if its not yummy, then we better make it funny.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ocean Swimming In New Zealand!

One nice thing about living in Auckland or any sizable city is that there are more people who share your interests. Take open water swimming, for example. for years I swam in Argyle lagoon on San Juan Island, while I didn't swim daily in the winter I definitely put in miles there in all of the seasons. I can count the friends and family that joined me on my digits without resorting to my toes. Ben White was a lagoon swimmer, he had read some article about cold water speeding up brain injury recovery and decided it must be good for the brain in general. I remember one very stormy Thanksgiving swim with Ben when the waves were so big and jolly we couldn't help but laugh out loud while rising and falling in the confused surf of the lagoon. It wasn't sure where it was going but it was moving and we were along for the ride. I remember Denise Steinbruck was brave and had a swim with me one time, Thank You Denise. One time I took my daughter Nina's whole slumber party out for what my family always called a chocolate dip (evening outdoor swim). We swam all the way across that lagoon at dusk. I was counting little bobbing heads constantly. I felt like a mother seal. We all made it, and headed home for something hot and chocolate. For the most part, though, I was on my own when I swam. Neighbors would politely note if they learned my swimming identity "Oh, that is YOU down there. I was wondering...." Inside they were probably saying: you crazy thing, I'm keepin an eye on you! I was the freak who swam in the sea unseasonally. Herein Auckland there is a whole community of us! There is a three kilometer swim that over a thousand swim anually.

I read a wonderful book called Swimming To Antarctica by Lynn Cox. She swam across the English Channel, from the north to south island in New Zealand, across the Bering Straights (during the dying throes of the cold war... if you asked me, she ended it with her amassadorial strokes) and other amazing stretches of water. I was inspired by it. I wrote to her and she gave me permission to read her book, or excerpts thereof, on the public television station. I never did, though.

I recently swam in my first open water race. It was short- 1.4 km, but I did it- and so did 269 other people! I loved it. I didn't sign up without hesitation though and I kept coaching myself that I didn't have to go, even though I had paid my 20 dollars. I eventually shared the plan with my husband and that made turning back less likely, or less easy. I had a strange behavior the day before the race. I started drinking a beer at about 2:00 in the afternoon (this is unusual). I was just going to have one before I went to test the water, which is down the street. Before I could leave, I got a phone call from the States and I talked for 45 minutes and drank another one or two. Well then, drinking beer became much more interesting than swimming and after even more beer and an enormous dinner and went to bed early. I sensed inner sabotage, I didn't want to swim, anyway. The racers were to assemble at 7:45 am the next day. Was I crazy? Not Sure. I woke up early, as any real baker does, hangover or no. I flip flopped back and forth as to whether I should, could, wanted to go. I remembered a friend's email recently who was telling me she ran a half marathon after a late night of red wining. She actually said she thought it helped her "push through" I wrote her a quick email and pulled the kids out of bed. Jordan fed them (I was working on the carbs Id drunk the night before) Lillian wore a swimsuit for solidarity. I pleasantly chimed that we were probably too late to assemble and would be turned away. Jordan said to think positively, I said I was thinking positively. We made it there. The start point was in Herne Bay, a very posh part of Auckland. The weather was spectacular, there were lots of serious looking swimmers and lots of wetsuits. I don't have a wetsuit and I don't think I need one, certainly not for a half hour swim. About 10% of the swimmers agreed with my thinking and went in swim togs (as they say here). I think being late was fine, less time to feel intimidated or frumpy in my vintage wool coat. I was an "unaffiliated swimmer" and therefore wore an orange swim cap and was in the third and final heat of swimmers. I heard conversations that told me there were organized trainings and practice swims. I headed down to the take off point and waded in and I found myself saying "what the heck am I doing?!" The foghorn interrupted my quandary and I was off with a whole swarm of swimmers. (You can see the beginning of the race in the video clip below this text, including my loping son and my cheerleading daughter.) The first 20 strokes were pretty irritating with limbs splashing and kicking. Half way out to the buoy marking the "path"I was fine. I decided if I finished I was a winner. Desmond on the other hand, in his five year old thinking, was worried I wouldn't win. Hah!
The swim itself was nice. The water was pale and green like jade. The water temperature was about 16 C or 65 F-pleasant. There were slow moving coast guard boats and sleek kayaks keeping an eye on us. If you had a problem you could just raise your hand and someone would paddle over to you and help you. Hopefully your problem isn't: A shark just ate my hand, then you'd really be in trouble. I noticed that the person telling swimmers "Turn Here to shore, you just passed the buoy" was pretty busy, even though the orange barrel shaped buoy was big, lots of us did not see it and almost went on our own longer swim. I was elated to learn that I was almost done and swam stronger at the end than I had the whole swim. I climbed out of the water looking for my loving family with flower lei and kisses, where were they? Oh well, I`ll revel in the moment myself. There is that great feeling that comes after doing something outside your comfort zone. I walked up to the street and headed over to the park where there would be hot and cold drinks, hot dogs, trophies and prizes. By the way, I later learned Id finished 170th, which to me translates to 'not last'. My family parked right in front of me while I was walking and they hadn't seen me. "Look, I made it!" I pulled on a shirt and we walked to the park. There was a great playground there and lots of happy swimmers. I noticed that swimmers, as a rule are a mellow bunch, not much bravado or elitism that I could see. Each of my family ate two hot dogs a piece, making the $20.00 registration fee even more of a bargain. I learned of the next swim, the Chelsea sugar swim 2.4 km. I registered today, but I don't have to go...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I just realized that I left out a pretty crucial step in the earlier galette post Ill update it.

