Monday, June 6, 2011

Pickle Joy

One of the most marvelous yet slightly silly way of feeling joy in my life frequently involves getting something right the first time. This concept feels rather foriegn to me in the long term (concerning my heart wrenching/cardiac arrest inducing bachelors degree). But nevertheless, I have been compensating this fact with what pretty much always gives me joy - cooking. And not just cooking, because that would be a waste of my wallet and another contribution to my expanding waistline.

No, cooking involving making something that a specific person or people would enjoy.

One of my goals since meeting and becomming engaged to my handsome Canadian is to learn more about food in general from his side of the world. New Zealand to its credit has a wonderful array of ethnic foods specific to our land and sea, as well as the traditional favorites handed down to us from our settler ancestors (whether they be Maori or European). But at the end of the day, we are still a tiny country, and upon reading a 'Lonely Planet: Canada' book I realised how impressive and gigantic their food heritage is. Compared to the US where people go to become "American's" in the "land of the free", I find Canada's history a lot more open, friendly, explorative and sensitive than compared the US (my experience with American and Canadian border securities prove this theory of mine..) In Canada, I noticed, ethnic differences (especially concerning food) are not given the cold shoulder but are highly celebrated. And being the second biggest country in the world, I grant theres a lot.

What I want to reflect on is the humble sweet pickle that until this morning I have underestimated my entire life.

I won't bother trying to figure out where the sweet pickle comes from or who makes them the best. But to my fellow New Zealanders, before you laugh at me for crowing over the delishness of something that resembles a lumpy green penis, think again!! Have you truly tried them? I suppose after my penis joke no one will now.

I did this for Steven and for my own curiosity.

Every day since Steven moved away from his family and country to be with me, I have made it a priority in my life to incorporate and meld with my own, his Canadian culture. That means I wear the maple leaf as proudly as the fern (except in rugby cos they suck), maple syrup AND ketchup are now twin staple condiments on the table. Secondly I now say specific words like Steven (mainly cos I lost a bet re pronunciation), like Tom-ay-toz instead Tom-ahh-Toes. Mar-Garrr-Rin instead of Mar-Gaar-Rene, Ketchup instead of tomato sauce (shock, horror!! as my Mum says). Our children will have encyclopedic knowledge of both Rugby Union and NHL and *gulp dare I say it - Canadian Football...

When I first went to Vancouver, Canada to see Steven after 6 months of long distance and for meeting his family for the first time, I noticed he had a weird penchant for eating sweet gherkins/pickles straight out of the jar with a fork in one hand and an endearing childish grin on his face. Obviously this strong smelling green thing gave him enjoyment and with my only knowledge of gherkins comming from those disgusting little sour floppy green things you get in your Big Mac, I wasn't going to touch his sweet pickles with a 10 ft pole.

I do of course LOVE the Anathoth Farmstyle Relish that is made here in NZ. I don't know why. Its crunchy, its sweet and sour all in one taste. Its delicious on toast, its delicious on veges esp the good ol baked potato. In the words of Road Dahl its scrumdidliumpcious!

So out of wanting to give Steven this lovely home made treat that reminded him of home I never once thought the flavours would pretty much be identical with only a different vegetable being used.

I planned for two whole days. I scoured recipes online as well as processing instructions for using glass jars and storage and such. I remembered the wonderful Christmas present my futher mother in law gave me - a mennonite cookbook. I found over 10 bread and butter pickle recipes. All pretty similar but with a few differing tweaks in ingredients and processing methods. For my first time making such a foriegn recipe - this indecisiveness in recipes freaked me out! I thought, wasn't there just a base recipe that Mennonite women just stuck to?! Out of desperation I went back to my comfort zone for a mental break - New Zealand cookbooks. No where in the hugely celebrated Edmonds Cookbook was there any mention of any kind of pickle recipes. Then I took a risk and pulled out my Mums copy of Dame Alison Holst '500 Recipes' cookbook. This glorious woman had an entire section of pickles, relishes and chutneys along with the usual jams/jellies. Hallelujah!! AND two pages devoted to incrediably clear instructions for idiots like myself on preserving and sterilising.

I found a bread and butter pickle reciple with excellent instructions but the ingredients seemed rather bland compared to its Canadian Mennonite counterparts. So, I merged the two recipes.

The torturous thing about making home made pickles is not the cooking process but the wait. Every recipe version demanded that I wait a minimum of a week for the flavours to develop. I thought to myself - 'Great, I have to wait seven days in which I torture myself on whether I did it right only to find that when Steven eats it he will pull an ugly face or worse get food poisoning...'

