Kaati – a new beginning

I began the second book of Vokhtah back in 2013, but then Innerscape captured my imagination and ‘Kaati’ disappeared into a digital drawer for five years. I finally restarted the project today by writing an 800 word Prologue. In it, I refresh my memory a little and set the stage for the story of Kaati, the young Trader who helped The Blue survive the crossing of the Spine of the World.

The words aren’t set in stone, but this part of the plot is. I hope you like it. 🙂

***

It was close to deep-dark when the Master was ushered into the Quartermaster’s presence, yet the leader of the Traders was neither asleep, nor alone. Five young Traders, all from the Runner clan, sat or sprawled drunkenly around a table littered with spilled pippa juice and half-empty bowls of dreamweed.

“Sit, sit!” the Quartermaster cried as it waved the Master to a vacant cushion. “Juice?”

The cushion was sticky, as was the goblet offered by one of the younglings, but the Master kept the distaste from its face as it sat and folded its wings to either side.

“May Takhti being gentle!” the Quartermaster said, raising its goblet in a toast.

“And Pah Hakh being short,” the Master replied as it raised its own goblet. Unlike the Quartermaster, however, it swallowed very little of the fermented pippa juice.

“S’so,” the Quartermaster said once the demands of hospitality had been met. “What bringing Master Teller here so late?”

That was not a question the Master wished to answer in front of so many witnesses, drunk or not.

“Just a few details concerning trade with Five Rocks. Nothing serious.”

“Details, details. Always details,” the Quartermaster sighed. Despite its long suffering tone, however, its eyes were sharp as it sent its guests off to bed. They went, but not without a good deal of grumbling so it was some time before the two older Traders were finally alone.

“Now,” the Quartermaster began. What-”

“Psst!”

Rising from its cushion, the Master tiptoed to the wooden door that separated the Quartermaster’s area from the rest of the clans, and threw it open. The light spilling from the cavern confirmed that all the revelers were gone, and the passage was empty. Nothing moved except for the same, slack-jawed drudge it had seen sweeping on the way in.

Satisfied they would not be overheard, the Master closed the door and returned to the table.

“What being wrong?” the Quartermaster asked, its tone more annoyed than concerned.

“Hoping nothing,” the Master said as it chose a clean cushion and sat down, “but receiving disturbing report from Five Rocks gather.”

“Caravan still being there?”

“S’so. Departing at first light, but-”

“Hoping not being more deaths!”

The hint of righteous indignation in the Quartermaster’s tone caused the Master’s cilia to flare with anger. The Quartermaster might not have ordered the deaths of the two young Flyers on the Spine, but it had certainly benefited from them!

yet perhaps still failing

That thought cooled the Master’s rage, and its voice betrayed no emotion as it said, “Ki, no more deaths, but…perhaps being a…ghost.”

“Ghost?” the Quartermaster said with a laugh. “Ghosts being tales to frighten iVokhti!”

“S’so. But if true, this one could causing great trouble.”

“Explaining.”

“Teller overhearing Traders talking about na-Quartermaster. About seeing na-Quartermaster at gather.”

“Impossible!”

Pippa juice sloshed from the Quartermaster’s goblet as he banged it on the table. “na-Quartermaster being dead! Messenger witnessing.”

The Master wiped juice from its chest before saying, “but no one seeing na-Quartermaster’s body so how being sure truly dead?”

“Ridiculous. Messengers not lying, especially to protect Traders!”

“S’so. But what if Messenger being tricked-”

“Tricked? How?”

“Not knowing, but Messenger being ignorant of Wild. Perhaps not seeing to’pakh at all. Perhaps only hearing to’pakh, then hearing screams-”

“Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps! Or perhaps na-Quartermaster truly being dead, and Traders only seeing what wanting to see!”

That thought had occurred to the Master as well, but it could see no reason for the Traders of the caravan to start a rumour about the na-Quartermaster if it really was dead. What would they gain? No, the one explanation that made sense was that the young Trader was still alive and getting ready to challenge for the leadership of the clans.

The Runners would support the Quartermaster because it was one of their own, but the Flyers and Plodders were still angry over the deaths on The Spine. If the na-Quartermaster were allowed to return, they would greet it as a hero, the only Trader to ever survive the Wild on its own.

“If being wrong and na-Quartermaster still being alive, clans could tearing Quarter apart.”

“Not being wrong.”

Taken aback by the Quartermaster’s self-assurance, the Master decided to take a more conciliatory tack.

“Perhaps being right, but what harm being in posting guards at entrance?”

