Back to the beginning – Cheese Scones.

Cheese scones
Cheese scones

I think that the first thing that I ever cooked was cheese scones. They are an ideal project to start cooking on as they are so simple. I’m not going to mention the actual recipe that I used since there are probably millions of them and they all work pretty well. Basically cheese scones are made from flour (usually self-raising), some shortening (butter, margarine, oil), a small amount of liquid (water or milk), some baking soda (to give the typical scone ‘tang’), salt and a little mustard to taste and of course cheese, usually a fairly strong variety.

They are simple and quick to make and cook and equally simple and quick to eat! I like them hot with butter and apparently so do most people, and in fact I doubt that many scones get to cool to room temperature! If you fancied it, you could add a touch of chili I guess, or some ham or prosciutto. Of course, they don’t have to be cheese scones – I’ve always liked date scones. I suspect that with sweet scones you’d need to reduce or remove the baking soda though.

Anyway my efforts are shown above and below. The pictures don’t really show how toasty brown they were. They look a little pallid in the pictures. I can assure you that they tasted great!

Cheese Scones
Cheese Scones

(I intend to try to post to this blog at least once a week – I haven’t posted since the end of last month and that is not good!)

Soda Bread

We had run out of bread through an oversight, so I decided to make a loaf of Soda Bread (from a recipe in “The Cookery Year”, Reader’s Digest, 1974). This is a non-yeast recipe and uses Bicarbonate of Soda and Cream of Tartar as raising agents. These ingredients produce the Carbon Dioxide in the dough that would be produced by yeast in a standard dough.

Bubbles of Sourdough
CO2 bubbles in a Sourdough ‘starter’.

I decided to cook the Soda Bread in a loaf tin instead of on a tray and it came out looking great. However, there was a tiny bit of uncooked dough at the centre. The outside was beautifully crunchy, so I’m guessing that the mixture was too deep in the tin and it would have been cooked all the way through if I had let it spread more thinly by cooking it on a tray.

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Soda Bread 1
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Soda Bread 2

Poems and poetry

I usually have some idea of where I am going when I start a post, but this time I’m starting with no real idea of what I’m going to say. It’s just that the idea of “Poetry” entered my brain from somewhere and some synapse went “ping” or some switch closed somewhere in my brain. Two metaphors for something stirring my interest.

(Ah yes! I remember now. I read somewhere that April is National Poetry Month in the USA.)

National Poetry Month Display @ Forest Hills
National Poetry Month Display @ Forest Hills

I’m not going to touch on what exactly poetry is. It doesn’t lend itself to easy definition, and in fact, any definition can only  partially explain what it is, so I’ll not try to define it, although I may touch on some of the aspects of what makes it poetry. If you try for a definition, you will find that you have to keep adding exclusions and extensions to your definition, and eventually you will find that you will need to add exclusions and extensions to your exclusions and extensions.

One of the things that poetry is, usually, is rhythmical. In the poems we learnt at school the rhythm was, usually, strong. Most people of my era will remember at least the first few words of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death,
Rode the six hundred.

The poem also contains other well-remembered lines such as –

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die
Charge of the Light Brigade. An example of the...
Charge of the Light Brigade.

Poetry teachers tend to emphasise that the rhythm of this poem echoes the rhythm of the galloping horses, and so it does, of course. But maybe what is more pertinent is that the rhythm of the poem possibly aids strongly in the retention in the brain of the memory of the poem. Maybe a memory needs to be refreshed periodically in order for the memory to be retained and a strongly rhythmical memory is more easily refreshed.

I have no idea if it still applies, but in the early days of computers for data to be retained in the memory of the computer it had to be regularly read and re-written or refreshed. There may or may not be any real parallel between the way that computer memory and memory in the brain works, but the idea is, for me, evocative of a connection.

We certainly remember the rhythm of a poem more strongly than we remember the words – someone may start to quote a poem, run out of remembered words and conclude with “dum-de-dum-de-dah” or something.

Symphony Hall abstract
Symphony Hall abstract – rhythm in shape

If the rhythms of poetry help the poem and the ideas presented by the poem be remembered, they also act to grab the attention of the person who hears or reads the poem. Poetry shades into music and in pop music almost every song or track has a “hook”, the hook being what grabs the listener’s attention. An outstanding example is the tinkly little phrase in the song “Somebody that I used to know” by Gotye. Or the Largo from the second movement of Dvořák’s Symphony number 9 in E Minor, (From the New World) if you want something more highbrow!

