Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you use an expression that fits perfectly, but isn’t part of the local vernacular? A word or phrase that you’ve picked up somewhere, perhaps when living in another country or from popular culture/friends/associates?

Most often when I find myself doing so, the context makes the meaning apparent to others – even if the word/phrase isn’t in a language they’re familiar with. Sometimes, though, I get an odd look – admittedly this is usually when I make some obscure exclamation out loud to myself in public.

For example, when I try to carry too many things at once and end up dropping something… as often as not I end up exclaiming something along the lines of ‘Ja, jy wil mos!’ Unless another ex-South African is around, this sort of exclamation generally results in variations of the odd look. I guess I could use the English equivalent, but somehow it doesn’t feel as though it means the same thing. When I say ‘Jy will mos!, what I mean is Oh, come on, you knew that was stupid, but you would just go and do it anyway, wouldn’t you?’ And, seriously, who says something like that to themselves in the heat of the moment? 🙂

This use of random wordage came to mind earlier in the week, on one of my increasingly rare free-from-puppy-duties days. I’d crammed the day full of appointments, gym visits, shopping and so forth – racing from one to the other in order to get everything done before picking Cassie up from the vet after her sterilisation procedure.

CassieMolly_nap time

provitaOne of my stops was at the local Tastes of Africa shop, to pick up some of my favourite crackers (Provita) and to enjoy a vetkoek lunch. For those who have no idea what that is, vetkoek (pronounced fet-cook) is a traditional South African bread product made from yeast-based dough, shaped into medium-sized balls and then deep-fried. The result is something rather like a bread roll, but crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. You then add your preferred filling and eat it piping hot. I chose to go all traditional and have mine filled with delicious savoury mince, chutney and grated cheese. So much yum in every mouthful!

But I digress…

Having placed my order, I took my table number over to my chosen seat. When I put it down on the table I had to laugh out loud – the table numbers are all South African expressions or place names, and mine expressed to perfection in one word my general take on the day.

EishEish is another weird South Africanism – it encapsulates exasperation, disbelief, resignation – and a whole bunch more. It’s not a word I used when I lived there, but I found that I picked it up when travelling around Tasmania with my brother last November. He uses it quite a lot as we had a number of eish-moments, many ending in laughter. Perhaps that’s why it’s embedded itself in my vocab and made me smile over my (very tasty) lunch. Nostalgia’s a funny old thing.

Thinking about this later, I realised that there are quite a few random expressions in my lexicon: some Afrikaans-based ones from my childhood, some Yiddish from my high school years and so forth. This is just the start of the list and it’s by no means comprehensive, but it may help people who experience my occasional odd comments / outbursts in public places 😛

  • Aarde Genade (good heavens!) – actually a combination of earth+mercifulness, which makes no sense at all!
  • Oy vey (dismay) – a lot of this at high school
  • Chuzpah (cheek/gall) – and a fair bit of this too
  • Great Zot! (good grief!) – BC comic meme from my youth
  • Padkos (travel provisions) – literally: road food
  • Klutz! (clumsy twit) – usually what I say to myself immediately after saying Jy wil mos…
  • Jy wil mos (yeah, well, you would go and do it, wouldn’t you)
  • Muchas gracias (thanks heaps) – one of the few Spanish phrases I retained after our visit in 2007
  • Now now (soonish) – this one confuses the locals regularly 🙂
  • Oh my giddy aunt! (amazement) – I blame my friend Vicki for this one!

It’s always deeply satisfying to make tasty things for my family (and pets), and this week is no exception.

With Cassie and Molly both at school this term, we’re going through a prodigious amount of puppy training treats. This week I’m trying out something new: Tuna Fudge. I found the recipe on the dog club’s website and thought it would provide some variation for the (not at all picky) dogs. It’s a much less messy and time consuming option than the liver treats I made a couple of weeks ago, so I may stick to these for a while. I did change the recipe slightly, using one cup of plain flour + (about) ¾ of a cup of polenta (corn meal) in place of the wholemeal flour.  The dogs approve 🙂

tuna fudge_31jul16

While the training treats were baking, I did the final preparation of some Rosemary Seasalt Dutch Oven Bread for our lunch. I mixed up the dough yesterday, using ½ a cup of my excess sourdough starter in place of the suggested amount of active dry yeast. This may be what resulted in the bread not rising a whole lot (and thus turning out pretty dense), but the crust was absolutely delicious!