“And looking like fool? Or coward? Ki. Not posting guards.”

Faced with the Quartermaster’s stubborn refusal to take precautions, the Master could do little but concede defeat.

“Hearing and obeying.”

Then it walked from the cavern, steps heavy with disappointment. Once out in the passage, however, its step lightened considerably. Just because the Quartermaster refused to post guards at the entrance did not mean the Tellers could not. They would have to stay out of sight, of course, but that was probably a good thing anyway. If the na-Quartermaster did try to return, they could catch it and dispose of it without the clans being any the wiser. Sometimes opportunity really did spring from adversity.

***

Right, time to go watch The Drum and cook dinner.

cheers

Meeks


Apricot cake & triple-choc-biscuits

I remembered to take some photos this time so here are our latest baking creations [recipes follow for those so inclined]:

First up, the apricot cake:

All the apricots in the cake came from our own harvest, which was quite spectacular. These are photos of what we picked five days ago:

and these:

The total haul has probably been twice that much, all of it with a sweetness you have to taste to believe. We literally have apricots coming out of our ears. This is a pic of the compote we preserved:

The instrument of torture in the foreground is for removing boiling hot bottles from the sterilizing water. Worth every penny!

And finally the biscuits [cookies to my US friends]:

The odd lumps in the middle are whole pieces of chocolate [some dark some dairy milk] that bake with the biscuits. Like my chocolate mousse cake, this is something we don’t make often because it, too, is death-by-chocolate. If you scroll down to the recipe you’ll see why. I may have to go on a starvation diet once the last of the indulgences are eaten. 🙂

RECIPES!

Apricot Cake 

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 C [165 C if using fan forced] or 360 F.
  2. Lightly grease a 10″ [ 25 cm] diameter ringform cake tin and line the bottom with grease proof baking paper.
  3. Separate four large eggs. Place the yolks into a small bowl and the whites into a mixing bowl.
  4. Add 75 gm of caster sugar to the egg whites, plus a tiny pinch of salt, and beat on high until shiny and very stiff. Set aside in a cool place but not the fridge. You do not need to wash the beaters.
  5. In a second mixing bowl, place 200 gm of room temperature, unsalted butter and another 75 gm of caster sugar.
  6. Cream the butter and sugar until it’s pale and creamy.
  7. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  8. Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the creamed butter. Do not over mix.
  9. Sift 200 gm of self raising flour and fold into the butter/egg mix. The cake mix will be quite firm. Only fold until it’s just combined.
  10. Pour the cake mix into the prepared tin and gently press to the edges.
  11. Lightly press fresh apricot halves all over the top of the cake mix. [I used about 3/4 of a kilo of fruit. If you want to use less, reduce the baking time a little to compensate].
  12. Place the cake in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for approx. 45 – 50 minutes. Do not open the oven for the first 20 minutes of baking.
  13. As the cake cooks it will rise up around the fruit. The cake is cooked when it shrinks slightly from the sides of the baking dish and/or a skewer pressed into the middle comes out clean [i.e. not sticky-gooey].
  14. Take the cake out of the over and allow to stand, in the baking dish, for about 5 minutes.
  15. Remove the outer ringform and place the cake [still on the bottom of the pan] onto a wire rack.
  16. Using the baking paper, gentle ease the cake off the bottom of the pan and onto the rack.
  17. When the cake is a bit cooler, and firmer, you can finally ease it off the baking paper as well. I wait until the cake is cool and then ease it straight onto the serving platter I intend to use.
  18. Dust the top of the cake with a little icing sugar [optional] and serve on its own or with cream. Bon appetit!

Triple Choc Biscuits

The main ingredient of this recipe is chocolate. I kid you not, a total of 500 gms of chocolate! 😀