These are musical hooks, but rhythmical hooks abound, such as the one in the Charge of the Light Brigade.I’ll also mention the rhythmical hook in the little poem that helps English speakers remember the number of days in each month:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone,
And that has twenty-eight days clear,
And twenty-nine in each leap year.

This maybe works more because the rhythm and the rhyming is somewhat defective than for any other reason! Anthropomorphically, the brain goes “Ewww! That’s wrong!” and is hooked. Maybe.

I mentioned that poetry shades into song.  As an aside perhaps Rap falls into a gap between poetry and song. Ordinary speech shades into formal speeches, which shade into prose such as is found in great novels, which shade into poems, which shade into songs, which shade into music, at least in the way that I’ve been discussing.

Pranksta Rap
Rap – somewhere between poetry and song?

The common thread is rhythm to attract attention and rhythm to aid memory. Maybe if we understood more about the effects that rhythm and rhyme have on the brain, or how the brain uses rhythm and rhyme, or even how rhythm and rhyme are fundamental to the workings of the brain (if they are), then we would understand the brain much better.

Word is Born
Poetry is usually words, but there are exceptions to that, of course

Focaccia with bacon and tomato

I have previously cooked Focaccia and blogged about it. That was a pretty simple bread recipe and I added nothing to it, so I decided to have another go and add a few frills.

The original recipe uses Rosemary and Parmesan cheese and I added neither of these to my first try at the recipe, purely because both were in short supply. This time I decided to forgo the Rosemary as once again there was none to hand. However there was bacon! Also, I thought that some tomato would brighten it up a little. So I had a recipe.

The first rising was done in the usual way, in a warm spot. For the second rising, the recipe says to put the bread into a cold oven with a dish of hot water. I decided instead to put the bread into the grill which sits above our oven, with the oven on and the actual grill off. This worked splendidly.

After the second rising I added chopped bacon and chopped tomato and dusted it all with ground parmesan. If it looks a bit “rustic”, some visitors arrived as I cooking so I was short of time, but I reckon it looks pretty good anyway!

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Focaccia with bacon and tomato
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Focaccia with bacon and tomato

By the way, it tasted good too!

Religion and ceremonies

I’m not a religious person, but two or three times a year my wife drags me to church. I love the rituals and the ceremonials.

At Easter the local Roman Catholic church on Good Friday enacts the ritual of the “Stations of the Cross”. Whatever one might think of religion, the ceremonials add a dignity to the institution of the church and I like this one.

The celebrants face in order one of the “stations” which is a depiction of one of the stages in the progress of Christ to the cross and thence to his entombment. At each station a fairly free-form prayer or verse is sung.

I find the ritual moving, but I don’t know why! As I said, I’m not religious, but the re-enactment of this religion’s pivotal event is engaging. I suspect that I would experience similar feeling if I experienced a similar re-enactment of another religion’s similar event.

Reenacting the Stations of the Cross in Jerusa...
Reenacting the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa from the Lions’ Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a non-believer I’m bemused as to why I feel moved by the ritual. I should recognise it as such and discount it, but rituals such as this, and the marriage ritual do move me. Even if the ritual is supposedly secular as in many marriages.

Ceremony and ritual are so necessary to human social interactions that we invent them if there aren’t any there already – a good example is the POTUS, the President of the United States. So many rituals surround him, and they were invented just for him.

The stations of the cross supposedly started with St Francis of Assisi, and this is interesting, since “Francis” is the name chosen by the current and recently elected Pope. It will be interesting to see how far this apparently humble man can extend his concern for the poor throughout his church. Interestingly, he has included women and non-christians in his “washing of the feet” ritual for Maundy Thursday.

Pope Francis washes feet
Pope Francis washes feet

Hot Cross Buns

I thought about cooking “Hot Cross Buns” for a while, but finally decided to make an attempt at cooking some. There are three components to Hot Cross Buns, firstly the buns themselves, secondly the cross on the top, and thirdly the glaze. I used this recipe from the New Zealand Herald. Here’s the result.

