lemon cakes and frostings, and I can usually eat a couple of spoonfuls of lemon meringue pie before I make a face because it’s just too damn sweet. (This doesn’t stop me from making a good lemon meringue pie, mind you, because a lot of people in my life apparently flip for it. But I’m not really a fan.) So I thought, well, what ice cream flavour is more classic and delicious and yet not boringly vanilla than orange?

Sweet Orange Ice Cream
Adapted from this epicurious recipe.

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk
1 cup cream
1 pinch salt
2 navel oranges or enough to produce 1/2 C juice when squeezed
1/2 cup sugar
2 t triple sec
4 egg yolks

Method

1. Zest both the oranges. Roll them around a little on the chopping board before slicing them in half and juicing them. You want about half a cup of freshly squeezed juice. Pick the seeds out if you’re, you know, me. Add the triple sec to the juice and set aside.

2. If you’re me and only have a grater with enormous, um, what are they called? Well, whatever, my grater is crude and produces ginormous strips of cheese, orange zest, etc. So I diced the zest a little more finely.

a small pile of orange zest on a chopping board in the foreground, two oranges in the background

yeah, so now all my my photos are taken with my ipod. I know they're hiddy, blame apple.

3. Place half the orange zest, the milk, the cream, the salt, and 1/4 C of sugar in a largeish, heavy-bottomed pan, and heat slowly until it boils. Set aside and allow to cool and infuse for half an hour.

A stainless-steel pot on a stove with milk, cream, and orange zest in it. The zest is visible at the top.

I love working with zest; it just can't help but be pretty.

A stainless-steel pot on a stove, with a creamy yellow liquid
This isn’t my shitty camera, it actually went more yellow.

4. Beat the egg yolks and remaining 1/4 C sugar until thick and pale – a minute or so with an electric mixer.

a bowl with four egg yolks, not very well separated tbh, and eggshells in the background

Check out my crappy egg-separation job!

5. Prepare two bowls set inside each other: one large bowl filled with ice and cold water, and a smaller bowl (preferably metal or something that conducts heat well) placed inside.

5. Add the milk mixture in a thin stream, beating away. When the milk mix is all incorporated, return the custard to the pan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of the spoon and thickens a little. (Note, I found this bit really terrifying. What you want to be able to do is draw your finger in a channel down the back of the custardy spoon and have the mix not run in and fill the gap. However, at this point my custard was still fairly runny, and so I basically held my breath closed my eyes and kept stirring until it had thickened further – not to the usual point I’d expect a custard to go to, but quite thick.)

6. Strain the custard through a sieve into the metal bowl, and beat (I think by hand at this stage) for ten or fifteen minutes until the mixture has completely cooled.

7. Stir in orange juice, remaining orange zest, and triple sec. Now you can put it in your ice cream maker. Ahahah. Or, if you’re more like me and everyone I know and too broke/space-poor for such fancy-pants machinery, pour into a container or, probably, two containers (I used the metal bowl and an old ice-cream container) in as thin a layer as you can manage.

8. Freeze. Check on the containers periodically. About every 45 minutes or an hour or possibly half an hour depending on how thin your layers were, get in there with a whisk or spoon or fork and beat the shit out of the ice cream, breaking up ice crystals and trying for an even texture. Note, this took me for. ever. There are a few possible reasons including having upped the fat content, but I think the guilty party was the triple sec. I added a full tablespoon which is obviously quite a lot and it basically took all afternoon/evening. So I halved it here and it should take a more reasonable three or so hours – I hope. (Let me know, eh?)

9. Before it freezes completely solid you can add things like chocolate chips or a chocolate sauce ripple or something else fancy. I think this happens when you’re at, like, soft-serve consistency, so the stuff doesn’t sink to the bottom.

10. Eat! And check it out, my first ice cream and it is though I say it as shouldn’t effing delicious.

A small bowl of a pale yellow ice cream - basically french vanilla colour - sitting on a window sill.

The reason it didn't scoop well is because I don't have an ice cream scoop & therefore can't get those pretty curly spheres.

The always-vexed question of what to post on New Zealand National Poetry Day

22 Jul

But everyone needs a classic sometimes, and here is one. And there might be some more later tonight and this weekend.

Friend

Do you remember
that wild stretch of land
with the lone tree guarding the point
from the sharp-tongued sea?

The fort we build out of branches
wrenched from the tree is dead wood now.
The air that was thick with the whirr of
toetoe spears succumbs at last to the grey gull’s wheel.

Oyster-studded roots
of the mangrove yield no finer feast
of silver-bellied eels, and sea-snails
cooked in a rusty can.