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C [375 F] or about 175 C if using fan forced.
  2. Prepare the baking trays you will use to bake the biscuits. We used an Avanti biscuit press to make the smaller biscuits and discovered it does NOT work on baking paper; the biscuit dough has to be pressed directly onto the baking tray. We also made large, manual ‘balls’ of dough. These we placed on baking paper.
  3. Chop approx. 450 gm of dark cooking chocolate or a mix of dark and milk chocolate. We used 1/2 and 1/2 of Plaistowe Dark and Dairy Milk Chocolate. Reserve approx. 50 gm for the choc chip ‘dots’.
  4. Gently melt the 450 gms of chocolate with 125 gms of unsalted butter. [In the past, I’ve also use Slightly Salted Butter and simply omitted the salt later on]. You can use a microwave or simply use a bowl placed over a pot of gently simmering water on the stove.
  5. Remove the melted chocolate from the heat and stir in 1/2 a cup of caster sugar. It will look quite granular.
  6. Next, stir in 3 large, whole eggs, one at a time.
  7. Finally, sift 1 1/4 cups of plain flour with 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and a good pinch of salt. [If using slightly salted butter, omit the pinch of salt].
  8. Add the flour mix to the chocolate mix and stir until just combined.
  9. Cover the dough with cling wrap and place in the fridge for up to 1 hour [minimum of 10 minutes].
  10. Remove the dough from the the fridge and use a biscuit press to mould the biscuits.
  11. If you don’t have a biscuit press, scoop out a spoonful of dough with a spoon, very lightly roll into a ball and place the ball on the baking paper covered tray.
  12. Leave enough room on the tray for the biscuits to expand as they bake.
  13. When all the biscuits have been formed, gently press a small knob of chocolate into the middle of each biscuit and bake.
  14. For the Avanti biscuits, baking time should be no more that 6 minutes.
  15. For the hand-rolled balls, baking time should be around 10 minutes.
  16. The biscuits will still be a little soft when you take them out of the oven. Leave them on the baking tray until they firm up.
  17. Place biscuits on wire racks to finish cooling. Store in an air-tight container for up to 3 days [if they last that long]. 🙂

Oh, and…enjoy!

Meeks

 

 


Baby kitten photos – my furbabies

All the blame for this post belongs to Marian Allen. 🙂

From top to bottom:

Harry,

Pixie,

Buffa

Snuggling up to Missy the dog is Golli.

A portrait of Buffa:

A portrait of Golli:

 

And this is Harry playing Mae West:

And finally, Pixie, who left us too soon:

My babies. 🙂

Meeks


Coal Seam Gas – destroying the Great Artesian Basin?

I stumbled on a tweet this morning.

It included this video.

Curious, I watched the video.

Shocked, I took a screenshot and added a bright yellow arrow to highlight the bubble of gas that has just been set alight. What you see under the flames is the water flowing from a bore drilled into the Great Artesian Basin [GAB for short].

This is the complete video:

Why is this so shocking? Because without that bore water, much of the food production in the arid parts of Australia simply would not be possible:

Prior to European occupation, waters of the GAB discharged through mound springs, many in arid South Australia. These springs supported a variety of endemic invertebrates (molluscs, for example), and supported extensive Aboriginal communities and trade routes.[8] After the arrival of Europeans, they enabled early exploration and faster communications between southeastern Australia and Europe via the Australian Overland Telegraph Line.[8] The Great Artesian Basin became an important water supply for cattle stationsirrigation, and livestock and domestic usage, and is a vital life line for rural Australia.[9] To tap it, water wellsare drilled down to a suitable rock layer, where the pressure of the water forces it up, mostly without pumping.

Quote taken from Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Artesian_Basin

By Tentotwo – Basin extent: Geoscience Australia Revised Great Artesian Basin Jurassic-Cretaceous boundaryCoastline, rivers, state borders: Natural Earth dataset, 1:50MShaded relief: Kenneth Townsend, Shaded Relief Archive, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26822532

I know that everything in life is a balancing act between opposite and competing priorities, but destroying Peter to pay Paul is simply insane.

Yes, we do need gas to generate instant electricity until our power generation switches fully to renewables and storage [wind, solar, batteries]. But we also need to eat. If the water goes, so will much of inland Australia.

What makes this all so much worse is that we wouldn’t need to extract coal seam gas from the GAB if our offshore gas hadn’t been sold overseas for peanuts. Industry, AEMO*, and Federal and State governments are all to blame: Industry for not giving a shit about anything except shareholder profits, AEMO for allowing Industry to game the bloody system, and governments for putting short term gains ahead of long term planning.

When are we going to accept that Industry will NEVER self-regulate for the good of society as a whole?

It’s like leaving the door to the hen house wide open and expecting the fox to leave the chickens alone. Really?

Yet isn’t that exactly what all Western governments do? They allow multinational corporations to self-regulate and then go ‘tut tut’ when said corporations engage in shonky business practices.  And let’s not sugar coat reality: the Global Financial Crisis was caused by criminals on Wall Street. Closer to home we have the findings of the Banking Royal Commission. Apparently we have white collar criminals in the ANZ and Commonwealth Bank too. And then, of course, we have the thieves fronting social media and hiding behind the scenes in the ‘ad networks’. They just spy on us and steal our personal data for profit…

In a balanced ecology, you need foxes as well as chickens, but it is the role of government to protect the chickens from the foxes. Western governments are failing, in spectacular fashion. And in the process, democracy itself is under attack as never before. If we don’t stop the rot now, future generations will not be living in a democracy, they’ll be living in a corporate state, as peons**.

