OK, I ran out of snacks for Hamish and Duncan so I decided to try some cheese straws. I used the recipe here. The Guardian’s recipe promised “perfect Cheese straws”. Sounded good. The article actually goes into the topic of cheese straws in some depth quoting various chefs, but has its recipe towards the bottom of the main article, above the comments.
I made half quantities again, but even so, it only took a few minutes before my hands started to ache as I rubbed the butter in. I abandoned the manual approach and used a food mixer. This was the first time I’d seriously used a food mixer, so I’m not sure if I used the right blades or not. They were sharp-edged metal things.
I discovered a couple of things about processing stuff in food mixers.
Firstly, if you have to add a lot of an ingredient, a quantity of cheese for example, it’s a lot easier to add bulk ingredients by stopping the mixer and taking the top off and dumping it all in. Shoving it through the tiny hole at the top doesn’t really hack it! Doh!
Secondly, the recipe says to add water slowly until the dough ‘comes together in a firm dough’. What this means is that the dough suddenly goes from a breadcrumb-like consistency to a single sizeable lump and the mixer leaps about the work surface.
Anyway, here’s the dough in cling film ready for the fridge.
After the dough had been in the fridge for 30 minutes, it was just a matter of making the straws and cooking them.
Making them was simple enough, but I misread the instructions and cooked them for only 5 minutes instead of 20 minutes! So I put them in for 5 minutes at a time until they were cooked. Actually they tasted a bit doughy so perhaps I should have cooked them longer. Here’s the finished product.
I can understand the Pope, who is old, sick, and reportedly tired of the job, resigning. I can see that it has come as a surprise to many people. What I can’t understand is the reactions that people have to the announcement. It isn’t unprecedented, as Popes have resigned before.
However, some people believe that the Pope is elected for life and that resigning as Benedict XVI has done is close to sacrilege. I believe that the thinking goes something like this: God has chosen a particular man to be Pope. For that man to relinquish the post is for that man to, by his actions, imply that God is mistaken, and that cannot be.
If there is a God, and I’m firmly in the other camp, then He, being omnipotent and omniscient, not to mention omni-temporal, must know that His chosen candidate will resign the post, and has arranged matters so that this happens. In other words the resignation was ordained. It seems that one cannot get away from predestination! (The above description of God ‘knowing’ and ‘arranging’ is of course anthropomorphic).
Put into a religious context, the debate over predestination versus free will comes down to the following:
If God is all-seeing and all powerful then He has control over everything and nothing happens which He hasn’t caused to happen. If there were something that He hadn’t caused to happen, then that would have to (de facto) be caused externally to God. God and whatever outside of God that caused the event would have to exist in much the same sense and such an existence would have to have a frame of existence, a ‘container’ if you like, that contains both God and the other thing. However, I started out by crediting God as being all-seeing and all powerful and that doesn’t seem to leave room for things outside of God as that implies something greater than God. So given the concept of an all powerful God there can be nothing that He hasn’t caused to happen and which he does not know about.
OK, so if God causes everything, then he causes every event to happen. He (ultimately) causes us to make the particular decisions that we make. So the concept of free will evaporates, as God causes us pick the options that we do, even if we think that we make a choice.
Of course God may be a compatibilist – He may believe that if he presents us with a number of options, we have the free will to select an option, even though the selection is in fact predetermined by Him.
Of course, shorn of the religious tones, the above argument still applies, if, for example, you replace the references to God with references to ‘Nature’ or ‘the natural laws’.
Damper or camp bread is a quick and easy bread which does not use yeast as a raising agent. Since it does not use yeast it needs either ‘self-raising’ flour or rising agents like baking powder.
The reason I was considering it was that I found that I’d forgotten to bake any bread. I decided to make some damper from a recipe that I found on the Internet. I chose to make half-quantities and may have miscalculated somewhere as the dough was dry and flakey even after adding all the specified liquid. (The recipe referred to uses water – some recipes use milk).