I’ll do some research into getting the quantity of starter right, but will definitely make it again. So much yum – particularly on a blustery winters day. There’s not a lot out there to beat freshly made (hot) bread with lashing of butter!

rosemary seasalt sourdough_31jul16

What I need now is a really great chicken and corn soup recipe to try out as an accompaniment… Any suggestions?

I always thought French food must be singularly unhealthy. After all, it seems to use an awful lot of butter and cream – and to be rather heavy-handed on the weird ingredient front (frogs legs, duck fat, blue cheeses and suchlike).

But then I watched a video countdown of the best diets in the world. Screened on SBS last week, the rather perky presenters (Kate Quilton & Jimmy Doherty) showcased typical weekly food shopping and family meals in 50 countries around the globe.

Iceland came out on top overall. They have a really clean environment, eat loads of fish and a dairy product called skyr – which sounds rather like yoghurt, but is exceptionally low in fat and high in calcium and protein. Italy, with its Mediterranean diet (my favourite), came in at second place; the Marshall Islands (in the South Pacific), with its high levels of type 2 diabetes, came in last.

My understanding of French food as inherently unhealthy led me to anticipate that France would be somewhere down the bottom of the list too. Not so. In fact the French seem to have a significantly healthier lifestyle than we do here in Australia. Not what I’d have expected, given our abundance of sunshine, fresh produce, sunshine and enthusiasm for outdoor living. But there you go: we ranked 38/50, whereas France came up as very commendable 8/50!

Since I’m generally pretty suspicious of information presented on TV, I hunted around for some more data on the pros and cons of French food. I found some commentary on high levels of saturated fat and possible under-reporting of coronary heart disease related deaths, but the bulk of what I found supported the notion that the French lifestyle is a positive one.

A recent good food study conducted by Oxfam concluded the same thing. It ranked 125 countries according to the quality of their food, its affordability and availability – and on the prevalence of diet-related health issues. On this food index, Australia was ranked eighth – with the race to the bottom won by Chad. France came in at second place.
oxfam comparisonWhilst this was interesting, it didn’t tell me what the French are doing that we’re not. As author Mireille Guiliano asks: “…they eat as they like and they don’t get fat. Porquoi?”

Why is it so, indeed? Considering that key ingredients of French food include butter, speck, duck fat and cheese, it sounds implausible. What is it about the French diet and lifestyle that has resulted in France being relatively high on the preferred diet list and low on the international overweight index?

Well, firstly, it’s very flavoursome food. It’s also very filling – which makes it easier to be mindful of what you eat and to not overindulge. They also tend not to snack between meals and to include walking as part of their lifestyle. Add to this that the French have traditionally made an art out of food preparation and eating. It’s something they take seriously, finding pleasure in relaxing over their meals rather than rushing through them or eating them on autopilot whilst busy with other things – in the car, at work, or in front of the TV/computer.

The past couple of decades has, however, seen this lifestyle starting to fall foul of la restauration rapide épidémie (the fast food epidemic). According to some research, this shift is resulting in a reduction in the number of people maintaining the tradition of two or three sit down meals a day. Even so, it seems the French are still getting things more right than not, with the average body mass index remaining pretty much the same over the past 40 years.

So where to from here for our household? My take-home message from all this was to try to make our lifestyle a little more French, whilst retaining key elements of my favourite eating style (the Mediterranean diet). My new plan is to get retro: go back to taking time to plan the meals for the week, increase our fish and blue cheese (!) intake, use lots of veggies every day and exile fast food / ready meals / snacks (for the most part).

With this in mind, I conducted a mini-audit of our fridge/freezer and pantry yesterday and found a preponderance of fresh food (yoghurt, cheese, eggs, fruit and veg), as well as tinned/dry staples (tuna, lentils, rice, pasta). It looks like my plan won’t really result in much extra shopping – or in that much of a lifestyle change – although cutting back on red meat and eating more fish probably won’t sit too well with the meatosaurus of the family. Perhaps he won’t notice if I wear a beret when I’m cooking… he’ll be too busy laughing 🙂

How about you? What’s your favourite food style?