Meeks

* The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is responsible for operating Australia’s largest gas and electricity markets and power systems

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peon


Powerline fiasco in Nth Warrandyte

Residents in Nth Warrandyte were without power for 18 hours today. We were without power for 18 hours today, and you’d better believe that we were not amused. But the problem goes deeper than simple inconvenience. The powerlines that keep failing are these  super-dooper new ones:

As you can see from the photo, the new powerlines are much thicker than the old ones. They are also supposed to be much safer than the old ones, and therefore less likely to start bushfires in this highly bushfire-prone area.

Of course, the safest option would be to put all powerlines underground. But that would be expensive, wouldn’t it? So instead we get this half-baked alternative that keeps breaking down.

How do I know the problem is in the new powerlines? I know, because Nth Warrandyte is pretty much the only area in which these new lines have been completed. Nth Warrandyte also happens to be the only area where these long, unexpected, unplanned power outages seem to occur.

Don’t get me wrong – we’ve always had power outages in Nth Warrandyte, for as long as we’ve been here, but never like this. And never accompanied by bangs in the middle of the night. The Offspring saw and heard three explosions last night, just before midnight. Each one briefly lit up the night sky… from the exact area where the problems have been occurring.

The utility company in charge of our powerlines and electricity infrastructure is SPAusnet. This is the same company whose infrastructure may have caused the destruction of homes in Warrandyte in 2014.

The Offspring spoke to the utility today and described the explosions. The response was that ‘it was possums’.

Puleeeeeze. Possums don’t go ‘bang’. And even if it were possums, that would mean that the new, super thick, super ‘safe’ powerlines are even less capable of withstanding the ravages of nature around here. Not exactly reassuring when we’re facing a potentially catastrophic fire season in January/February.

The one bright spot is that the bridge renovations are mostly complete. That gives Nth Warrandyte residents one extra lane across the Yarra River in an emergency. The new Traffic lights are great as well, and both of these measures make living here just that little bit safer. Thanks Daniel Andrews!

Pity SPAusnet can’t get the powerlines right. I wonder how much it’ll cost the company if the new powerlines cause a fire, and they’re hit with a class action suit by all the residents of Nth Warrandyte? I’ll bet that going underground would be seen as ‘cheaper’. Then again, SPAusnet only paid out $648 million dollars in out of court compensation payments after Black Saturday, so perhaps not…

Not happy

Meeks

 


7 year retrospective

Good morning all. Apparently, it’s my anniversary. According to WordPress, I started blogging on this day, exactly seven years ago. 🙂

To be honest, all I remember about that day, and that first post, is that I didn’t expect anyone to read it. Nevertheless, I decided that if I really did need to have a blog [as all the pundits said], it would be about my passions rather than just ‘marketing’. So I dusted off my soapbox, hopped on and let rip about climate change.

Sadly, little has changed between then and now. In case you’re interested, this is my very first post, dated December 29, 2011:

# # #

When I first started writing science fiction, I was aware of climate change, but I blush to say I did not take it very seriously. I assumed that global warming would be ‘fixed’, like the hole in the ozone layer, before it could become a genuine cause for concern. Oops…

Fast forward ten years and climate change is one of the hottest topics in the media. Thanks to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, climate change has become a part of mainstream consciousness. Yet despite multiple summits – Durban being the latest – and enough talk to float a thousand zeppelins, we seem to be further from a genuine solution than ever before. Everyone knows that the world should move to a low carbon economy, but no-one wants to suffer in the process. Understandable, but just a tad short-sighted given how much suffering there is likely to be if we don’t.

So who are the protagonists in this tragic comedy? Well, in terms of sheer numbers, ordinary people like you and me are at the top of the list. We don’t understand the science – no surprise there – so we only know what the media choose to tell us, and the media are having a field day playing both sides against the middle.

On the one hand they are gleefully telling us about island nations like Tuvalu that are already beginning to disappear beneath rising sea levels, but on the other hand, they are also telling us that scientists are divided about whether climate change is real or not.

To keep the pot boiling, the media give equal air time [and validity] to crackpots  like Lord Monckton who know less about the science than I do. They also keep us guessing by all the things they don’t say. For example when they talk about dissent in the scientific ranks they fail to mention that most of the dissenting scientists are not in the climate change discipline.