Well, today was the big reveal and I couldn't help it, I was excited. I was reasonably sure that I got the recipe right but I still had a tinge of worry that I think kept me prepared should the worst occured.

Firstly, the seal was perfect. How did I know this? After 1o years of confidently opening difficult jars on my own I finally had to hand it over to Steven, who tried and then regretfully handed it to Mum who opened it with a jar opener by which it made a clear 'pop!' noise a freshly sealed jar makes when opened. Secondly the smell was amazing. Vingary, sugary and mustardy. Sounds like a weird trio but it works it really does.Thirdly, was the look on Steven's face when he poked a fork in the jar and ate some. Delighted surprise is the best way of putting it :D That made me soooo happy. We both then promptly cut into fresh bread buns with ham and cheese and loaded it with my pickles.

Oh my goodness, the taste was brilliant.

My only regret was that every pickle recipe catered for multiple jars. I only wanted one jar, so having to figure out how to divide ingredients and interpret conversions made me very anxious.

On making this recipe I had no idea how many cucumbers I would need so I ended up buying three very fat, over ripe, seedy dark green and lumpy ones. And after I poured the vinegar syrup with the cucumbers in the jars I found I had quite a bit left over. So, I will make an educated quess while looking at my pyrex measuring jug and say that the amount I made overall equalled to two 900g Pams jam jars. (thats two and a half pints). My other regret is how few cucumbers I used. This is my fault as several of the recipes suggested I soak the cucumbers in plain salt and water for 24 hrs. I ommitted this stage out of pure impatience and learnt my lesson from it. At the time, I remember packing the cucumbers in the hot jar like sardines in a can. But while it was in the fridge I noticed worryingly how it was appearing to look like there was just liquid and only a few cucumbers floating around. What happened? The cucumbers shrunk I think. I don't know how to deal with this in the future so I suppose Ive got to hunt for answers.

Until then, below is the recipe for two jars:

3 medium garden cucumbers (cut them depending on your jar size. I sliced mine into thick rounds, others like to slice them lenghways or not at all :D
1 Pickling onion for each cucumber (or half a normal onion for each)
2 Tbsp of plain salt (not iodised or else it goes scummy apparently)
1 cup of plain white vinegar
1/2 cup water

1 cup of brown sugar
1 Tbsp of mustard seeds
1 tsp of celery salt (or seeds)
1 tsp of turmeric

- Slice the cucumbers and onions into a bowl and prinkle half the plain salt in and mix ( I put rubber gloves on for this). Cover and leave in refridgerator for 24 hours.

- After 24 hrs, rinse the veges well and set aside.

- In a medium (non reactive) saucepan on medium heat bring remaining ingredients to simmering point. Add veges. Keep watchful and remember to stir so it doesn't get congealed. If it does add a little water and keep stiring

- In a large saucepan place chosen jars and lids and fill with water til everything is submerged. Remove and bring to the boil. Once the water is boiling place jars back in and set timer to 5 mins. It needs to boil for the entire time. Watch this very carefully and don't burn yourself! (Cover your arms and wear two cooking mitts if you freak out over spitting boiling water like I do).

- On your work bench place a clean tea towel or cloth and on top of that paper towels.

- For the last two mins of boiling time, place in boiling water the tongs you will use to lift out jars.

- After 5 mins is over turn off the heat to both saucepans. Very carefully transfer the hot jars using the tongs to the prepared surface and let dry for a minute.

- If you don't have a jar funnel like me, what I found useful for reducing spills was getting a piece of baking paper and folding it in half and placing it in a circle in the rim of my jars.
With the baking paper in place, use a large slotted spoon and scoop the veges out and place in the jars. It they overflow, pack them in (I used a potato masher). Pour the remaining syrup in until it overflows a bit (hence the paper towels!).

- Put the lids on and screw on snug (but not tightly!) and wipe down and store in the fridge

- Remember not to open it for a week!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Hospitality and Narnia

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of my most beloved books. I loved it as a child, and as a 22 year old my love for this story has only increased and I suspect it will increase more when I one day read it to my own children as my mother did to my brother and I.

