A Journey into the Abyss of To-Be-Read

At the end of last year’s move, I had 17 boxes (the regular moving kind) full of books. That’s not counting the slightly larger box of children’s books that was going into storage (I am occasionally seized by the desire to take another look at the first love of my life, Carl).

Then I (we) moved into a one bedroom apartment, which is really more of a loft, and suddenly 17 boxes of books were not just a luxury, but a hazard. The featured image is what all of my shelves look like. Shift one book and they’re all coming down.

I’m not saying this to brag about how many books I have, which is obnoxious, although I am proud of my collection. I’m saying it because the honest truth is that I haven’t read most of those books. I don’t even read that often, despite how much I write about it.

When I was a child, reading meant something very special to me, and even today I don’t really understand it. I read, as my father once succinctly put it, like I was “self-medicating.” I don’t want anyone to read that as an insult – it’s simply accurate. It was like an addiction. It was painful to put a book down, to be forced to engage with the real world.

Again, I don’t know why. I have theories. Part of it was certainly escapism. Part of it was probably boredom. Part of it was a search for answers to certain questions: about proper behaviour and self-worth, about heroism and dignity in the face of villains like vampires and teachers.

I don’t read as much as I used to. It’s for the best. I have to write blog posts about books – I don’t have time for reading. I have to go to the grocery store. I have friends.

The other reason is that my early reading habits have severely impacted the way I read, because I still have a very hard time stopping, unless I’ve reached the end of the book. I tend to read in seven to eight hour chunks. It’s not healthy, and it’s a huge pain in the ass.

Despite all of these things, all of my early-childhood trauma and bad habits, I still love reading, and I want to do more of it. So here’s a look at the list of books (mostly upcoming or just published) that I’m so excited about I’ll break those bad habits for them.

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The first, which comes out August 1st, 2017, so the day before this post goes up, is The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African-American Culinary History in the Old South, by Michael W. Twitty. I discovered Mr. Twitty recently because I’ve been doing lots of research for an upcoming food history project. He’s a culinary historian and historical interpreter (those are the people that work at historical sites and wear appropriate attire, mannerisms, etc, for the purpose of educating the public). The book is about his personal journey to trace his ancestors through the culinary traditions of the American South – he describes it as a “genealogical detective story, a culinary treasure map, a blueprint for finding your roots, a series of history lessons, a revealing memoir and a spiritual confessional sprinkled with recipes.” I mean … that really speaks for itself.

The next book on my to-read list has actually been out since May (oops). Thick as Thieves is the latest by Megan Whalen Turner, the fifth in the Queen’s Thief series. I’m not suggesting that you read the fifth book in a series first. I am suggesting you read the series, though. It begins with The Thief, which is a heist/political intrigue characterised by the narration of the main character, “Gen,” who can only be described as a little shit with a lot of courage. I don’t want to give away too much (there’s a beautiful plot twist at the end of the first book), so I’ll leave you this: when we first meet Gen, he’s in prison (shackled wrists, ankles, and waist) for having wagered in a wineshop that he could steal the king’s seal, and then presenting said seal in the shop the next day.

The next two (technically four) books are so far off that it might seem ridiculous to be talking about them now, but I’m going to do it anyway. The first of the 2018 group is Tempests and Slaughter, the next in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe. I talked a little bit about her Protector of the Small quartet in the Harry Potter post a few weeks ago. She probably had as big an impact on my childhood as JK Rowling did – if not more, because Tammy’s written something like 32 books. Tempests and Slaughter is a throw-back: it’s a prequel to The Immortals quartet, based on Numair Salmalin’s younger years learning magic in Carthak. The fact that there’s a dripping feather on the cover is hilarious considering that an account of Numair’s early years is also an account of Ozorne’s early years, Ozorne being the infamous (and titular) Emperor Mage of the third Immortals book, who had a nasty run-in with a metal feather at one point in the story.

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If you’ve never read Tammy Pierce and you’d like to start, she has two universes: the Circle universe, which is about four orphaned kids learning they have craft magic, like with sewing and smithing (it’s amazing, read it!), and the Tortall universe, which is a more traditional high middle ages analogue with kings and knights and talking animals. Theoretically you can start reading anywhere in Tortall (I started halfway through the fourth book of the Immortals for some reason), but it technically begins with Alanna: The First Adventure (an apt name) which is about a girl who pretends to be a boy in order to become a knight.

The second book coming out in 2018 that I’m really excited for is Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, which is the first to come out of Rick Riordan’s new imprint with Disney. Rick Riordan, if you’re not familiar, is the author of the Percy Jackson series, which at this point probably spans several universes. People have been asking him for more and wider-ranging mythology-based books for years, and this imprint is his answer. Instead of writing about, say, Hindu mythology as a white man, he’s supporting other authors in writing about their own heritage. Roshani Chokshi is a best-selling author in her own right (The Star Touched Queen), and she’s not the only one. The other two authors with books coming out through the imprint in fall 2018 are Jennifer Cervantes (Storm Runner) and Yoon Ha Lee (Dragon Pearl). Yoon Ha Lee just made huge waves with his debut novel Ninefox Gambit.

Let’s get back to things that you don’t have to wait for. I’m currently reading a wonderful book called Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, by Bee Wilson. It’s a look at the technologies and environments that have shaped what and how we eat throughout history, from the earliest of cooked foods to Victorian ideas about vegetables (why WHY would you boil carrots for forty-five minutes? You’ll have to read the book to find out). (Okay, actually, it has to do with pot size and water temperature – it’s kind of a boring explanation.) (Still a really good book.)

Now, granted I’ve really only described two kinds of books here: young adult fantasy and food history. I’d apologise and say I’ll work a little harder to broaden my horizons, but then again, why should I? Let’s double down, my nerds: The Adventure Zone, a podcast where three brothers and their dad play Dungeons and Dragons, is becoming a graphic novel (July 18, 2018), but if you can’t wait that long, you can listen to all the episodes via the first link. TAZ is both charmingly rude and truly heartwarming, but that’s only part of its charm, so go ahead and let the McElroy family take you on a journey with lots of robot arms, lunar headquarters, seductive vines and bad jokes. What’s the worst that can happen?

I’m going to be in Montana for a week in the middle of August, so I’ll be taking a good stack of books out there, where the only people my reading habits will disturb are family members who are used to them. On that note, this is a good opportunity for me to mention that there may be some wifi access problems while I’m there. Hopefully the post that week will go up smoothly without me, but if it doesn’t, apologies in advance.

I really like this idea of a book list, and I might keep doing it in the future. I promise I do actually like other kinds of books! Food history has really been on my mind lately, and I can’t wait to tell you why!