Most of the dogs I’ve had have been prepared to eat just about anything – including socks, paper, and packaged pet food. But this doesn’t necessarily mean any of those things are actually good for them. Household items aside, many commercial pet foods – particularly wet foods (tins, etc.) all have a particularly unappealing smell. A nasty, I-wouldn’t-want-to-eat-that, sort of smell. I don’t think the pretty pictures on the tins/sachets make up for this in the slightest.

So it occurred some time ago to question the quality of of said food? Really – would you eat it? Like most people, I’ve tended not to read the ingredients list too closely. Even when I do, the information doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. What even is animal digest or high quality protein?

The pet food industry is big business, but it doesn’t appear to be particularly well legislated and the standards for compliance in terms of content appear sketchy. This 10-minute video provides an overview of impressive machinery, manufacturing process standards and some charming pet pictures. Where the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia video falls down is that it doesn’t provide any detail on what actually goes into the food that’s being so carefully processed.

pfiaa vimeo video

I hunted down the Australian Standard on the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food (AS 812-2011). It’s available online so, if I really want to check what’s allowed to go into pet food, I could download that. The catch? Well, to gain access to more than the cover, preface, contents, and part of the scope statement of the of the (2011) legislation, I need to invest $200.

The (free) preview pages online tell me the following, but essentially it’s committee-speak and leaves me no better informed than the video did.

This Standard was prepared by the Standards Australia Committee FT-033, Pet Food. The objective of this Standard is to provide requirements for the manufacture and marketing of pet food intended for consumption by domesticated cats and dogs. The focus of this Standard is on the safety of multi-ingredient, manufactured food for feeding to pets and on ensuring products are accurately labelled and do not mislead purchasers…This Standard specifies requirements for the production and supply of manufactured food for domesticated dogs and cats. The Standard covers production of pet food from sourcing and receipt of ingredients to storage, processing (including heat treatment), packing, labelling and storage of products in order to assure its safety for pets. It also includes instructions for the uniform application of information provided on labels.

So it’s not surprising that most people I speak to have no more idea than I do of what goes into the commercial food they give their pets. We see the TV ads, with puppies and kittens rushing to their delicious-looking dinners, and forget that these self-same pets would probably eat socks, cardboard, poop and pretty much anything in-between.  But commercial dog food, whether it’s dry kibble, tins of wet food, or training treats, is quick and easy. Not cheap – but easy. Not necessarily healthy – but easy.

It turns out, however, that commercial dog/cat food is largely made from leftovers. Not the yummy sort of leftovers you find in the fridge after pizza night. No. These leftovers are the scraps that can be scavenged from animal carcasses after all the saleable meat has been harvested, the bits not considered suitable for human consumption. This includes a bunch of things I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat (and I’m not a vegetarian): offal (liver, heart, kidney, lungs, brains, stomach), fat, intestines, blood, beaks, and so on. Not exactly gourmet fare, right? But it’s all lumped under the generic label of high quality protein or meat meal (of one sort or another) on the ingredients list.

This is amongst the reasons that we’ve chosen to make the bulk of our dog food, processing it every six weeks or so. We augment this with commercial kibble, but choose the best brand we can afford – after a rigorous check of the ingredients list. Why? Because my dogs are effectively our kid-replacements and this matters to us. I don’t want to feed them anything I consider distasteful or wouldn’t, at a push, be prepared to eat myself.

Training treats are my current bugbear. Most dog schools advocate soft treats, preferably meat-based. So many people use generic dog sausage (TM) for this. However, I find that even the products that claim to be ‘leading health food for pets’ are a little dodgy. The ingredients may well include 70% fresh meats… vegetables and grains, but it’s a bit like generic polony (luncheon meat): it can be keep in the fridge for weeks, just getting a bit dried out and shrivelled after a while. It also smells a bit odd and the dogs get mild diarrhoea the day after their training session. Given all of this, surely it’s not something I should feed to them?