About a month ago, I felt a drawing to read in my bible the story of Abraham giving hospitality to two angels and the preincarnate Christ, who appear as foriegn travellers to Abe (Genesis 18:1-15).
Hospitality is treated as big deal in the bible and is therefore a big deal to learn and act similarly to this standard as Christian's. Even in secular cultures, a lack of hospitality shows hostility. And a lack of appreciation or acknowledgement of given hospitality is incrediable rudeness and often seen as deserving of death (at least in the bible and other ancient stories).

As many Christians know, CS Lewis is a renowned author known for his essays defending and explaining christianity. Steven and I own a fair amount of these collections, but Lewis's writing style is so academic and British (I mean that in a nice way) that it often takes as much concentration reading and mentally sifting through his ideas as reading a statistics textbook. Although Id much more prefer the former. But, putting aside his brillaint essays, the Narnia stories are the most easiest to read and interpret because he aimed for the books to be written for children.

There have been so much written on biblical allegories of the Narnia stories that I darent try anything major here in my blog except to focus on one small portion of LWW (The Lion the witch and the wardrobe). The example being shown in the picture on the right of the dinner shared by Mr & Mrs Beaver and the four Pevensie children. I won't explain the plot here, because if you haven't read the story, shame on you! Go read it now!


I absolutely adore this picture, and whoever did the illustrations for the series did a wonderful job. True to the book it shows the wonderful simplicity of the hospitality given by the Beavers. There are quite a few examples of food used in LWW ie Lucy's meal with Tumnus, The reuniting meal of the four children after Edmund is saved, the post battle supper and of course the coronation feast at Cair Paravel. All stories illustration the fantastic use of food in bonding, fellowship and celebration.

Here's an excerpt about the Beaver's hospitality:

"'Here we are, Mrs Beaver,' said Mr Beaver, 'Ive found them. Here are the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve' - and they all went in.
The first thing Lucy noticed as she went in was a burring noise, and the the first thing she saw was a kind looking old she-beaver sitting in the corner with a thread in her mouth working busily at her sewing machine, and it was from it that the sound came. She stopped her work and got up as soon as the children came in.
'So you've come at last!', she said, holding out both her wrinkled old paws. 'At last! To think that I should ever live to see this day! The potatoes are boiling and the kettle's singing and I daresay, Mr Beaver, you'll get us some fish.'

'That I will ,' said Mr Beaver, and he went out of the house (Peter went with him)... Meanwhile the girls were helping Mrs Beaver to fill the kettle and lay the table and cut the bread and put the plates in the oven to heat and draw a huge jug of beer for Mr Beaver which stood in one corner of the house, and to put on the frying pan and get the dripping hot... There were no books or pictures, and instead of beds there were bunks, like on board a ship, built into the wall. And there were hams and strings of onions hanging from the roof, and against the walls were gumboots and oilskins and hatchets and pairs of shears and spades and trowels and things for carrying mortar in and fishhing rods and fishing nets and sacks. And the cloth on the table, though very clean, was very rough...
Susan drained the potatoes then put them all ack into the empty pot to dry on the side of the range while Lucy was helping Mrs Beaver dish up the trout, so that in a few minutes everyone was drawing up their stools (it was all three legged stools in the Beaver's house except for Mrs Beaver's own special rocking chair beside the fire) and preparing to enjoy themselves. There was a jug of creamy milk for the cildren (Mr Beaver stuck to beer) and a great big lump of deep yellow butter in the middle of the table from which everyone took as much as he wanted to go with his potatoes... When they had finished the fish, Mrs Beaver unexpectantly bought out of the oven a great and glorious sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle onto the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out. And when each person had got his (or her) cup of tea, each person shoved back his (or her) stool so as to lean back against the wall, and gave a long sigh of contentment.
'And now,' said Mr Beaver, pushing away his empty beer mug and pulling his cup of tea towards him, 'if you'll just wait til Ive got my pipe lit up and going nicely - why now we can get to business...'"