 

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Hors d’oeuvres Part Two: Fig Chutney and Gorgonzola on Rosemary Crackers, and Caramelized Cherries

I separated these hors d’oeuvres posts out because the first didn’t require any cooking, and this one requires some. If you’re already panicking about making caramel, don’t worry, caramel is one of those things that becomes super easy once you know how to do it.

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Before we get to that, though, let’s talk about fig chutney and gorgonzola on rosemary crackers. The rosemary crackers were just something I bought at Whole Foods because I thought the edges were cool. You could use any kind of savoury cracker for this, though I would suggest one that doesn’t have a heavy-hitting flavour of its own (cheese, for instance. Would be gross). Theoretically you could make your own crackers, and I bet they’d be truly delicious, but I didn’t even think about trying it, so I have no cracker recipe.

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Gorgonzola is one of my favourite cheeses, because when I was in university there was a tiny Italian place that made gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, and it was to. die. for. I’ve managed to make it myself a few times, and since I still have some gorg (hehe) left over I might post a recipe.

Gorgonzola is kind of a stinky cheese, though, and I can appreciate that some of you may not be a huge fan. That’s cool. You could probably use any other soft cheese for this. I like the gorg (hehe) because the “stink” is a good match to the sweetness of the chutney, which would overpower anything else. The balance between the two is kind of crucial to cooling off both strong flavours.

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The most time-consuming part of this recipe is the fig chutney. It is amazing. It is well worth the time. It does, however, need to cook for a while, and it’s best a few days later, when it’s had some to soften out some of the flavours. In a way, though, this is a good thing, because if you’re having a party you can make this days in advance, and then it’s all ready for spooning out on your crackers when the time comes.

P.S. these hors d’oeuvres don’t handle being refrigerated well – they should be made and served.

Fig chutney is really easy to make. The hardest part is finding figs. You can sometimes find them fresh in the fruit aisle of the grocery store, or dried in the dried aisle. If you can find fresh figs, great, if not, don’t worry about it.

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You will need a pack of figs, chopped small. Half of a large sweet onion, or a whole red onion, your preference, chopped small. A knob of ginger, peeled and minced. Four cloves of garlic, minced. Half a cup of apple cider or red wine vinegar. Two-thirds of a cup of brown sugar. A dash each of your favourite spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, allspice, etc.) and a smaller dash of salt. Finally, you need a mix of other dried fruit: raisins, apricots, mangoes, whatever you want, also chopped small.

I don’t want to be too fussy about the amounts, because it honestly doesn’t matter that much. The important thing is that the proportions are balanced. If you find that your chutney seems too dry as it cooks, add some water or orange juice.

Start by sautéing the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, let toast for a very small amount of time and then add the vinegar and sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, which should be quick, add everything else. Let it bubble until the juices have thickened and the vinegar flavour has been cooked out (this will make your house smell of vinegar).

Turn off the stove, set the chutney to the side to cool, then find a good home for it (mason jars work well) and let it sit in the fridge for a few days. The reason you let it sit is because it will still taste a bit like vinegar for the first few days – all the flavours have to settle out and then it will be scrumptious.

Fig chutney is amazing stuff. I use it on sandwiches, halloumi burgers (another recipe I need to write about), and all kinds of things. It’s lovely on these canapés nestled up to the gorgonzola. I hope you try it!

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Now onwards to our caramelized cherries! These, my friends, I am proud of. I got the idea when I saw a picture of caramelized apples and thought they were cherries. It’s cherry season, so I guess I just had cherries on the mind. It’s a good thing I did.

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Making caramel only requires two things: 240g granulated sugar and 1/2 cup water. It is tricky, but it’s mostly tricky if you don’t follow the guidelines:

  • use a wide, stainless steel saucepan.
  • don’t bother with a thermometer – it’s just another thing to deal with, and you can see these changes by eye.
  • have a small bowl of ice water nearby in case of burns – caramel gets extremely hot.
  • medium heat.
  • it’s a slow process. Be patient.
  • stir the sugar into the water until the sugar dissolves, meaning until there’s no grit at the bottom. Don’t let it boil until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Once there is no grit, stop stirring. The water may not be perfectly clear, but you should be able to see the bottom.
  • If you continue to stir, you’ll encourage the sugar to seize up.
  • Once you’ve stopped stirring, the solution will boil. Leave it. It’s fine. Let it do its thing. Maybe swirl it once in a while, to get even boiling.
  • Eventually it will turn a “dark straw” colour, or a dark amber. Congratulations, you’ve made caramel. Carefully pour it into a heat-proof glass bowl or measuring cup. You’re going to be dipping the cherries in, so you want something with tall sides.

It’s a good idea to have everything set out before you make the caramel. You’ll need to wash the cherries. You only want the ones with stems. You’ll need a baking tray lined with baking parchment to put the cherries on once they’ve been dipped in caramel.

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Remember, caramel gets HOT. I mean it. Be careful. When you’re dipping the cherries, do not get your fingers anywhere near the caramel. Just dip quickly, wipe off the excess on the side of the glass and put down the cherry.

The nice thing about these is despite the trickiness, once they’re done they look incredible. It doesn’t matter how you arrange these, they’re one of the most beautiful desserts I’ve ever seen. And they taste amazing, too. It’s a win/win all around.

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The cherries that I made did melt while they were sitting on the parchment, in air conditioning. I don’t know what that’s about, but Philadelphia air conditioning is definitely not up to the standard that say, Florida air conditioning is, and it was in the 90s F that day. It’s possible they really were just too hot.

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Pro-tip: paired with a glass of rum, or even a sherry or port, these might just be the best thing you’ve ever eaten.

 

 

Hors d’oeuvres Part One: Brie-Stuffed Apricots, Melon and Prosciutto Bites, Bruschetta Basil Boats

Why do I keep doing multiple recipes at once? It’s like I enjoy making life harder for myself.

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Actually, I think I just get bored with doing only one thing. And it works out in your benefit, right? Today we have lots of deliciousness to discuss. And one other important thing: when I first began coming up with finger food appetizers for this post, I wanted to make sure that they were all edible with a minimum of extra apparatus. There are no toothpicks in this post, or the next one. Nothing in this post requires cooking. Each recipe is bite sized and easy to eat, and can be made a few hours ahead and kept in the fridge until party time. The only thing you need to provide the guests who’ve come to eat your food (the most important part of any party) is a plate and napkin – and if you want to go easy on the environment, cloth napkins and non-paper plates.

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Now, I can appreciate that these apricot and brie apps are not the prettiest thing on this blog. To be honest, I didn’t realise I’d bought the darker kind of apricot. They would definitely look better with the classic apricot colour. However, do not mistake looking better for tasting better. This idea, of open apricot with cheese in the middle, was something I’ve been wondering about for a while, because I’ve always wanted to try stuffing apricots. It paid off well beyond what I was expecting. These are delicious. The flavours match perfectly, and more importantly the textures are just right for each other. It’s just the right amount of contrast and similarity.