However the strangest aspect of the media coverage, is their lack of interest in ferreting out who is paying whom to say what.  I have yet to see a single mainstream article that names climate change skeptics who are paid thousands of dollars per day to ‘consult’ with the very industries that have the most to gain from raising doubt about the science.

These industries  [petroleum and coal spring to mind but they are not the only ones] are using the exact same tactics that Big Tobacco used so successfully to drag the smoking ‘debate’ out for thirty years or more. They are funding genuine scientists, as well as those with no credentials whatsoever, to raise doubt in the minds of governments and ordinary citizens alike in order to delay action on climate change for as long as possible. These delaying tactics translate into profit for them, and helpless confusion for the rest of us.

And the media either can’t or won’t report it.

I am realistic enough to know that libel laws make this kind of reporting difficult, however I can’t help thinking that a certain amount of editorial gagging is also going on. After all, the media is now run by a few, very large, very powerful media barons who have connections to other equally powerful corporate players, and all of them have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo [business as usual].

Little wonder then that ordinary people are confused. But what of governments? Surely they should be better informed than we are?

The problem with governments all over the world is that they are run by politicians who have all the same failings as ordinary people. Some are stupid, some are greedy, some are self-centred and ambitious, and some are simply short-sighted. They know that climate change is real and they know that hard decisions will have to be taken if we are to avoid the worst of the consequences climate change will bring, but they are afraid of what will happen now if they try to do anything. Millions of people are already out of work, and the industries that used to employ them are tottering on the brink of collapse. Surely now is not the time to slap them with a carbon tax. Surely now is not the time to insist that they clean up their act. Surely now is not the time to rock the boat.

Or is it?

Perhaps I have spent too long playing with plot lines, but it seems to me that this is a perfect time for Darwin’s theory of natural selection to kick in. I say we should let the deadwood die instead of propping it up with financial assistance that simply ends up in the pockets of those who caused the mess in the first place.

And while the market is sorting out which companies are the fittest,  government support can be given to  all the new, emerging, low carbon industries that have been starved of funding for so long.

Let’s reward these new industries for being innovative and efficient. Let’s reward them for being lean and mean. Let’s allow them to move into the spaces left by the old dinosaurs. Let’s allow them to revive our flagging economies, and in the process give jobs to those people prepared to learn the relevant new skills.

Yes, there will be disruptions and yes, we may have to adjust our standard of living a little, but surely that is better than suddenly waking up to find that the global markets have collapsed completely because every nation on earth is threatened by rising sea levels, crop failures, famine, floods, fires, drought, disease and all the other lovely things nature can throw at us?

I love the good things in life as much as anyone, so I too I like things the way they are now. Nonetheless, if things must change then I’d rather get used to those changes gradually. And I’d rather have some choice in the matter.

– If  power production is part of the problem [as it is] then I’d rather pay a competitive price for solar panels than keep on  paying for dirty power.

– If petrol driven cars are part of the problem [as they are] then let me choose to buy a hybrid or electric car instead [which I can then charge from those lovely solar panels I put in].

– If shipping food from one end of the globe to the other is part of the problem then let me choose to eat only food that is in season and grown locally.

Adjusting to change does not have to be horrendous. Those who have money only have to change their priorities. Those who do not have money should get assistance, and most importantly re-training opportunities so they can take advantage of the new jobs the new industries will bring.

A smooth transition is possible, but only if we get our collective heads out of the sand, and only if we recognize that helping the most vulnerable amongst us is not charity but an investment in the future.

As a writer I can see the possibilities for a better, brighter future, but only time will tell whether we make the transition smoothly, or fall in a heap as a species.

As a human being I’m hoping we don’t go the way of the real dinosaurs, but as a writer I have to acknowledge that at the moment, an end-of-the-world scenario is more likely.

# # #

Thank you to all my online friends. You’ve made the last seven years fun. I hope the next seven are even better!

-hugs-

Meeks


Eyesight & Oculus Rift

As an old[er] gamer with dodgy eyesight, I’ve been worried that I’d never be able to play VR [virtual reality] games. Well, yesterday I learned that I can. 😀

But first things first: what is Oculus Rift? Basically, it’s a very expensive piece of headgear that makes it possible to view imaginary things as if they were real. The model I tried out yesterday looks like this:

As well as the goggles and inbuilt headphones, the Oculus Rift comes with two handsets that transmit Wifi data to the two ‘receiver’ units positioned in front of the ‘player’.

All of this hardware is controlled by specialist software running on a fairly powerful pc. Without getting too technical, the software sends two, separate, high resolution images to the lens inside the headset. The appropriate image then bounces through one of the lens and into the left or right eye.