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Hot cross buns

The dough was straightforward, but included extra ingredients like sultanas. An interesting observation was that the sultanas seemed to pop out of the dough if they came to the surface during kneading!

After the usual kneading and rising the dough was divided into buns and the cross was put onto them. The cross was a simple mixture of flour and water but piping it onto the buns was a challenge. Unlike frosting or icing I didn’t find it easy to finish a line. I snipped the line of ‘cross’ with kitchen scissors to end it. A wet finger tidied up, but I wasn’t completely happy with the crosses (and they turned out to be chewy. The dog benefited!)

As a final step, when the buns were cooked, the glaze was applied. It’s a simple gelatine glaze, but I’ve not done one before, so I was pleased with the results. The glaze gave, as intended, a nice shiny, sticky finish to the buns.

The buns tasted great, so I consider this a great success.

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Hot cross buns

Morals and Ethics

Morality
Morality

Almost every philosophy book, or at least the ones that deal with the whole of philosophy, has a section on morals and ethics. I’ve always been suspicious of such chapters as the topic seems to me to be a little vague, even for philosophy.

I saw a news report about a group of people who, at some risk to themselves, formed a human chain to rescue a boy in trouble in the sea. I asked the question “Would you have risked your life, like these people did to save the boy’s life or would you merely stand and watch?” Some of rescuers, notably the policemen who initially formed the chain, had to be helped out of the sea themselves.

I realised that I’d asked an unanswerable question. It very much depends on the circumstances. If you sincerely thought that your “help” would merely hinder the rescue, or if you sufferred from a medical condition such as a heart problem, then you would merely watch the rescue, no doubt willing the rescuers on. If you were fit and healthy and no other issues prevented you, you would no doubt take part, almost instinctively.

English: Hungarian Medal for Bravery

It strikes me from the above that morals and ethics don’t have any absolutes. There is no situation where it is completely obvious what the right course is. Should you kill one person to save a million? There is a school of thought called “Utilitarianism”, {link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilitarianism} suggests that the best way to decide would be to consider the options and choose the that “maximizes utility, specifically defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering” (See the above link).

Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism

The trouble with this approach is that no two people would agree on the calculations involved. What if the person who is to be killed is your son or daughter? What is the situation were slightly less clear? Should a killer be put to death to protect his potential future victims?

Death Row

Some people introduce deities to provide an absolute basis for ethics and morals, but this merely shifts the question to deity – how does the deity provide moral and ethical direction? The question is no longer “What should I do?” but “What would God want me to do?” The believer has to make subjective moral judgements about the way that God would want morals to work. The believer is in fact no further on.

Moses receives the Tablets of the Law, and hea...

This seems to reduce morals and ethics to subjective opinions, a view known as “Relativism”. The religious view is that God (or whatever the deity is being called) sets the absolutes, so there can be no moral relativism. The difficulty with this view is that we are no further along in determining the absolutes if they are absolutes. It seems that different deities have different absolutes, and the same deity’s “absolutes” may change over time – the morals and ethics of earlier times is different to the morals and ethics of earlier times. For example slavery was OK at one time but is not OK today. In any a special class of people has evolved whose whole life is based on the need for the deities views to be defined and interpreted.

I’d suggest that most people treat moral and ethical matters more or less pragmatically, depending on their culture and upbringing. Those who are not on the breadline tend to consider that accepting an unemployment benefit or other benefit is somehow not morally correct while those without jobs are happy to claim them. If someone on a benefit were to suddenly become rich, and a rich person become desititute then they would get an idea of each other’s viewpoint. I’d suggest that the erstwhile rich person would accept the dole with reluctance, and their moral qualms would subside and the reverse would happen to the suddenly enriched beneficiary, who might come to feel that those on benefits are getting too much of his money. Hopefully the enriched beneficiary would have a more enlightened view than the erstwhile rich person had, though, having actually been a beneficiary at one time.

Huts and unemployed, West Houston and Mercer S...