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Beyond even flavour and texture, though, what really seals the deal on these is how easy they are to make. Are you ready for this recipe?

Buy a pack of dried apricots. Buy brie, either the supermarket standard or something a little flashier, like Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tam. Get home, peel open apricots but don’t separate the halves (they have a slice down the middle where the pit’s been taken out). Slice up brie, insert slices into apricots in artisanal manner (I leave that up to your discretion). Arrange on plate, serve.

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(Psst: and if you have a friend with a gluten allergy, this might be a good option. If your friend is lactose intolerant, maybe exchange the brie for nuts?)

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Moving on to our next option: melon and prosciutto bites. This flavour combination is fairly common in the world of appetizers, I admit. Not much here that’s original.

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There is honey in it, as well. I suppose that counts for something. The honey is there to stick the prosciutto on the melon, which has been cut into abstract shapes that are pleasing to the eye and slightly more difficult to pick up. It might be worth letting your guests know there’s honey involved, although I’d be surprised if someone was okay with eating prosciutto but not honey. (I’m not okay with prosciutto. I think this is the first time I’ve done anything with meat so far. I had to touch it. I’ve just realised that making something I can’t taste means I can’t purple prose how delicious it is. Yuck.)

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My taste-tester did say she appreciated that the prosciutto was in bite-sized pieces, instead of being wrapped around the melon, because prosciutto can be hard to chew (not that I would know.) (The taste tester wasn’t the dog, by the way) (I guess you’d only get that joke if you knew how close the dog was when I made these) (I’ll stop doing this now) (but I might post a pic of her on Instagram)

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The recipe, again, is super simple. All you need is a melon and a pack of prosciutto. Cut the melon, remove the seeds. Chop the melon into bite-sized pieces, then remove the skin – you don’t want the pieces slipping around while you’re wielding a melon-slicing knife. Pull the prosciutto apart into even smaller bites, dab with honey, and place in a pleasing manner on the melon. Arrange on plate, serve.

(Gluten free, again, lactose free, sadly not meat free.)

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And finally we’ve made it to today’s last recipe: Bruschetta Basil Boats. Weird name, I know. I’m really happy with these. They strike all the boxes of things I love. Tomatoes? Check. Garlic? Check. Olive oil? Check. Basil? A little bit.

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Bruschetta is really just bread rubbed with garlic, with olive oil and salt. In a way this recipe isn’t bruschetta at all, because there’s no bread. But it is based on the adaptation of bruschetta that is popular in the States and includes tomatoes. In the pictures, I used mini tomatoes – I’m not sure the variation. It is kind of a pain to cut them, though, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

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I’m not sure where I got the basil idea from, but it works really well. And they do look like little boats. This recipe does require fresh basil leaves, big ones, right off the plant. If you want to be a little more true to the original, you can even rub garlic onto the leaves themselves.

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This recipe is once again super easy. You’ll need fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Cut up the tomatoes small, removing the seeds and pulp (otherwise it’s too wet). Rub the garlic on the leaves, or just cut it up small and add it to the tomatoes. Toss them in olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spoon them into the basil leaves, arrange on plate, and serve.

Part Two will be out on Friday, and there might be a bit of cooking involved. Don’t worry though, because it’ll be worth it. Our dinner party will end with fig chutney and gorgonzola on rosemary crackers, and then it will really end with dessert to die for: caramelized cherries. Stay tuned!

 

The Histories: Rooibos

Rooibos is not tea. Tea, in any colour – green, black, white – all comes from one plant, Camellia sinensis. Rooibos is an herbal infusion made from the leaves of the plant Aspalathus linearis, which is a sweet name. It’s also known as red bush (the translation of the name from Afrikaans), and that’s an apt description of what you buy at the store, but the plant itself is a lovely green colour with yellow flowers. The leaves are fermented after the harvest to produce its red colour, which is similar to mahogany or the golden-red of amber.

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A cup of Rishi rooibos held against the light to show the colour.

Pronounced “roy-bos”, the taste is usually described along the lines of “pleasant, slightly sweet.” I’ve personally been a fan of rooibos for a long time, which is why it’s come up so soon in my tea-post-arc. It’s caffeine-free, always a good thing to find. The list of ailments it’s said to help with is long and impressive, but very little clinical research has been done so far. In light of this, I won’t be posting any of the potential medicinal benefits, but you’ll be able to find them in the government study below (page 23).

This plant is only grown in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa (specifically the Cedarburg) – and when I say “only grown” I mean that literally. Rooibos was granted Geographic Indicator status in 2016, protecting the name from referring to anything else from anywhere else, the same way champagne can only come from the French region of Champagne. People have tried to grow Rooibos in many other parts of the world, all unsuccessfully. There are only six Floral Kingdoms in the world; according to the World Heritage Organisation, this is the smallest, and “relatively the most diverse.” The region “represents less than .5% of the area of Africa, but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora.” This is an immense amount of biodiversity, especially considering the size of the African continent.

Rooibos is harvested in a way not unlike how tea is. The leaves are cut from the top of the plant, sheaved, and then heaped and watered, inciting the fermentation that creates the red colour. It’s then shipped off for further processing and packaging. If you’re interested in more of that process, there’s a surprisingly good description here (and yes, that’s a link to a company that sells rooibos espresso). There’s also a cute story about a good batch of fermenting rooibos attracting bees to collect the nectar the process produces. I have no idea if it’s true, but I can imagine that’s something bees would be happy about.

Here we come to a problem: the point of these posts is to illuminate the history of common foodstuffs that have had an impact on our world far greater than you would expect of the things that are tucked in the back of your pantry. It might seem that Rooibos, which is still a fairly unusual herb outside of its home turf of South Africa, might not make the cut. It might be true that Rooibos hasn’t had a major affect on world history, but it has had an enormous impact on the economics of the Cedarburg. It is also possible that this little plant is going to continue to impact the future of the world. The industry faces many immediate problems. One is climate change; the region is getting hotter and drier, and the farmers are having to adapt. Another is invasive species, a big problem in an area of such biodiversity, and also one which threatens water security, causes soil erosion, and many other issues. The Working for Water program was started in 1995 to combat invasive species while also providing jobs for local communities.

The next problem is no less important, but far more complicated. I wouldn’t usually stick my nose into this, but I think ethical consumerism is important and if I’m going to talk about rooibos I can’t just skip it. As you might know, South Africa was colonised by the Dutch and the British before gaining official independence in 1931. “Colonisation” is such an innocent-sounding word. What could be the harm in only a colony? Of course, as with many other parts of the world, there were already people living in what is now South Africa, and specifically in the region where rooibos grows. I actually read an article about rooibos that implied that these indigenous groups passed on their knowledge of the plant to the colonists and then died out, paving the way for the industry to blossom. They most certainly did not die out. The Khoi and San peoples are alive and still occupying this region today. The problem is that they are marginalised, living in poverty, and have limited access to basic necessities.