Theres some points I want to make about this passage re biblical hospitality (or lack thereof).
  1. Although I didn't add the passage in from the previous chapter, by the opening statement of Mr Beaver, its clear that Mr Beaver had been looking for the children. Neither do we know when Mr Tumnus' arrest occured (which is the reason Mr Beaver is looking for them being a close friend of Tumnus). Mr Beaver would have gained all his knowledge of the children from the faun, and we can guess that he knew the children were foreigners and needed provision. The fact is, is that Mr Beaver persued the children with passionate concern of the level of a loving close relative or parent. Secondary to Mr Beaver's actions were the reinforcement from Mrs Beaver. In the movie version, the Beaver's relationship with one another show something like an old couple who are still young at heart to tease each other but wise enough to trust, cherish and help each other. Mrs Beaver epitomises the biblical allegory of God naming Eve as Adam's helper. She maintains the home while Mr Beaver searches for the children. That role I believe is not anti feminist nor chauvinistic. Instead the roles appear as very complimentary. The description of pairs of tools around the house and of Mr Beaver assisting with the dinner (catching trout) show that they work together as a team. So whats the lesson here?
  • Firstly, although I believe God places persons in our lives (sometimes right in front of us) so that we can help them, and other times we have to persue them. I don't think this is because we have a lack of trust/faith in God, but a way of following our faith in action. In the bible Abraham's example of faith was described by the apostles not as a thought but as an action of hearing the Call and persuing something he could not see but which was promised to him as a reward. The same is true for Mr Beaver.
  • Secondly, as I said before Mrs Beaver is illustrated as the biblical female helper. The first statement re Mrs Beaver shows her busy at work at a constructive activity (sewing). This is later to be explained as a cherished activity that is particularly hers by the fact that she later gets a brand new sewing machine from Father Christmas. When the children arrive they find she (in the practical sense) is ready to meet their physical needs and she immediately stops what she is doing and extends a lovely sincerely warm welcome to the children. It doesn't show her pacing up and down the house worrying (maybe perhaps in her head) nor rocking backward and forward in her rocking chair doing nothing. She is prepared. And in the story she strikes me as the kind of she beaver who regardless of Mr Beaver unsuccessfuly searching for the children for days, she would still make sure that there was at least simple food and hot water ready for tea at all times.
  1. CS Lewis goes into great detail of explaining how humble and simple both the Beavers and their home are. It comes to mind a parable in the bible about stewardship - "Whoever can be trusted with a little can be trusted with much..." (Luke 16:10). The thing that grabs me as genuis is the fact that in the animal kingdom, the beavers are known to be practical, hardworking and domestic. They're not grand, lazy nor do they eat other animals that come near their territory. Despite the weirdness of animals/creatures wearing clothes, eating toast and discussing politics, to the reader the idea of the beavers doing the same thing seem rather normal and comforting given their inherent nature. Us humans need to be more like them. I hear a lot of people saying that when they win the lottery, THEN they will be able to be more charitable. Bollocks I say. Its starts with being content with what you have and sharing what you have. As a christian I believe that the more propensity we are to learning this the more then God then trusts us with more in order for us to give more.
  2. In the entire passage it decribes in detail how each of the children (minus Edmund) help with preparing dinner. Technically speaking Peter didnt help either but went along willing to learn and be Mr Beaver's assistant. As hostess Mrs Beaver accepted help from the girls. I wonder what Edmund was doing during this time and what the beavers and his siblings thought of his rudeness. We will never know. My guess is that he sat at the table and mulled over his situation (bitterness/anger at siblings for being found out to be a liar and longing for things his siblings supposedly wouldnt have access to - turkish delight, hot chocolate and a crown). Edmund's actions (or lack of) is how NOT to be a good guest. In todays world, we are taught to think that entertaining is cool, fun and easy. Just so you know - its not. I have an entire family made up of Edmund's. Womens magazines advocate cooking entire 3 course meals from scratch in just one hour, with no mention of help. The magazines also go on using words like envy, impressing, flavour explosions, elaborate etc etc. In a New Zealand House and Garden magazine never have I seen a home photographed that was simple, rustic and old. I quite often long to see homes that just look like a typical flat that looks lived in and homy and not fake, just to give myself some hope and contentment. Christian/Beaver hospitality as compared to 21st century entertaining is quite radical. Eating at the table, with no outside distractions is cherished. Focus is on one another not a piece of media. The beavers and three of the children understand the concept servanthood yet are not treated as servants (as compared to Edmunds ideas). The children have their milk, Mrs Beaver her rocking chair and Mr Beaver his beer and pipe. Reaping the rewards of their hard work particularly for the Beavers is wonderfully shown. Some legalist christians might be freaked out by the drinking of alcohol and spoking of a pipe in front of children, but I go back to my typical argument: though I think smoking and excessive drinking is unhealthy, I believe that when demonstrated by mature sensible parents (as shown by the Beavers, responsible drinking is beneficial and neither is smoking tobacco a sin so long as you're not breaking the law. Bearing in mind the context when this story was written and the author. CS Lewis himself was a great pipe smoker during a period when boys were getting blown up by bombs, and was viewed as a rare luxury, so too did he spend an enjoyable Friday night with Tolkien discussing their books over a beer or two.
  3. Lastly the Beavers prioritised and provided for the basic needs before the secondary need of learning. They allowed the children and themselves to unwind, relax, eat their fill and get to know one another before moving on to serious important matters with a caffenated drink so as to focus. Genius.