So now that we’ll have two dogs at school every week, we’re going back to making our own training treats. This is a recipe for Sunshine Liver Brownies, given to us by a trainer at the dog club a number of years ago. It’s easy enough to make, keeps well, smells okay and I know exactly what’s in it. Oh – and the dogs love it and has no negative side-effects 🙂

  • 450g chicken or beef liver (I’ve used both; beef is often cheaper and easier to get hold of; 1kg of beef liver cost me $1.50 at the meat markets last weekend)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup corn meal (aka polenta)
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp garlic (I use bottled garlic, but no doubt fresh is better)
  • Parsley – fresh or dried (this is optional; I think it’s just decorative & tend to leave it out)

Puree all of the above in food processor if you have one OR just mince the liver and then add it to the other ingredients and mix well. Note: the mixture will be quite thick. Line a baking tray with foil – and oil it lightly. Pour the mix onto the foil and press out as evenly as possible so that it’s about 1cm thick all over. Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes (Check at 15 – it’s usually enough). Brownies are done when the pink (liver colour) has gone. Don’t over bake or the brownies’ll crumble. Once it’s cool, slice the bake into pieces small enough to use as training treats (about 1cm cubes). They keep in the fridge for about a week – but you can freeze the rest and take some out each week for training. Can be frozen for up to 6 months. I’m pretty sure your dogs will love you for this.

As for the dogs’ daily (wet) food intake, we combine 2 – 3 ox hearts (minced), 1 liver (ditto), 8 – 10kg mince (depending on the number of hearts used), 1.5kg sardines in oil.  That gets frozen in 500g lots and taken out as required. Our 2-year old gets 300g of this mix each day, the puppy gets 200g. They also both get an appropriate ration of (soaked) kibble with each meal, along with whatever appropriate veggies/fruit I have to hand. Now that is gourmet doggy-fare – and yes, I would eat it if I had to!

Having (accidentally) picked about 6.5kg of cumquats this week, I feel obliged to try to put them to good use. Phase one is a jam run, using my standard cumquat jam recipe – tried and tested many times with excellent results. This has used up 3.3kg of fruit, which means there’s still a giant bowlful staring at me balefully – waiting to be used. I used a further 40 cumquats this morning creating a version of the Anna Gare cake I mentioned in an earlier blogjune post – it smells fabulous and I’m not at all sure it’s going to last until our mid-winter feast tomorrow night…

Cumquat hazelnut cake

This is my jam recipe (with comments). It works, it’s tasty and it uses up cumquats 🙂

  1. pick your cumquats, wash them, slice them in half and prise the (oh so many!) pips out (be warned, this step takes a while – and if you have any little cuts or cracks in your fingers, you’ll know ALL about them!).
  2. make sure you save the pips (this is important).
  3. weigh your fruit. for every 1kg of fruit, add 1.5 litres of water.
  4. leave the fruit to soak overnight (yes, this is important: do it).
  5. cover the pips (the ones you save in step 2) with water, cover and leave for 12 – 24 hours (also important).
  6. transfer you fruit/water mix into a large stock pot (unless, like me, you soaked it in one to save time)
  7. bring the mix up to the boil slowly
  8. strain your pips into the mix, maxing sure you maximise the amount of goo (pectin from the pips) you get in whilst also avoiding any pips going into the mix
  9. simmer your fruit for about an hour or until the skins are soft
  10. pop a couple of saucers in the freezer – you’ll need them later
  11. measure the fruit mix and add 1 cup of sugar per cup of fruit mix (white sugar results in prettier jam, but I’ve used raw sugar and it makes no difference to the taste).
  12. you now need to return the mix to the heat and stir it until the sugar’s all dissolved – don’t bring it to the boil yet!
  13. once the sugar’s dissolved, then bring the mix to the boil and keep it at a rapid boil (uncovered) for 40 – 60 minutes > basically until the mix jels if you test it on a cold saucer. Mix should be at about 105C (mine went a bit over that last night, so the jam’s a bit darker in colour than usual).
  14. stand for a few minutes, then pour the jam into hot sterilised (dry) jars.
  15. we pop the lids on the jars and tighten them while the mix is still hot to ensure a good seal

You now have many jars of jam (we made 28) — and your visitors will also start to look nervous as they try to ward off culinary gifts 🙂

By the by, if your fruit isn’t  all completely ripe, the pips will probably be a little underdeveloped and may not provide sufficient pectin. I decided to add a sachet of Fowlers Vacola Jamsetta last night (first time I’ve used it in cumquat jam) to compensate… and the results were spectacular. The jam overflowed across the top of the stove – very suddenly, unexpetedly and dramatically! Not much lost, but a hell of a job to clean up.

Note to self: for future reference: turn the heat off before adding a commercial jam setter – and add it slowly