In 1992 the United Nations signed into effect the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was expanded with the Nagoya Protocol in 2011. The Nagoya Protocol (On Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Their Utilisation to the Convention on Biological Diversity) states that benefits need to be shared with the people from whom the traditional knowledge supporting the industry comes. South Africa passed regulations along this line in 2008. Now, theoretically this is really good for the Khoi and San, but as usual it’s not that easy.

These two groups are sometimes put together as the Khoi-San (and sometimes the Khoi are called KhoiKhoi), but they are separate groups. The San are traditionally hunter-gatherers, the Khoi pastoralists. According to the report the South African government commissioned on the traditional knowledge of the rooibos industry, “the San people are regarded as the longest continuous inhabitants of a single area and are believed to be the progenitors of the rest of humankind. They are also believed to be the oldest human inhabitants of South Africa.” The Khoi have not been in South Africa quite as long, but they are still agreed to have been there long before the arrival of the Europeans, which is the important thing for this purpose.

In terms of establishing benefit sharing agreements, the Khoi-San needed to be confirmed as the holders of traditional knowledge related to rooibos, and this was the point of the South African government’s report. Traditional knowledge means information, customs, skills, innovations, that are passed from generation to generation and are protected by the indigenous or local people that keep them. The report also needed to establish whether the rooibos industry gained its knowledge of the plant from the Khoi-San. The industry itself, it might be important to know, is mostly controlled by people who are not, well, the term they use in South Africa is “coloured” which has a very different connotation here in America … but since this post isn’t about America I should use the proper terminology, even if it gives me the collywobbles.

Obviously the industry does not think that their traditional knowledge of rooibos originally came from the Khoi-San, but the biggest problem is that there is very little historical evidence of rooibos at all, except for the odd comment here and there by botanists like Carl Thunberg, and of course the oral histories of the Khoi-San people. The report concludes that the perception of the Khoi-San people that the traditional knowledge resides within their community is enough, particularly in light of the fact that there is no evidence to dispute this. If you want more information I’d suggest reading the report – the conclusion begins on page 49.

So the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has been urging the industry to begin sharing benefits with the Khoi and San peoples. This is no easy task. The industry is already established, the lines have already been drawn. It’s also true that the industry has made some advancements and innovations relating to rooibos production and use. One potential issue is that as rooibos is tested for its health-related properties, demand for the plant, whether as tea or extract or enzymes or whatever, may explode, and protecting the interests of relatively small-scale farms against major corporations will be difficult. There is another question of sustainable farming, and the difference and benefits of cultivated rooibos, versus rooibos harvested from the wild.

It’s an ongoing process, as is everything. The DEA is only suggesting that newcomers to the industry begin working with the community, leaving everyone else grandfathered in, as far as I am aware. And there are very small co-operatives run by the communities and directly benefiting those who have been disadvantaged. The elder of the two, both fair-trade and organic with a focus on sustainable farming, is the Wuppertal Tea Association, which supplies rooibos to Equal Exchange. The second is the Heiveld Co-operative, which can also be bought from Equal Exchange, but is much harder to track down.

Speaking of actually drinking the tea, it’s time to move on to our tasting! Of course we did a tasting, but unfortunately nothing from the co-ops above, because I just wasn’t that organised, and also because the idea of these tastings is usually to use products that are readily available – yes, I do see the problem with that, and as we continue this tea arc I’ll try to be better.

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The Rooibos flavour wheel – can someone tell me what “wet hessian” is?

This time I’m going to do something a little differently: instead of the bullet points of the Honey and Earl Grey posts, we just agreed on a general description of the tea. Rooibos has its own flavour wheel (above), and honestly it needs one, because as you might expect, it has a significantly different flavour profile than actual tea.

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The green Rishi tin, a cup of tea, and the leaves displayed on white marble. I know the marble is getting overused, but I wanted something white to show the differences in the leaves.

The first rooibos we tasted was from Rishi, which is a well established American retailer. I couldn’t find anything on the website that says where they get their rooibos from – it is certified organic, but not fair trade.

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The Rishi rooibos tea leaves. Pay attention to the leaves in this post – you’ll be able to see a difference from one to the next.

To begin the description of this tea, I have to say that one of the tasters wrote in their notes that it was the colour of “dino goo in Jurassic Park” which is obviously the highest praise that can be given, and there’s really not much more for me to say. However, I think it should also be noted that this tea has quite a woodsy, earthy flavour, of “faint cherry” or “tree sap” and faint notes of caramel sweetness.

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The Ajiri tea box is recyclable and includes banana bark artwork made by Kenyan women. Next to the box is a cup of the brewed tea, and beside that is a tea bag, which appears to have the same woman from the artwork actually harvesting rooibos …

The next rooibos we tried was Ajiri, and I am rolling up my sleeves, my friends, because I just wrote an entire post on benefit sharing with a marginalised community and how difficult that is, and these turkeys went and put kitschy knick-knacks made by Kenyan women on their box of South African tea. I don’t want to insult any of you by putting a map of the African continent up here, but Kenya and South Africa are nowhere near each other. This is about as ridiculous as a Spanish cazuela made of Dutch delftware – it doesn’t make sense and it renders the cazuela useless. Despite what I am sure is a well intended gesture, it’s so misinformed that it stinks of a bad marketing ploy, intended to capitalise on Wealthy White Western Patronage™.

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A cup of Ajiri tea with the handmade label and twine and beads that are found in the box.

100% of the profits go to orphan education in Kenya, which is impressive, but again I have to ask why profits from South African tea go to orphans in Kenya, when marginalised people in South Africa are trying so hard to break into this industry. Now, to be fair, they (this American company) started by selling Kenyan tea from Kenyan co-ops, so they do have a reason to plaster their packaging with all of this – however, their rooibos is only organic, which implies that they aren’t partnering with the rooibos co-ops, which are fair trade.

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The leaves of the Ajiri tea – using a teabag means that the leaves are in smaller particles.

Putting all of that aside, let’s focus on the taste. This tea has a particular heaviness in the mouth, which starts as wet and woodsy and then becomes sweet, which is either described as caramel and burnt sugar, or a vegetal, medicinal hint of rotting fruit. It’s more red than golden in colour.

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Surprise! The third tea we tasted was not actually rooibos! It’s honeybush, which is again a separate plant (the genus is Cyclopia, and there are several species), but is grown in the same region and faces many of the same difficulties. The honeybush industry is much smaller, and it may be that as it grows, post the report on benefit sharing, which was also about honeybush, the industry will be more balanced. I was going to talk about it earlier, but I wanted to keep it a surprise that this is actually a two-in-one post. Honeybush even has a separate flavour wheel – which is good because it also has a distinct taste. Like rooibos, honeybush is caffeine free, and is said to have many medicinal qualities, which can be found on page 39 of the report.