In a nutshell
Persue hospitality & persons
Be a team player
Don't stress - Accept help
Work with what you've got
Its not about impressing
Be a good guest, pay attention and give thanks
Be content and enjoy your rewards
Provide an atmosphere of relief and relaxation before anything else.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


So, Steven and I are getting married in exactly a month.
I suppose I really had better start making wedding preparations... Jokes
Thing is everything is going swimmingly well, Ive had to do hardly nothing except pretty easy things like outfit, picking out cutlery, music and my bridal shower (mind you my maid of honour and mother are doing more than me in that respect).

One thing that has been on my mind more than the wedding would you believe is our flat (apartment to you North American folks). Aside from the sunshine daisy cotton candy joy of marrying the one I love the other thing Im looking forward the most is having our own home.

Seriously this is a big deal to me. Ive been wanting this since I was 13, maybe even younger.
Ive been to college, lived in a dorm and dealt with random guys streaking naked passed my room covered in coffee granules. Ive flatted with other christian girls and found them to be a right royal pain in the arse. Ive boarded with a woman and her 10 year old daughter discovered an unknown hatred for Miley Cyrus music and American teen sitcoms I never knew about. Ive lived with persons (older woman, two older guys) who introduced me to the brilliantness of Jon Stewart and turned out to be lot more interesting to live with than the missionary kids despite the general lack of bathroom cleanliness.

Wherever Ive lived, Ive tried extraordinarily hard to make the kitchen in use the kind of kitchen where wonderful things were created, things were organised exactly as I organised it and above all things the rules I made for the care of my knives and tupperware would be upheld. This had never happened. Aside from my hope in Jesus, my secondary hope is in a pantry cupboard where someone hasn't screwed with my labelling, jar turning and geographical brilliance.

So I am currently living with my Mum and using her kitchen in a way that sometimes annoys her (ie "MELODYYYYY!!! Where did you put the baking powder!!!" "In the place where its always been!! "I don't see it!!! Oh wait, there it is!!!! Why isnt the label facing the right way!!!!). I swear the jar turns itself, 'cos I know how annoying turned jars are..


So we as a country (New Zealand) have officially entered into winter (dun duh duh DUUUUH!!) and mum still has a huge glut of lemons growing on the tree in the backyard. Not content to watch them eventually fall, rot and decompose FOUR times longer than the average fruit n vege scrap, I collected an entire colander of lemons (theres still enough for 3 years worth of lemons to eat through on the tree though). I took these lemons, donned a pair of my mums surgical rubber gloves (she's a nurse) and grated and juiced the whole lot into a an ice cube tray and once frozen I put the little cubes into labeled ziplock bags to be kept for winter lemon cravings or as additional Vitamin C in my anti flu brew.
I believe this is pure thrifty genius.

I live in a city called Christchurch which is located on the Canterbury Plains in the South Island of New Zealand. A lot of words I know so heres a map to help the overseas folks reading this.
The awesome thing about Christchurch in the winter is that the area is known for hoar frosts in the winter. This begins at night with rain or storm type weather (sometimes even a smattering of snow) and by dawn the entire sky clears up and you wake to a blinding sunny morning with sunshine that literally hurts the eye balls (after a couple of grey wet days, no wonder). The scenery gives the opportunity for amazing photography. The down side is that the temperature seriously drops. Not earth shattering news for the boy who grew up in Manitoba and knows truly cold winters but for me its horrible. And for a lemon tree - its murderous torture. The hoar frosts causes practically every living plant to look as if its been coated in white sand paper. As a kid I used to often enjoy walking to school through the nearby park and hearing the blades of grass beneath my feet literally break like glass

I don't quite understand the ins and outs of caring for a lemon tree, but somehow without any work done on the tree at all every year our lemon tree/bush continues to give fruit.

When I find a decent price for a block of butter at the grocery store (for a huge dairy exporting country like us its nastily expensive to buy our own products), I will make a jar or two of lemon curd..

Heaven knows (and my mother) every autumn I will continue to take my pilgrimage to said lemon tree and take my tiny sneaky fill of lemons...