Allow me to mend the broken ends
of shared days:
but I wanted to say
that the tree we climbed
that gave food and drink
to youthful dreams, is no more.
Pursed to the lips her fine-edged
leaves made whistle– now stamp
no silken tracery on the cracked
clay floor.

Friend,
in this drear
dreamless time I clasp
your hand if only to reassure
that all our jewelled fantasies were
real and wore splendid rags.

Perhaps the tree
will strike fresh roots again:
give soothing shade to a hurt and
troubled world.

— Hone Tūwhare

Tuesday Poem: “To a Poor Old Woman”, by William Carlos Williams

21 Jun

To a Poor Old Woman

munching a plum on
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her

— William Carlos Williams

Very quick commentary today that’s not really about the poem, because, I mean, it’s William Carlos Williams, what can I possibly say about this that hasn’t already been said?

I was actually going to post this last week. Someone I work with said, “Oh, I like the word wheelbarrow,” and naturally I immediately came out with “So much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow“. After a few blank looks I said, “Oh, it’s a famous poem by William Carlos Williams. He wrote the one about plums, you know, ‘This is just to say / I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox / and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast …'” and at that point I realised I was getting a lot of blank faces, and trailed off. What followed was me exhorting the extremely clever and well-educated people with whom I work to read poetry! And WCW! And how did they get through life without William Carlos Williams! (Or, indeed, Ezra Pound, because part of this conversation was trying to think of poets they might have heard of who were WCW’s contemporaries. Yes to Ginsberg, no to … pretty much everyone else.)

SO. Just in case anyone reading this is in the same boat or, rather, was in the same boat – now you know a little bit of William Carlos Williams, his most famous stuff really. I picked “To a Poor Old Woman” because of the second stanza which I find so tremendous. It was extremely influential to me when I studied poetry because surely no poem can better emphasise the importance of line breaks, how they affect a sentence’s meaning, how you read it, how it breaks in your mind and in your voice when you speak. Words are emphasised so differently in each of the four ways he writes this very simple sentence – they taste good to her, they taste good – to her, they taste good to her. And it’s like you’re eating it yourself.

And at the same time this simple subtle beautiful poem is talking about the tremendous significance of these insignificant plums, because who’s eating them? a poor old woman. And why would you spend all this time on plums? Because they’re important. They taste good to her.  Why is that important? Maybe not many things do; or maybe her life is still rich even though she’s poor and old; or maybe both things are true.

And now I’m really late for work so I haven’t got time to give this poem what it deserves, really, but you should! Do it, go read something, come on.

Tuesday Poem: Frank O’Hara for Charles, by Anna Jackson

15 Jun

Frank O’Hara for Charles

So it is 10.03 (this is when I still had my watch on)
and Charles and I are on our way through the rain
to Bill’s Frank O’Hara lecture and Charles says
but anyone could write a Frank O’Hara poem, why
bother? And he sits through the lecture
in his black leather jacket, his trainers
up on the metal ring bit of his chair,
his arms folded against his linen shirt,
and when I accidentally yell ‘goody’ when Bill
says he’ll play Frank O’Hara’s recording
of ‘Song’ he says ‘try and be a bit
more academic, Anna.’ Then Frank O’Hara
in a sweet and Ginsberg-like voice is repeating
his refrain, ‘you don’t refuse to breath
do you,’ and I am thinking, if anyone
can write a Frank O’Hara poem, isn’t that
a good thing? Doesn’t that make us all
potentially good people? As if Ginsberg
had got it right and ‘we’re all golden
sunflowers inside,’ as I try and tell Charles
who tells me to pipe down and listen
to the lecture, and I have to admit that later, in our
tutorial class, after listening to Ginsberg
giving a most elegaic and O’Hara-like rendition
of ‘America’ on the computer with Windows
Media Player, when we start looking at Plath,
she does seem to keep her inner sunflower
pretty much hidden although I try
and make a case for reading the poems
as a literary exercise and the suicide
as an accident and Frank O’Hara poetry
as what she could have been writing
if she weren’t so determined
to think up something new and different
to do to interest the critics. I still think
she could have. Anyone could! So let’s!
Who knows what it might save us from?
After all, anyone can talk,
and you don’t refuse to talk, do you?

– Anna Jackson, from Thicket, Auckland University Press, 2011.

Useful links:
“Song”, Frank O’Hara (audio and text)
“America,” Allen Ginsberg: audio, text
“Sunflower Sutra”, Allen Ginsberg (text)
Sylvia Plath @ Wikipedia; Tulips; a totally illegal collection of most of her work (you already know “Mad Girl’s Love Song”).