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A cup of Smith’s honeybush, showing off the lovely peachy colour. The leaves, which are actually more like stems, are at the right, and are much darker and woodier than rooibos.

Honeybush is hard to find in the States, but Steven Smith, the retailer from Portland, sells it. Smith has a lot of information on their website about where their teas come from, and by the looks of it their honeybush is harvested in the wild.

I’d never actually had honeybush before, but I was really impressed. The best way to describe it to someone who’s never had it, I think, is that it looks and tastes rather like rosé, the wine that has just enough grape skin in it to colour it pink, but not enough to make it red wine.

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A close up of the “leaves” of honeybush.

Honeybush is aptly named. It’s slightly sweeter than rooibos. There’s a hint of dried cherries in this cup, a bit of wood (dried, not wet), and it’s slightly astringent, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t make for a strong cup of tea – with no caffeine and subtle flavour, don’t expect this to be your morning wake-up cuppa.

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The bag of Steven Smith’s rooibos, a cup of the tea, and a pile of the leaves, which are far more thin and needle-like than the others we tried – the leaves of the plant are usually described as needle-like.

For the sake of experimentation, I wanted to try more of Smith‘s than just their honeybush. This is their rooibos, which is a lovely golden orange, and according to the consensus we came to, tastes like sunshine, and was surprisingly thought to taste more like honey than the honeybush.

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A cup of Smith’s rooibos and a close up of the leaves.

Steven Smith does have a batch lookup on their website, but for some reason it wasn’t working for either the honeybush or rooibos. I’m only guessing, because it doesn’t say, but I don’t believe the rooibos to have been wild harvested.

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The bag of Smith’s Red Nectar, the cup of brewed tea, and the leaves.

The final tasting was another Smith product, because they seem to be doing the most interesting things with rooibos, at least in the States. Red Nectar is actually a blend of rooibos, honeybush, and green rooibos (unfermented).

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Red Nectar is stronger than either rooibos or honeybush; there’s an earthy and floral perfume, a flavour described as “berry fruit juice” and it was considered by some to be a bit too sweet. It is quite sweet. I love it, but not everyone did.

That concludes this entry into the world of rooibos, and quite a world it is. Rooibos is a really delicious addition to your tea cabinet, or drawer, or wherever you would like. It’s worth keeping an eye on. Someday soon rooibos is going to be the next big health miracle. In the meantime, enjoy it.

 

Further Reading:

If you’re interested in reading more on the San and Khoi people, the report above is a good place to start. It’s well footnoted and is a good overview of their history. If you want to continue from there, it’s probably worth having a look at the  San Code of Research Ethics, and the scientific communities’ response.

For more information on the report and its affect on the community, these are good articles, 1, 2, and 3.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter

I realise that this is going to go up a week late, since the actual anniversary was the 26th of June. In my defence, I didn’t plan to do this, but there was a disaster with some canapés and the garbage disposal (separately), and I have a lot of things to say about Harry Potter in general, so it seemed like a good idea.

It is strange to think that it’s been twenty years, and that within that time so many people all over the world have been affected by Harry Potter. Twenty years isn’t that long in the grand scheme of world history, but it’s the majority of my life. I remember the first time I saw a HP book: it was under another girl’s desk in second grade, and I thought something derogatory about it, which was more of a reaction to someone having something I didn’t than an actual dislike of the book. Soon after that my mother began reading the book to me at night, and not long after that, I apparently started taking the book to school with me to read ahead. I don’t remember that last part but I’m sure it’s an indication that Mom was refusing to read more than a chapter or two a night (jeez, Mom, be cool) and it definitely should have been the initial warning sign of my reading habits to come.

However it happened, Harry Potter had a massive impact on both my desire to and my ability to read – if you’re thinking that second grade is a bit late for a book to affect my ability to read, buzz off. The only problem was that the books came out so SLOWLY. The first one came out in 1997, but the seventh one came out in 2007! Ten years for seven books! It might seem unnecessary to be complaining about this now, but I actually fully believe that the building anticipation for each book had a lot to do with the popularity of the series. It meant that there was time for the whole Harry Potter phenomenon to become more than just a series of books; it became a community as well, of people commiserating over the fact that nobody had any idea what was going to happen next. And it became a fandom, but there were far more people who didn’t engage in the joys and horrors of fandom culture that still engaged in the “what, when, and if” conversations.

Obviously there are many people who could write (and have) long posts and articles about Harry Potter, so I’m trying to keep this central to my experience. Fun fact: I’ve only lost one game of Harry Potter trivia in my entire life, and it was in triple overtime and I am still furious about it. You know who you are. I’m coming for you.

Actually, I have found this particular community to be competitive in general, probably because there’s just so much information in such massive books – which brings me to another way HP seriously impacted my life, and possibly yours. It’s a lesser known fact that when Goblet of Fire (which clocks in at 734 pages, US edition) was published, the people who matter in the publishing industry realised that children are perfectly capable of reading massive books, and even happy to do it. Voilà, the page counts on childrens and young adult books suddenly lifted. Of course, this means that horrors like the Eragon series came to be, but we can absorb some hits for the greater good, can’t we?

There’s an excellent example of this in action: the Tamora Pierce series Protector of the Small. The series begins with First Test, originally published in 1999, 258 pages. The next book is Page, published in 2000, the same year as Goblet of Fire, with 290 pages. The third book, Squire, published the year after GoF, jumps to 434 pages, almost double the first two books. The next book, Lady Knight, is 444 pages. That jump turns a good series into a great one: I’d consider Protector of the Small to be Tammy Pierce’s crowning achievement (and she’s written 32 incredible books, with at least two more on the way). A large part of this is due to the fact that Squire and Lady Knight had tight, solid plots, but were allowed to flower out beyond what First Test and Page could.

Of course, what works for one person doesn’t always work for another, and sometimes what works once doesn’t always work again. Order of the Phoenix is the first of the HP books for which I distinctly remember the intense pressure on publication. If I felt that pressure, I can’t even imagine what JK must have been feeling, and I’m pretty sure she’s admitted that she should have given Order of the Phoenix a final edit (although I couldn’t find the actual quote). It’s a warning at least for fans of George RR Martin that pressuring authors to publish books faster might not be beneficial to the actual book.

Either way, who actually cares how long or how well edited the HP books are? It’s never been about the individual books – it’s about the sum total of them, the mystery, the world, the epic heroism, and the community of people that love them. Harry Potter will endure long after this twenty year anniversary, not because the boy keeps saying “dunno” but because he’s brave and true and loving in the face of a terrifying, but not terribly unlikely villain.