To get an idea of how this works, close one eye and look at an object. Close both eyes and move a few inches to the left. Now open the other eye and look at the object again. The object hasn’t changed at all, but the viewing angle has – i.e. you’re seeing a part of the object you haven’t seen before. Put the two images together, and you get a 3D image.

The human brain interprets these separate images all the time using a process called ‘stereopsis‘. But for some individuals, stereopsis doesn’t develop as it should. The brain still gets streams of images from both eyes, but these individuals see depth using a process called ‘motion parallax‘.

I am one of these individuals, and that’s why I worried I wouldn’t be able to see in VR. But I can! I can. My spatial awareness expanded right out, and when a bunch of very large robots suddenly turned feral and loomed over me, I instinctively threw my hands up to protect my head! I also squeaked in fear, but the less said about that the better. 😀

This is a video of a bunch of older people experiencing VR for the first time:

The headset shown in the video clip is the VIVE rather than the Oculus Rift, but the experience is much the same.

I wasn’t wearing glasses when I tried out the Rift, but apparently you can fit your normal glasses inside the goggles by adjusting the fit.

And now a word or two about the quality of the graphics. I wasn’t wearing any of my glasses [I have 3, one each for long, mid-range and close viewing] and that may have made the graphics less than optimal. Or it may be that the graphics still need to be improved. Or perhaps you simply need bleeding edge computer hardware to get the best results. Whatever the reason, I was in no danger of mistaking computer generated graphics for the real thing. But…the sensation of depth really does trick the brain into believing the images are real. One day, we may not be able to perceive the difference at all.

Finally, some unpleasant aspects of the hardware. For starters, the goggles are heavy. Whilst you’re ‘inside’, you tend to forget about the weight because there’s so much there to distract you, but it does feel a bit like carrying half a brick around on your head. It’s also hot. Yesterday was only warm, but after ten minutes playing with the Rift, my hair was wet with sweat.

A big part of the weight of the Rift comes from the glass lenses that make the magic possible. Given how young the technology is, I suspect the mechanics will be improved rapidly. One improvement I would very much like to see is in the handsets. Although they are far more intuitive than the controllers used with consoles, they’re still clunky. Gloves and a full-body suit with embedded sensors would be miles better. They’d also be miles more expensive, but hopefully the price will come down by the time I can afford to buy one. 😉

All in all, I loved my taste of VR, and now that I know I can see despite the issues with my eyesight, I’m determined to own my own setup…one day.

cheers

Meeks


A European Christmas…Downunder

As some of you may know, I was born in Hungary and was four when we arrived in Australia as refugees. To keep some of our Hungarian heritage alive, we spoke only Hungarian at home, and we always celebrated Christmas on the 24th. That’s a tradition the Offspring and I have continued to this very day, so we’ve already had our Christmas, but now I’d like to invite you all to share a digital Christmas feast with us. 🙂

We had duck last year, so this year I decided to cook a whole eye fillet with scalloped potatoes [a la Mumma], and the Offspring made a huge green salad. No turkey [not fond of turkey], and salad instead of hot vegetables because it was hot, hot, hot yesterday. I think it got to about 35 C [roughly 95F].As it was, to counteract the heat of the oven, we had to have the air conditioner on all day.

If any of you cooks out there are interested, I made a stuffing/marinade for the eye fillet by mixing together:

  • 3 large cloves of garlic [mashed],
  • 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard,
  • 1-2 tablespoons of peanut oil,
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh, finely chopped parsley,
  • freshly ground black pepper,
  • a pinch of dried chillies,
  • a heaped tablespoon of breadcrumbs,
  • a pinch of salt.

Next, I lightly scored the ‘skin’ of the eye fillet [just enough to expose the meat underneath] and gently pressed the stuffing/marinade all over the top of the fillet. Then I placed the fillet in a small baking dish, covered it with foil and placed it back in the fridge for about 8 hours [overnight is fine too].

About an hour before we were ready to eat, I placed the dish containing the fillet in a cold oven and turned on the heat [approx. 160 C on fanbake]. I left the foil on for the first 1/2 an hour so the meat would cook gently.

After 1/2 an hour, I removed the foil and continued baking the fillet for another 1/2 an hour until the ‘stuffing’ on top turned into a crust. I allowed the fillet to rest for about 15 minutes before serving.

Baking the fillet for an hour created a moist, juicy roast that was just a tiny bit pinkish in the middle. That’s how we like our beef. If you want your beef to be more rare, reduce the amount of time the fillet stays under foil.