I added a little more water to get a reasonable dough and cooked it as specified. It came out a bit ‘blond’ probably because I didn’t glaze it with a little milk. It was very crumbly. I’ve not made or had damper before so I’m not sure if this is usual. The taste was more like scone than bread. Anyway, here it is.
We nearly always grow Scarlet Runner beans and they grow well here in Wellington. Unfortunately the Wellington weather gave them a severe battering yesterday and blew down the poles. (We had a month’s rain in 24 hours!). I raised the poles and made them secure with an anchor to a tree at each end and hopefully they will survive. In spite of that I still managed to get 1.5 pounds (750 grams) of beans off them!
I put some by for today and looked on the Internet to find out how to preserve them. The site that I came across recommended blanching them and freezing them..
So I washed them, and then topped and tailed them and cut them into lengths as shown in the image.
Then I set out to blanch them. This process involves giving them a quick boil and then cooling them equally quickly, so I put on a pot of water and got the ice out of the freezer.
Here the logistics got slightly tricky. I didn’t have a lot of ice so I filled up the sink with cold water and put the bowl of ice in it. The idea was for the cold water to slow down the melting of the ice. I don’t know if this actually works or not.
The second issue was that I couldn’t do all the beans in one hit. I boiled half the beans for the recommended three minutes and then hit a snag. I couldn’t drain them into the sink as it had the ice in it surrounded by water! OK, a spare pan solved that one. I dumped the first lot of beans into the ice and filled the original pan with boiled water from the jug and boiled the second lot of beans for three minutes.
The rule of thumb was for the beans to be chilled for as long as they were boiled, so just when the second lot were done the first lot were scheduled to come out of the ice. I didn’t worry too much about this – I just dumped the second lot of beans in with the first. Most of the ice had melted by then. After another three minutes I drained all the beans and put them into a ziplock bag and here is the result.
Next time, if I get as many beans, I will arranged the ice and boiling water in advance so that I don’t have as many (minor) clitches as this time!
Bilbo’s poem “The Road Goes Ever On” from “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” encapsulates the opposed and surely incompatible concepts of “free will” and “determinism”. Wikipedia puts it this way:
Earlier, when leaving the Shire, Frodo tells the other hobbits Bilbo’s thoughts on ‘The Road’: “He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.'”.
Firstly Bilbo refers to the many choices that a journey forces on the traveller with the metaphor of a river, its branching and its tributaries, but he also acknowledges that one might be “swept off”, of the travellers path being beyond his control.
I feel that the second case (of one’s path being beyond one’s control) is a nod to the concept of determinism. I never set out to post mainly about food, though that is what has happened. I intended, as I stated in my very first post that there would be a triple focus to this blog. So this is in part an attempt to address the lack of balance.
So I’ve chosen to tackle a philosophical topic this time. Or did I? Did I actually make a choice, or was my switch to a philosophical topic pre-destined, and simply predetermined by previous events? Could I have chosen not to have written on this topic?
There are three main views expressed on the topic of freewill versus predestination. The first is that we do have freewill and many people consider this “obvious” and not really worth debating. The second view is that each and every action is pre-destined and that choice is an illusion. A third view tries to sidestep the debate by claiming that the two views are not mutually exclusive. Compatibilists (who espouse this third view) argue that, provided we were in a position to make a choice between two courses of action and we later turn out to have taken one of them (or as it is more usually put, if we could have chosen to do take the other course) then we have made a choice, even if the outcome of making the choice was predestined and therefore both of the other two views are valid.
I’ve always thought that the compatibilist viewpoint was a cop out, or a case of trying to have your cake and eat it. I’ve thought that it devalues choice, which to me means the ability to opt for one course freely and without the outcome being decided or predestined. However I’ve recently thought of an analogy that could support the compatibilist viewpoint.
The analogy is a computer program. There are “decision points” in a program. Should this bit of code be executed next or that bit of code? Should the program perform the loop one more time, or just carry on with the next bit of code? In each case the decision is made depending on the state of the program at the time, perhaps determined by the state of a variable. It could be said that there is a choice involved in each of these decisions, but when the program is executing and it comes to a decision point its state is determined and the course of the execution is completely determined.