… Also because no one can decide on a decent butterbeer recipe, but that might have to be another post.

The featured image in this post is Hagrid’s Hut by Jim Kay, the artist who’s been doing those wonderful illustrated editions of the books. I’m anxiously awaiting Prisoner of Azkaban. The amount of detail in his work is unbelievable, and I love this one in particular. Hagrid has always been one of my favourite characters. Do you see that it’s a boat? I’ve got heart eyes!

Disney for Plants: A Trip to Longwood Gardens

Now, you may be thinking right now, um, you just wrote about the Morris Arboretum – do we really need more plants? And the answer is, of course, yes, we do need more plants, especially the kind where all you have to do is look at the pretty pictures, no worms involved.

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Longwood Gardens is a little bit indescribable. It’s huge, for one thing. It’s over 1,077 acres. There are no pictures that can do justice to something that size. It’s the kind of place you walk around, and there’s so much of it, and then you turn a corner and there’s so much more, and then there are still several more corners to turn, and you haven’t even seen the mall-sized conservatory yet.

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The land was seized from the Lenni-Lenape natives by encroaching English settlers and sold to a Quaker named George Pierce in 1700. The Pierce family created an arboretum on the land, one of the finest in the nation. Over the next hundred years or so, however, the family began to lose interest in the arboretum, and in 1906 the land was bought by Pierre du Pont in order to prevent the trees from being turned to lumber.

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It was du Pont who named the farm “Longwood” and really began the creation of what we see today as Longwood Gardens. He created the conservatory, the fountains, and began a collection of unbelievable instruments: a Steinway grand piano, a 10,010 piped Aeolian organ, and a 62-bell carillon, which is apparently an instrument in the shape of a bell tower.

 

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The gardens are designed with multiple spaces for the performing arts. Check out the website for fireworks and fountain shows, Dianne Reeves, Beauty and the Beast, an entire weekend’s worth of a Carillon Festival, jazz and classical concerts … it goes on and on. There are at least four different places to eat, including a beer garden – honestly, just stop – I don’t understand how there is more room in this place? I thought it was about plants. We walked all over it and I didn’t see anything about a beer garden or a gigantic organ. You’d need a week just to get through it all.

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Size aside, music aside, food aside, the plants alone are worth going for. There’s a room of only orchids, a room of only roses, a room of only succulents and cacti. There’s an Italian garden, a topiary garden, a rose garden (separate from the room of only roses and the rose arbor), a meadow garden, a wisteria garden, and again it goes on and on and on. There are three treehouses.

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Even with the scale of everything, the attention to detail is still there. It has to be, in a way, because plants are needy things, and such a big place has a lot of little needy plants. In the conservatory, with each room dedicated to the space created by the plants, obviously each plant is in perfect health, but even outside, in the walks between areas, in the nooks on the walls, behind the staff-only fences, there are hundreds of tiny, happy plants.

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The food is pretty good as well, although I admit we ate in the restaurant, not the food court, so I can’t tell you about that. I posted a photo of the dessert we had on my Instagram (link in the upper right hand corner). It was called the Flower Pot, and it was a literal flower pot, with a buttercream pot and chocolate soil (cake) and custard. Delicious. The bread was also tasty. Really, it was all tasty.

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Okay, have a look at a few more pretty pictures and then we’ll call it a day. Again, I cannot stress how large this place is, and how full it is. Every place with potential for plant-covering is covered in plants.

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From the succulent and cacti room. Isn’t that texture incredible? It’s like felt.
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I don’t know what this tree is but I love those spikes.

I took about four hundred pictures over the course of maybe four hours? Not counting lunch. It was a long day for my feet and my eyes, but it was worth it.

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Part of the inside of the conservatory, which according to the map covers about four acres.

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Honestly, I really mean this, if you ever get the chance, go to Plant Disney. It’s intense, and it’s the kind of place you need snacks to get through, but do it. Go see that organ in action.

Blog Changes and a Patreon!

Welcome back to our regularly scheduled programming! Today we have to take some time to talk about the changes that are coming to the blog.

First, I set up a Patreon! If you haven’t heard of it before, Patreon is a platform for creators of content – artists, musicians, writers, people who make educational videos – to get support from their community. And by support, I mean money. It’s a way to send money to people whose content you enjoy. The idea behind Patreon is that despite how easy it is on the internet to share and find content, it is much harder to make a living by providing that content. This is supposed to make it easier. You do get stuff out of it, I promise.

Before we get any further, I want to make it clear that you are under NO obligation to support me on Patreon. 100% no obligation. Full stop, that’s it, no obligation. It will not change your ability to read this blog – this isn’t like a newspaper putting up a paywall. Everything that goes up on Patreon will be extra, complimentary content to what happens here on also honey.

If you want and are able to, then you choose between four tiers: $1, $5, $20, $50 per month.

  • For $1 a month, you will get to see posts a week before they go up. You will be able to participate in polls to help decide some of the content, for example:
    • I’m making a Pavlova recipe! Should I make: French Silk Pavlova? Lemon and Blueberry Pavlova? Rose and Honey Pavlova? (Trick question, I made them all!)
  • For $5 a month, you’ll get a weekly behind-the-scenes into each post, which will include pictures and descriptions of recipes gone wrong, explanations of my research process and other things like that. You’ll get the previous rewards as well.
  • For $20 a month, you’ll get a personalised handwritten thank you note (once a year) and access to a monthly Q&A with me, although I reserve the right not to answer certain questions, especially personal ones. You’ll get all the previous rewards as well.
  • For $50 a month, you’ll get to sponsor or suggest a post on a topic of your choice, within reason, five times a year, and you’ll get another reward related to the second change coming to the blog that I don’t want to spoil yet. You’ll also get the previous rewards.

There are a few posts up already, but today (June 14th, 2017) I’m officially beginning this Patreon adventure. From now on, posts will go up as they should, provided I can figure out how to get them up. Also today, to give you a better idea of the kind of thing you’ll get for using Patreon, I’m going to put the Behind the Scenes: Pavlova Week post on also honey (I’ll try to rig it so you don’t get 100 AH notifications today). This post comes under the $5 a month tier, and anything above.

Basically, the reason I made this Patreon is because ingredients and books are expensive and I put a lot of effort into the posts I write here. With this, I can make some of that back, and eventually I’ll be able to do more interesting things, like videos (which would require different camera equipment) or even down the line, bound collections of stuff I’m not talking about yet. It also gives me a way to show my appreciation for your support, and I would like to say that I am extremely thankful to everyone that reads this blog, regardless of whether or not you get involved with Patreon.

But now I get to talk about it! Coming soon to also honey is The Adventures of PD and Bee: Fun Times Had by a Merperson and a Lizard. Tadaaaa!