I have to say that the fillet was literally melt-in-the-mouth tender, and the tiny bit of heat from the chillies went perfectly with the full cream goodness of the scalloped potatoes and the tart freshness of the salad.

Everyone has a scalloped potato recipe, and mine comes from my Mum. It starts with pink, Desiree potatoes. I cooked them, in their skins, along with the eggs. The eggs came out first, obviously, and went straight under cold tap water. The cold water causes the inner membrane of the eggs to slightly detach from the whites so the eggs are dead easy to peel.

Next, I tested the potatoes with a bamboo skewer. As soon as the skewer just managed to go through, I drained the water and plunged the potatoes into cold water as well. Again, this made it much easier to peel the skin, plus it stopped them from cooking further.

Finally, I sliced both eggs and potatoes and layered them in a baking dish with a generous drizzle of cream and a sprinkle of table salt between in each layer. I drizzled more cream over the top, then placed the dish into the same oven as the fillet. When the potatoes turned a golden brown, everything was ready to come out of the oven:

To say that the potatoes were rich would be a monumental understatement. To cut that much richness, you just have to have a big salad:

The Offspring made the salad with Romaine lettuce, sweet red capsicum [peppers?], cucumber and spring onions [scallions?]. The dressing included oil, Balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic, Dijon mustard, salt and freshly chopped parsley [about 1 tablespoon].

But, of course, no feast would be complete without dessert. The Offspring made Gingerboys, lots and lots of Gingerboys:

…and I made chocolate mousse cupcakes:

These cupcakes were made using the exact same recipe as for Chocolate Mousse Cake. The only difference was in the banking. I made ten little sponge cupcakes [approx. 7 minutes in the over], glued two together with about an inch of chocolate mouse and shaved dark chocolate over the top. Bite sized versions of death-by-chocolate. 😀

Wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, The Offspring and I wish you all a very happy Holiday with oodles of delicious food and even more good company.

-massive hugs-

Meeks & The Offspring

Christmas 2018

 


The Godsend – Introducing Jaimie

The Godsend is the 2nd book of Innerscape and continues the story of Miira Tahn and the digital world she now inhabits.
In this short excerpt, Miira gets to meet Jaimie Watson for the first time. Despite his youth and apparent rudeness, Jaimie will become a pivotal character in The Godsend.

* * *

 

Miira stepped out into the Tokyo HUB and stopped, stunned by the sheer volume of people crowding the vast, circular concourse. There must have been thousands of them.

Shaking her head in bemusement, she was scanning the crowd for her next guide when she caught sight of a young man with shoulder-length blond hair and wild blue eyes. His long black coat reminded her of dark wings as he pushed his way through the crowd.

Stopping to watch the bright angel run past, she was caught off guard when he suddenly changed direction and barreled towards her. She managed to step out of the way, but her bags were not quite quick enough.

The young man tripped over the bags and grabbed at Miira on the way down. For one timeless moment, they teetered together, then momentum sent them both crashing to the ground.

“Oouw!” Miira yelped as her head hit the tiles. The yelp was followed by an ouff as an elbow knocked the breath from her body.

“Shit, shit, shit!” the young man muttered as he pushed himself to his knees and tried to help Miira sit up. “Just my fucking luck…are you okay?”

“I…think so,” Miira wheezed, one hand going to the back of her head where a small but uncomfortable bump was growing beneath her fingers. “Sometimes reality could be a little less real.”

“Yeah,” the young man said with a frown. “Look. I’m really sorry. I thought you were just a, you know, NRA.”

“Because I look Asian?” Miira snapped, shock giving way to anger.

“I didn’t mean it that way!” the young man protested. “I just… Ah, crap.”

Bending from the waist, he bowed in a very Asian way and murmured, “Gomenasai…”

Maybe he wasn’t being racist after all, Miira thought, impressed despite herself. She probably had looked like all the other NRAs milling around.

“So what did that mean?” she asked, her tone marginally less hostile.

“It means ‘I’m sorry’.”

“Okay. But is your Japanese good enough to get me a taxi?”

The young man’s lip curled in a sneer, as if offended by the very thought that his Japanese might not be fluent.

“Of course. Where do you want to go?”

That’s a good question, Miira thought. After being dwarfed by the Hilton in Aqaba, she had no desire to go to one of the big international hotels. Unfortunately, they were likely to be the only places where her own lack of Japanese would not matter.

“Do you know of any traditional hotels here in Tokyo where the staff still speak some English?”