So, humans are not computers, are they? But the underlying point of the analogy is that the programmer writes the software program to make a decision depending on the situation when the program is run. When the program is run, the decision is made depending on the situation at the time. Similarly with humans, perhaps. At one level there is the choice “programmed into” the situation by the past state of the universe. At another level the decision is predetermined by the current state of the universe. Asking the question “Is there free will, or is everything predetermined?” is comparing apples with oranges.
Possibly. I’m not completely convinced. The compatibilists still have an ethical issue – is it ethical to punish someone for a crime even though they (presumably) chose to commit it, because their choice was predetermined.
Mmm, I decided to try a little more unusual bread this time, a flat bread instead of the more normal loaves. While focaccia is a risen bread and does use yeast, it is still categorised as a flat bread. I got the recipe here.
The recipe is fairly complex. You have to form a ‘well’ from the dry ingredients, add the yeast and water, let the yeast start working them fold in the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. Then you raise it as normal, knock it back and let it raise in a cold oven with a dish of hot water below it. Then you turn the oven on and cook the bread. It seems to me that there is unnecessary complexity there, but I’ll see when I try it again.
Today I decided to make “Spaghetti Bolognese”. Since I didn’t know what constitutes a Bolognese sauce I asked Mr Google who kindly directed me to Wikipedia. I found out that, interestingly, that Spaghetti and Bolognese sauce (a meat-based sauce or ragù) are not traditionally served together in Bologna and Italy. It didn’t even start out containing tomatoes! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolognese_sauce).
However the recipe today for Bolognese sauce includes a meat base, with a relatively large tomato component. The other ingredients seem more variable so I decided to wing it.
I browned the beef mince in a pan, and in another pan I started off the onions. To the first pan I then added a small tin of tomato paste, and added a small amount of herbs and seasoning. I also added some diced fresh tomato and red pepper.
Here’s a picture of the work in progress. The onion and the tomato are a bit chunky for a proper Bolognese sauce, perhaps. Wikipedia says that they should be chopped up smaller.
I added the partly cooked onion and red pepper and then I remembered that the recipe included bacon. That sounded like a good idea to me but I had to defrost some first. (Maybe I’ll use the rest of the bacon for a bacon and egg pie? I’ve not tried pastry yet!). Anyway, in some bacon went.
Just about then I realised that I’d forgotten to start off the spaghetti! Whoops! So I had to take the almost completed Bolognese sauce off while I boiled some water and put some spaghetti on to cook.
In the last picture you can see the end result. It tasted pretty good too!
However, I just realised that I had forgotten to add the mushrooms that I had meant to add. Oh well!
I had a large piece of cooked lamb to use up, so I decided to make a shepherd’s pie. I first removed the meat from the bone and minced it in a food processor, and then I added two stock cubes and two cups of water to the meat, plus some spices and seasoning. Then I put the dish in the oven at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes.
In retrospect I think that one or one and a half cups of water would have been sufficient, or I could have thickened the mixture a little.
I peeled and boiled some general purpose potatoes for 10 minutes or so. I also had some Perlas but I decided that they would be too small for the topping so I didn’t use them.
I sliced the par-boiled potatoes and arranged them on the surface of the minced lamb as you can see, and put the disk back in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes. Then I grated some cheese onto the top and returned the dish to the oven for another 5 minutes.
Unfortunately the potatoes were still on the raw side so I returned the pie to the oven for 15 minutes more. When I do this dish again I will cook the potatoes almost to completion before I add them to the pie.
Any blog needs a theme. Well, this one has at least three.
Firstly, I’ve long wanted to gather my thoughts on philosophical topics in one place, so there should be some philosophy in there. I must admit that my philosophical thoughts are a bit of a mish-mash, but in writing them down, maybe I will be able to rationalise them a bit!
Secondly, I want to throw up some of my photographs, both of my family and of other things. Here’s a photo I took on my last visit to England for my father’s 90th birthday.
Thirdly, I want to blog my notes on my cooking exploits. Currently these comprise mostly baking breads. This is the latest loaf, a white bread one, made in a Breville “Baker’s Oven”.