About a month ago, or maybe longer, my boyfriend really wanted to try Dungeon Master-ing, which is what they call people who run games of Dungeons and Dragons. If you don’t know, D&D is a role playing game, meaning that the players create characters and then pretend to be them while the Dungeon Master creates the world and story.

So we put together a group of friends for a campaign, but we haven’t really been playing and I’ve decided that I love the character I’ve made too much too just let her wander off into the vague and unfriendly worlds of D&D, so I’m going to write stories about her instead, using my own world and world-rules.

PD is what I call a swamp merperson. I did a lot of research in order to create a species (I can call it that now that it’s not tied to D&D) loosely based on traditional merfolk, but with enough evolutionary distance that they have the ability to walk on land. She’s basically dolphin/otter/human – I’ll be putting up a more in depth description of the species and a bit about their environment and culture.

The whole point of this is that I’ll be writing a series of short stories about PD and her nonbinary lizard friend Bee, and their adventures. And other friends they meet along the way. It’s just for fun, and writing practice, and I really hope you enjoy it! Don’t worry, I’ll leave the purple prose for the recipes. The stories will come out about once a month, and I’ll try not to spam you with too much blog content plus stories. If anyone feels like they would rather not get PD&Bee emails or notifications, because that’s not what they followed also honey for, I do understand – there is a wide gulf between interest in the history of honey and interest in merfolk and their relationship with lizards. Eventually I might be able to set something up that will separate the two, but that’s not my area of expertise. I’ve had a hard enough time getting the Patreon image link, which should be right over there ⇒ to show up.

The first PD&Bee story will be out next Wednesday, the 21st of June. Or, if you’re really excited and you can’t wait, you might find that it’s already up on my Patreon under the $1 a month tier. Ta-ta, friends, see you next week!

The featured image is from a recent trip to Longwood Gardens.

Pavlova Week: Behind the Scenes

This post is on also honey as an example of the content that will go up on Patreon under the $5 a month tier. 

Woohoo! This is my first Behind the Scenes post going out to all patrons from the $5 tier and above.

I’m really excited about this post, actually, because I did so much work for Pavlova Week, and there’s just so much information I have that I can’t put in the regular posts because they’d be a mile long. I will try to condense this as much as I can, don’t worry, but in the meantime you’re going to learn a lot about what makes pavlovas work.

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The make-shift bain marie for melting the chocolate in the french silk pavlova. Chocolate melts really easily, so don’t turn up the heat – just let a small amount of water simmer in the bottom pot, and give the chocolate time. Don’t heat it above 110 degrees! Use this resource if you have a problem.

The basic structure of a pavlova, as I said, is the addition of air to egg whites via whipping them, which makes them grow in size. Then we add the caster sugar, which is also known as superfine sugar, but is different from powdered sugar. The caster sugar holds the egg whites, giving them more to bind to, and makes them taste good. We use caster sugar specifically because it’s finer than regular sugar, and therefore dissolves faster. Then we add cornstarch and white wine vinegar. There are, as usual, several theories about why these are necessary: some say the acid in the vinegar stabilises the whites, preventing separation. Some say the cornstarch and vinegar help create the inner marshmallow layer. I’m not an expert. I’ve just found what works for me and I’m going to stick to it.

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You can replace the vinegar with lemon juice, as in the lemon and blueberry pav. It’s not really about the taste (white wine vinegar is gross stuff), it’s about the acid, so there isn’t enough to have much effect on the flavor. I did a little experiment with my handy new pH strips, courtesy of the milk experiment, which helped shed a little light on the acidity of the two. In the picture to the right here, the top pH strip is lemon juice, and the bottom is white wine vinegar. They’re almost identical in color. The vinegar looks a little browner, but you’ll just have to trust me that that’s because it was sticking to the surface, whereas I’d just put the lemon juice strip down.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s have a look at the actual pavlovas I made. If you’ve been looking at my pictures and thinking, man, hers look so good and mine are so not, please, do not think that. Here are some of the monstrosities I’ve made in the past few weeks: IMG_4602

What is that bubbling, you ask? I have no idea. It was a total disaster. I was speechless. I don’t even know which flavor this was, I was so concerned with these weird weird spots.

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I probably made two pavlovas a day for at least two weeks, but more likely three. It was a harrowing journey at times. I had a list of all the possible flavor combinations I wanted to try, because originally I was going to do five different pavlovas, one a day, for Pavlova Week. Eventually I gave up and went with three, because five was just far too much.

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This picture was one of the chocolate pavs I tried. The only way to tell is the color – but then again I burnt my fair share of pavlovas, so who knows. I think it’s the chocolate though, because despite the look of it, it still tasted really good, so there’s a big chunk cut out.

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I had a list of all of the flavors I wanted to try, and at the top was hibiscus. That might sound really weird, and you’re right, it was. It didn’t work at all. I might keep trying, because I still believe it could work, but every time I attempted it the flavoring would just clump inside and it was awful. One of the hibiscus pavs I tried was so bad it was like felt. The whole thing was soft and flat and almost stretchy. Such a disaster.

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Not everything I tried was that bad, though. This is a picture of a lemon pav (right) and an orange (left). Overbaked, like I said. We decided the lemon was better, possibly because orange juice isn’t as acidic as lemon juice, and that was also how I attempted to get the flavor. I wouldn’t suggest doing that – that’s why I did all of these, so you wouldn’t have to. If you want an orange pav, try using orange extract. It’s fairly common, you should be able to find it. Also the way the top of the orange lifted and then fell back down – not good. Probably too much cornstarch.

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There’s one other way to get flavor in a pav, and that’s freeze dried fruit powder. I’ve now attempted several of these. The best have been the strawberry and the raspberry, possibly because those two have enough tartness, and pavlova does benefit from a little bit of that. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, like the hibiscus. The problem with freeze dried fruit powder is that it’s annoying to work with. I haven’t found an easy way to get just the powder, so you have to buy full fruit slices and then blitz them in a food processor – the powder goes everywhere and it’s thick and awful when it gets in the back of your throat and down to your lungs. I had to keep a kitchen towel over my mouth and nose while I did this. You also have to strain it once you’ve powdered it, because there are hundreds of tiny seeds in these fruits that we never notice, but they’d be really bad for pavlova.

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This is how I set up the mix before going in the oven. If the meringue isn’t over-whipped, those lines around the side will smooth out, and you won’t be able to see them in the end. Once you’ve done them (with a knife or small palette knife), take the excess on top and swirl it with your finger. I think this helps stabilise the pav, but I might be making that up. (It also looks good.)