“Hmmm… You’re not going to get traditional anything in Tokyo,” the young man said with a frown. “But I know a great ryokan in Kyoto where you can do the whole traditional shi-thing, and the staff all speak English.”

“Rio-kan? What’s that?”

“Boy, you really don’t know anything do you?” he retorted, his tone superior.

Miira just raised an eyebrow at him. Her head still hurt, and she was in no mood to be talked down to.

“Okay, okay!” he cried, throwing up his hands. “A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn dating back to the time when this place was still called Edo. Happy now?”

“Yes, thank you,” Miira said. Kyoto was where she intended to go the next day anyway, so it was not out of the question. “Would I have to go through the HUB again to get there?”

“No, Kyoto is part of Tokyo HUB.”

“Fine, in that case, you get me a taxi to this ryo-kan of yours, and I promise not to sue for grievous bodily harm.”

“Har de hah hah,” he replied, but his lips quirked as if he were trying to restrain a real smile. “C’mon then.”

“Wait!” Miira said to his retreating back. “I can’t keep calling you ‘hey you’. What’s your name?”

“Jaimie. Now c’mon, I haven’t got all day.”

Jaimie? As in Jaimie Watson? Miira wondered as she started after her bad-tempered young guide.

Now that she thought about it, he was certainly rude enough to be eighteen. But there was also a vitality about him she had not seen in many other Residents.

Maybe Nour was right? Maybe young Jaimie Watson had discovered the way to live a good life in Innerscape?

“Let’s go, bags,” Miira said with a shrug. “Our guide is definitely not going to wait.”

 

cheers

Meeks


Schnitzel – tips & tricks

I rarely order schnitzel in restaurants because it’s almost always awful – thin, dry and tasteless. If you dislike conventional schnitzel as well, this recipe is for you.

SCHNITZEL from Meeka’s Mum

Moist, tender schnitzel begins with good meat:

  • Pale, young veal,
  • Yearling beef,
  • Chicken thigh fillets [not breast!],
  • Pork [lean].

Next, the meat should not be ‘tenderised’. You want it thick so it doesn’t dry out into a nasty piece of crumbed leather.

To begin, sprinkle a little table salt over the meat and pop it back in the fridge until you’re ready to start preparing the schnitzel. Minimum resting time is half an hour but you can leave it overnight if necessary. [The salt will give the meat just the right amount of ‘tenderising’].

Next I prepare three bowls, 2 small, one large:

Once the meat has tenderised enough, dip the first piece into the flour and pat off the excess. Next, dip the floured meat into the beaten egg and allow the excess to drain off [just hold it on the end of a fork]. Finally, bury the meat in the breadcrumbs. This is why you need a big bowel. Press down on the meat with your knuckles to force lots of breadcrumbs into the meat. Turn, cover with more breadcrumbs and press down hard again. You should end up with a nice thick crust of breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Repeat the crumbing process until all the meat is ready to be cooked.

The final trick to perfect, tender, crunchy schnitzel is the cooking. You will pan fry it. You will not deep fry it.

I use a heavy cast iron frying pan on a medium gas burner. Adjust the heat to suit your frying pan/stove.

Pour just enough peanut oil into the bottom of the pan to cover to about 1/8th of an inch. [I always use peanut oil for frying because it works well with high heat and has a mild, pleasant flavour that doesn’t interfere with the flavour of the actual food].

The oil has to get hot but not to smoking temperature! To test the temperature, drop a breadcrumb into the middle of the hot oil. If the crumb immediately sizzles, the oil is ready.

When the oil is hot enough, gently place a couple of pieces of schnitzel in the pan, taking care to leave enough room around each piece so they all cook evenly. Now comes the critical step!

Turn the heat down as low as it will go and put a big lid over the top.

[The lid keeps the meat cooking at just the right temperature so it becomes tender but not dry and chewy].

When you hear activity from beneath the lid [5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat and the heat of the oil], lift the lid and have a look. If the bottom of the meat is golden brown, flip each piece over and fry them for a few minutes more, without the lid, to make the second side crisp and crunchy.

 

[I did make schnitzel last night, but I forgot to take photos so this one is from freeimages.com. The shallow frying technique is exactly the same though.]

When frying the second side, be careful not to burn it. [The meat is already cooked so it browns much faster than the first side!]

Once both sides are golden brown, remove the meat from the pan and drain on absorbent paper or a few slices of bread.

Repeat the exact same cooking process until all the meat is cooked. [You may have to add a little extra oil between batches]. The schnitzel will be tender and juicy on the inside and crunchy on the outside.

 

Bon appetit!

Meeks


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