While researching on the Internet on this topic, I came across this set of articles about morality and the brain {Link: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/morality-located-in-brain1.htm} They are worth a look. One of the points is that the emotional side of the brain makes a decision, maybe about the killing of a child to save many, and the rational side tries to figure out why the emotional side made the decision. Maybe the discussion is pointless. Maybe most moral decisions made in the heat of the moment are made emotionally and all discussions on what the correct course should be are post-decision rationalizations. If that is so, then there is no real point in discussing what is right and moral as rational decisions do not come into it. But then again, maybe such decisions inform and incline the emotional side of the brain when it makes a decision. Maybe that’s what makes discsussion of moral and ethics topics in philosophy seem so fuzzy and unsatisfactory to me.

reason, conclusion - emotion, action
reason, conclusion – emotion, action (Photo credit: Will Lion)

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Found at https://i0.wp.com/i-cdn.apartmenttherapy.com/uimages/kitchen/2011-09-28-BakedPotato.jpg
Unfortunately these are not my baked potatoes. Click to see the source page.

Well, cheesy baked potatoes would be more accurate. I took two large potatoes, washed them and pierced them, and stuck them in the oven at 220 degrees centigrade. I checked them at 30 minutes, at 45 minutes, and one hour and still they weren’t completely done! Maybe they were too big. Almost certainly they were too big.

When they were done (I thought) I hollowed out the potatoes and mashed the innards and added the cheese. Then I put the cheesy mix back into the potatoes and put the potatoes back in the oven for 15 minutes.

As it turned out, while the top part of the potatoes was fully cooked, the bottom parts were OK, but could have done with a bit more cooking. Who would have thought that simple baked potatoes could have been such an issue?

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Baked potatoes with cheese

The lessons I’ve learned is to use smaller potatoes – large ones take a long time. Also, I think I should have turned the potatoes at least once.

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Cheesy potatoes

As usual I looked on the Internet for advice. To summarize the advice there, I could have wrapped the potatoes in foil, or zapped them in the microwave. If I take either of these approaches in the future, I could finish them off in the oven to crisp the skin before removing the innards and stuffing them.

Stuffed Marrow (a dismal failure)

I nearly didn’t post this, since it didn’t really work! All my previous “culinary experiments” have been passable or better, but this attempt was barely eatable. The marrow was under-cooked and the mince was well-cooked. Anyway, on with the story!

First, I cooked the onions in a frying pan with a little olive oil, and added the mince, browned it off, and added some stock. The usual thing. I cooked some carrots in another saucepan and added them to the mince, and added some sliced mushrooms towards the end.

Secondly, I sliced the marrow into two 10 centimetre sections and peeled them and removed the seeds leaving two rings of marrow flesh. Some people cook marrow with the skin on, like courgettes, but I’m used to removing the skin. Some time I will try them with skin on.

I then lightly oiled the marrow rings and placed them on a baking tray and filled them with the mince. They then went into the over for 30 minutes at 200 degrees centigrade. The result looked like this:

Marrow rings stuffed with beef mince
Marrow rings stuffed with beef mince

Here is a marrow ring plated up:

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Stuffed marrow rings plated up with spaghetti

OK, as you can see from the above the marrow rings look very white, whereas they should have been a translucent green. Indeed they proved to be under-cooked. The mince stuffing was very dry on top and it should have been moist.

So, where did I go wrong? Firstly, I didn’t look up a recipe before I started to cook, since I thought that I could wing it. Bad idea! Secondly, had I read a recipe, I would have wrapped the stuffed marrow in foil before I put it into the oven. (Although this other recipe doesn’t use foil. It does cook at a slightly lower temperature.) I would probably still have created the rings, just for the look of it, but many recipes recommend halving the marrow to make a boat shape. Another options would be change the stuffing to something moister eg with added rice.

Oh well, next time…

A note on Silver Beet (Swiss Chard)

chard
Silver Beet AKA Swiss Chard (Photo credit: Garden Club2011)

I’ve seen recipes for Silver Beet which use only the green leafy part of the plant. What a tragedy! The stalk part (white or red) is the best part. I usually pull off a stalk from the bunch then slice it into 10 – 15 cms length, all the way to the top of the leaf. Then the whole lot is dumped into boiling salted water for a few minutes. When cooked the green parts wilt down like spinach and the stalks become translucent and creamy.

In the picture below the cook has sliced the silver beet (swiss chard) into 2 – 3 cms lengths. I prefer them sliced into longer pieces.

Chard rice soup / Olleta de bledes vegana
Chard rice soup / Olleta de bledes vegana (Photo credit: Lablascovegmenu) The cook has sliced the stalks into short lengths.