I am NOT saying all of this to discourage you from making pavlova. I absolutely want you to make pavlova. Just follow the instructions. Mary Berry says pavs are so easy children can make them. I’m not sure I quite agree with that, but they aren’t that difficult either. I’ve just been trying to do extra stuff before I actually knew what a proper pav is like. Once I figured it out, I realised I’d been going about it wrong. Don’t worry about adding extra things to pavs besides a small amount of extract; you can add all kinds of things to the toppings, and concentrate on getting the meringue base right in the first place. No worries. I’ve made the directions as simple and easy to follow as I can, but if you have questions, PLEASE ask. I’ve done too many of these to not be generous with the information I can give you.

Here are two more good resources for pavlovas.

Good luck my friends, and don’t fret. You’ll do great.

Pavlova Week: Rose and Honey Pavlova

Recipe

Sadly, we’ve reached the end of Pavlova Week. Next week we’ll just be back for boring old Wednesdays. If it cheers you up at all, though, the recipe I have for you today is amazing. (I know I say that every time, but I wouldn’t put up a recipe that isn’t amazing, so at least you know it’s true!)

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It’s a very hot spring here in Philadelphia, but it’s spring nonetheless, and the roses know it. I grew up in Florida. Roses are not common in Florida. Roses die in Florida. Here, they are happy and blooming and smell wonderful. So, I thought, why not at least try a rose pavlova? If it’s bad, no need to tell anyone. If it’s good, all the better.

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It’s good. So I’m telling you. And when I say that it’s good, I mean that I really don’t like rose flavoured edibles, but this is good. Rose can be unpleasant and overwhelming in food. To me, it’s too sweet and doesn’t have enough nuance to the flavor. There are, however, two parts of this pavlova that prevent the rose from going overboard. One is the size: it’s big enough that a small amount of rosewater doesn’t get too concentrated. The other is the honey, which can also be a strong flavor on its own, but here the two can compliment each other, but they can also stand up to one another.

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I actually tried five different flavor combinations with the rose to see what the best toppings would be. Four of them had whipped cream, which I love, but it didn’t sit well on the rose. On top of the cream, we tried lemon curd, passionfruit curd*, crushed pistachios, and raspberries.

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Personally, I thought raspberries worked the best of those four options, not including honey. My mother really liked the pistachios. They both may work better without the cream, if you’re not a fan of honey. I chose honey in the end partially because it handles the rose better, which I don’t think either pistachios or raspberries would do, but also because it creates such a beautiful sheen over the smooth surface of the pavlova. It would be a shame to cover up this beauty.

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As with any pavlova, breakages are just going to happen. I was really lucky with this one that the breaks, which were the result of getting it on the tray, happened to fall in a circular pattern, like rose petals. I also swirled the top a little when I was arranging the meringue mix before it went in the oven. This happened to be the best pavlova I’ve made so far – that might partially be because I’ve made so many now that I actually feel like I know what I’m doing. I don’t want to go on and on anymore about how light and fluffy pavlova is, because I’ve done enough of that, but this was really light and fluffy.

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I may have stripped two large roses for this shoot, which I felt really bad about, but I didn’t know how else to get such luxurious pictures. If I’m going to go halfway and make rose anything, then I may as well go all the way and make a bed of rose petals for it to lie in, as ridiculous as that concept is. I’m actually slightly embarrassed to even post these pictures, they’re so ridiculous (perhaps what’s more ridiculous is how easily I could get my hands on a silver platter). It’s worth it, for the end of pavlova week, I suppose, but then the question becomes: how do I top this?

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As always when making pavlovas, remember:

  • If you’ve got one, use a stand mixer. You can do it with a hand mixer, but it’ll take a while, and you can do it by hand, but again, it’ll take a while.
  • No grease or egg yolk in the mixing bowl! Make sure it’s clean and dry. Crack the eggs into another bowl and add the whites one by one so you don’t accidentally contaminate the other five whites with your last yolk.
  • Mix the whites until they hold a small peak – but not super stiff, you don’t want to over beat them and have them separate.
  • Add the caster sugar slowly. If you shove it all in at once, the whites will drop.
  • Beat the whites and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved, and no further –  you’ll know when this is if you pinch a bit of mix between your fingers. It needs to feel smooth, no grainy bits.
  • When the sugar is incorporated, the mix should stand up when you pull the whisk away.
  • Mix the vinegar and cornstarch together before you put them in. It helps them blend better. Put them in at the very end with the rosewater, and then mix them all in by hand, just enough to combine.

Now go be ridiculous.

*Passionfruit curd is by far the best of the curd family. I get mine from Condiment, because passionfruits are hard to find and I wouldn’t want to make it even if I could – but seriously, if you have the chance, try it.


Rose and Honey Pavlova
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 1½ hrs
Serves 8

For the pavlova​:
6 egg whites (room temperature is best)
365g caster sugar
½ tsp rosewater
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vinegar

For the honey:
½ cup honey

  1. Preheat oven to 275 F. Line a large baking tray with parchment and draw a circle
    about 20cm across. Flip the parchment over so the ink is facing down.
  2. Measure out your ingredients first. Mix the vinegar and cornstarch together.
  3. In the bowl of your mixer, crack in six egg whites – do them in a separate bowl to
    make sure you don’t get any yolks in.
  4. Turn on the mixer to about half speed – I use 4 – and watch as the whites go
    opaque and fluffy. When the whites are full of small air bubbles and they hold a
    small peak, begin adding the caster sugar/cocoa powder slowly.
  5. The mixture will become glossy and sticky. Check for when the sugar has been
    fully dissolved by rubbing it between your fingers. If it’s grainy, it’s not done yet.
  6. When the sugar has dissolved, stop mixing. The meringue mix won’t be stiff
    enough to hold the bowl over someone’s head, but it will be thick with very little
    movement – it will hold its shape in stiff peaks. I’ve found that continuing to whip
    after the sugar goes in leads to over-whipping, and that you get a softer, fluffier
    inside this way.
  7. Take the bowl out of the mixer and pour in the vinegar/cornstarch and
    rosewater. Give it an easy mix by hand just to combine.
  8. Spoon the mix onto the parchment. Try to keep it in the circle, and run a knife up
    the sides to support the pavlova. Don’t neglect the middle – I usually take what
    comes up the sides and use my finger to spread it in a spiral on top.
  9. Put the pav in the oven and turn it down to 225 F. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  10. When the time is up, do NOT open the oven door. Just turn the oven off and leave
    it in for at least two hours. After that, prop the oven door open with a spoon, and
    an hour later you can take it out. The pavlova will survive at room temperature
    for about two days, so it can be made ahead of time.
  11. Arrange the pavlova on your serving dish and gently pour the honey on top. If
    necessary you can warm the honey in the microwave so it pours better. Once the
    honey is on, serve it instantly – it’s going to keep sliding down the pav, so make
    sure your serving dish is big enough to catch the excess.