I had a different poem planned for today but it went out of the window when I read this for the first time; it gave me such a giggle. It’s a bit of a mean pick in a book which isn’t out yet and so can’t speak for itself, because it’s a little out of synch with the rest of the poems in the book – serious, or clever, or funny, or thoughtful – not that this poem isn’t those but, well, it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it? Other poems in the book are witty, but, as both the cover and title of Thicket suggest, they mostly have a little more darkness, either literal or metaphorical.

“Frank O’Hara for Charles,” though, I loved because it is screamingly spirited and has that perfect ability to sketch people out quite exactly in a few words that is one of my favourite things in poetry. I sometimes get the feeling that everyday people are one of the least appreciated topics in poems, which are after all supposed to be about the big things, serious weighty matters, or at least things that are somehow out of the quotidian: seriously miserable people, dramatic people, hypnotically compelling people. Ordinary people are just, well, you know. But a favourite thing of mine is the sketch, the clever wordplay that describes precisely the quotidian which somehow elevates it (Jenny Bornholdt’s “Being a Poet” springs to mind (and also my fave, “Women and Men”); so do William Carlos Williams’ “This is just to say” and Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro”, all of course extremely different poems [and very famous, because it’s late and I’m too lazy to go poking through books for examples that won’t be immediately accessible anyway]).

So can’t you just hear Charles saying “‘try and be a bit / more academic, Anna'”? And the fantastic meandering flow of the poem from Bill Manhire to Frank O’Hara to Allen Ginsberg (not himself a notable inner sunflower type, tbqh) to Sylvia Plath. Oh, it’s just a lot of fun.

The rest of Thicket, which comes out in July (a friend of mine worked on the book and therefore got a readers’ copy, which I borrowed like a sneaky sneak and unfortunately have to return tomorrow), is really really good. I liked several good fairytale retellings (“Red Riding Hood’s mother”, “Red Riding Hood”, “Hansel in the house” which has a killer last couplet, and “My brother, twelve swans”) and “Giving up” . I loved “It’s just glass”: “but if it’s really all up / for grabs I’m believing / in the Greek gods. Narrative / gods I’m looking for, / who’ll take an interest”. The book is packed with jokes and references, including a number of neat poems which bring out threads from the Aeneid, but it’s not inaccessible and it’s not snobbery. The careful lively images are a real delight.

I plan to run out and buy Thicket the second I can. You can too, or you can preorder it from AUP ($25), who describe Thicket thusly:

In Anna Jackson’s fifth collection of poetry, a rich and leafy life is closing in on the poet. ‘These are our thicket days’, she writes, ‘and it does seem darker, / though the sun is at its peak / over the crown of leaves.’ But a thicket is also something to walk out of, and Jackson offers us fairytale bread-crumb tracks to follow, through poems that consider badminton at dusk, Virgil at bedtime, theory over wine; shimmering, multi-faceted poems of swans and puppets, sons and brothers, a woman who has become a tree. Thicket is an accomplished book from a poet of unease, who constantly turns her attention to the brambled path, the track-less-followed, the subterranean presences in everyday life.

And that did a much better job than I could, so I’ll leave it at that. Even though it isn’t technically Tuesday any longer. Well, somewhere it is.

Potato Rosti Stack

4 Jun

So the first order of business is that I clearly can’t keep up this regular-posting differently-themed-days thing. I never have the right thing to talk about on the day I have time to write. So I sadly bid farewell to yet another attempt to have an organised online life; oh, well.

Luckily I have something AMAZING to make up for it.

Potato Rosti Stacked with Halloumi and Grilled Tomato on a Bed of Spinach

A few weeks ago I had breakfast at Baobab. It was truly delicious, beautifully prepared … and not very large for its price tag. I was still kinda hungry after it, not going to lie. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it and decided I absolutely had to make it, myself, in abundant, satisfying quantities. So I did. And unlike most home recreations, I thought this was actually kinda better than the version I had there. It’s been awhile so I don’t know how exact the duplicate is (I don’t think they used carrot and I think they had a pesto of some kind as well as the balsamic vinegar) but this owes a lot to the Baobab Potato Rosti Stack.

Ingredients
Makes six rosti; serves two or three people depending.
Gluten free, vegetarian. Not too spendy except for the halloumi.

Rosti:
4 smallish potatoes
1 large carrot
1 egg
3 large cloves garlic
A handful of parsley
Salt and pepper
Canola oil

Stack:
Around 300g halloumi
2 fresh, ripe but still firm tomatoes
Fresh spinach
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to the maximum temperature.

2. Wash the potatoes and carrot. Peel them if you want (I didn’t).

3. Grate both coarsely, and rinse thoroughly under cold water (a colander is good and easier to clean than a sieve; you could also use a vege steamer). Let drain as long as you have patience for.

4. Crush the garlic and finely chop with the parsley. Squeeze the liquid out of potato and carrot by twisting portions up in a teatowel. Get it as dry as possible – you want them to not be sticking together much, and to come apart from each other easily in the bowl.

5. Lightly beat the egg, and toss with the carrot, potato, garlic, and parsley. Season to taste.

6. In a frying pan, heat enough canola oil (or other cheapo vegetable oil) to cover the pan about 1 centimetre (a bit over half an inch) deep.

7. Heap large spoonfuls of the vege mix into the oil, and pat and squish (with a spoon or other utensil!) into rough patty shapes. Fry for around five minutes until they’re a golden brown on the bottoms, flip and repeat on the other side. Drain briefly on a paper towel. You might have some integrity issues (i.e. they might fall apart under pressure, e.g. when they’re being moved around). Don’t worry about it. It’s possible this could be avoided by using a little flour or extra egg in the mix, but I wanted to stay gluten-free. Plus also I don’t really like a floury rosti; it really affects the taste and texture.

8. Grease a baking tray or cover it with baking paper. Place the rosti on the tray, and top them with a slice of halloumi – at least half a centimetre thick; they don’t need to be too much thicker than that although they can be if you like – and a thick slice of tomato (like 2 cm/an inch thick; each tomato should become around four slices).

9. Turn the oven to grill (broil) and grill them directly under the element for 7-10 minutes, until the halloumi looks a little wobbly and the tomato looks heated through.

10. Meanwhile, beat a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, and possibly salt and pepper if you like. Wash and dry the spinach.

11. Place the spinach on a plate. Top with the rosti stack and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

12. Eat up!

I don’t have pictures because my camera battery died and my charger is at my parents’ house. Sorry. But really, the photos would not have done this justice. (They present very prettily though; the spinach with the crispy golden potato, the pale halloumi and the red tomato look fantastic together.) Also, this is really best served very hot; if it were me and I was feeding this to other people and wanted to do stuff ahead, I’d fry the rosti but not grill them until everyone was there. Even then though, I wouldn’t leave it too long.

Tuesday Poem: mehitabel s morals, by Don Marquis

10 May

mehitabel s morals

boss i got
a message from
mehitabel the cat
the other day
brought me by
a cockroach
she asks for our help
it seems she is being
held at ellis
island while an
investigation is made
of her morals
she left the country
and now it looks as
if she might not
be able to get
back in again
she cannot see
why they are
investigating
her morals she says
wotthehellbill she says
i never claimed
i had any morals
she has always regarded
morals as an unnecessary
complication in life
her theory is
that they take up room that might
better be devoted to
something more interesting
live while you are alive
she says and postpone
morality to the hereafter
everything in its place
is my rule she says
but i am liberal she
says i do not give
a damn how moral other
people are i never try
to interfere with them
in fact i prefer them
moral they furnish
a background for my
vivacity in the meantime
it looks as if she
would have to swim
if she gets ashore and
the water is cold

archy

— Don Marquis

So if you don’t know Archy and Mehitabel you must must must run out and buy them – they are usually available second hand – or at least skim through them in the library. Archy is a vers libre poet whose soul gets transmigrated into the body of a cockroach and he types his missives out at night in a newspaper office. His most regular companion is Mehitabel the cat, who swears she used to be Cleopatra, and in any case has had an interesting cat life. The poems are silly and wonderful and wise and ridiculous. They were written as newspaper columns and are sometimes very long and sometimes quite short. And you really must read them. And that’s all I got.

The Sunday Read: Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine

8 May

Cover is white, with three overlapping rectangles - pink labelled X, blue labelled Y, and yellow unlabelled - and the subtitle "How our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference"

Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference has been on my to-read list for awhile, and I’m thrilled I finally got around to it. Delusions of Gender might fairly be described as a response to a trend in both popular and academic science of ascribing sociological differences in women’s and men’s lives to a physical difference. We’re all probably familiar with recent books and studies that ascribe these differences to neurological differences in men and women; but in a brilliant if slightly puckish stroke, Fine compares the language of these books and studies to the language of popular and academic science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and finds them remarkably similar. The intent of the book, Fine suggests in her Author’s Note, is not to say anything new about gender: rather, it’s to question scientists who appear to be saying the same things about gender that they have been saying for the past 150 years. Basically, she says, we are constantly turning to biology to confirm our hope that men and women really are different; and the brain is so poorly understood that it has become the latest screen onto which we project these suspicions.

The book is divided into three parts: “‘Half-Changed World’, Half-Changed Minds”, “Neurosexism”, and “Recycling Gender”. The first third is a funny, scathing assessment of the role societal conditioning plays in the formation of gender, reviewing stereotype threat (where minority groups do badly because it’s expected that they will), gender priming (which brings gender to the foreground so women in fields women aren’t supposed to be good at are constantly aware of their gender and under stereotype threat), and other ways in which cultural and social expectations affect and predict performance. Some of this stuff is fairly familiar to anyone interested in sexism, gender, and sociology: get two mixed groups to take a test. Before they take the test, tell one group that men traditionally do better in these kinds of tests; tell another group that women traditionally do better. (This process ranges from the blunt to the extremely subtle). Or alternatively, get one group to identify their gender before the test; get another group to do so after the test. You will get the results that you asked for: men do better where they’re told that men do better, and vice versa. Women asked to identify their gender before a maths test do worse than otherwise similar women asked to identify their gender after taking the test. And so on. Fine lays it out extremely thoroughly, and it’s likely to be useful next time you find yourself in a fight with a gender essentialist, but this material wasn’t new to me, at least.

On the other hand, some of the material – mostly that which spends time breaking down popular science on men’s and women’s roles – is brand new and galvanising. For example, in “Gender Equality Begins (and Ends) at Home”, Fine examines work on the “second shift” – homework, housework, and childcare performed by working women and men. The second shift notoriously affects women much more than it does men: in (opposite-sex parented) families where both parents work, women do about twice the amount of unpaid work as men do. People generally understand this as being produced by unequal power generated by who brings the most about of money to the table. And it’s true that as a woman’s salary approaches her partner, the second shift becomes less unequally distributed. But when a woman’s salary exceeds her partner’s, she starts doing more of the second shift. In fact the more she earns, the more housework she does – even when her partner is unemployed. This is bad enough by itself, but Fine is in brilliant form when she skewers popular science that attempts to justify this. One book, for example, suggest that women derive a physical benefit (oxytocin production) from housework: so it’s actually more healthy for a woman to work all day, and then come home and do the dishes and the laundry. On the other hand, producing oxytocin is bad for men, and if they do too much housework they become dangerously testosterone-low. “One can only hope that Mrs. Gray finds it gratifyingly oxytocin-producing to have to remind her husband where the plates are kept,” remarks Fine.

The second part of the book, “Neurosexism,” I found the most dense. Reviewing a (large: one-third of the book’s thickness is footnotes) number of neurological studies which purport to demonstrate essential gender differences, Fine spends a lot of time breaking down the studies’ methodology as well as their conclusions, wondering on the one hand whether the notable Baron-Cohen/Connellan baby study (in which girl babies were found to be more interested in faces, and boy babies in mobiles) might have been affected by the scientists knowing the gender of the babies as they were testing, and on the other hand whether studies on the lateralisation of the brain (which purport to explain why men are worse at multi-tasking than women) really explain anything: “I find these intuitive leaps from brain structure to psychological function unconvincing … As an example of just how wrong our intuitions can be in these matters, despite the popular assumption that a more lateralized brain will be worse at multitasking, neurobiologist Lesley Rogers and her colleagues found precisely the opposite to be the case in chicks.” This section, though dense, is also occasionally screamingly funny, such as in the summary of this paper (the neurological responses of a “post-mortem” Atlantic Salmon).

The final section on the book is the one I most want everyone to read. Called “Recycled Gender,” it covers gendered and supposedly non-gendered childrearing, along with implicit associations and what we (say we) think versus what we do. Essentially, this chapter discusses how easy it is for children to begin to understand what it means to have gender and what their gender is and how it should be performed. I didn’t find it as funny as the earlier sections mostly because I found it depressing: we just keep passing everything on to our kids, basically, and more or less involuntarily.

Anyway. Delusions of Gender is a thorough, well-researched book that manages to be an easy read without being slick or suspicious. It’s funny and scathing, but also it’s honest – something that deserves some emphasis. It’s very easy for people who write about gender differences to describe themselves as fearless anti-PC warriors who are Just Telling the Truth About Men and Women: but as Fine points out, these ideas have always been popular and the eagerness with which they are grasped by parents, educators, employers, and scientists does not exactly point to a generalised disfavour. Fine has a fantastic post on this which is really worth reading, and keeping in mind as you read this book – which absolutely everyone must do.

Further reading:
Interview with Fine at Neuroanthropology
Review at Neuroskeptic
Interview with Fine at Salon