I am going to have to stop buying watercress on the street. Here in New Zealand watercress is a ubiquitous food. It's not just a trendy food found in small amounts for lots of money like in the U. S. It is a standard component of something called boil-up that is a Polynesian meal (more on this later) but is also grows all over the place. Consequently, there are interesting older ladies selling it, from their yards, at the corner Saturady market and in the local butcher shop. I always fall in love with the sweet older ladies. They sell a huge bunch for a dollar or so. I think "Gee, I should really get some and have nice little cress sandwiches or a delicious bed for my fancy lamb strip or fish". The truth is that it ends up liquifying in the pruduce drawer. Ill still love the geriatric gardeners, I may still part with the dollar, I just dont want the guilt of the neglected watercress eying me when I open the fridge.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Dish and That.... Galette fillings

First Some photo's as promised to Grandma Pat! A recent one of Lillian and the one she loved of Desmond in Tahiti.

Now onto our Pastry Fillers!

Last post has the crust or pastry and this one is for the fillings. First of all , the galettes being such a versatile thing, you need to decide upon if you want sweet and or savory, (you can use the same crust for both) and what size you want it/ them to be. Baking paper or parchment is a good idea for lining the pan so that you can easily move them. I reuse my baking paper over and over, so it isn't so decadent, really. You can use the parchment paper to wrap up a galette that you are giving to someone or smartly taking to work for your mid session snack. Anyway ... back to baking! Just buy the paper, damn it! We'll use it eventually, especially if I get loose and decide to share the white chocolate whisper cake recipe with you. Its the legend of many a wedding. "did you taste the wedding cake? its actually GOOD!". Uh Oh! Now I'm really off.

Why do people have such low expectations for wedding cakes? It's the queen of ritualistic baked goods! It's a once in a lifetime event (naively and hopefully speaking)! Why must the cake so often be sawdusty and overly sweet. That is not a good affirmation, metaphor of, a loving couples road onward.

He yawned and said " Well at first it was fine, maybe we were a little overly sweet to each other, then we just dried out and now we don't even finish the piece." He should have planned the cake better! He should have tested the laws of cake appreciation to asses true compatibility!

Does it really need to be so straight and hard with sugary reinforced precision? Is it a dessert or a building? What about lofty and soft? What about the Zing of a barely sweetened raspberry?

When I have a consultation with folks who are looking for me to bake a wedding cake for them, I always try to determine what school of thought they are from. If they start out with some resplendent account of a cake that was really delicious and show a sign of appreciation of the qualities of taste and texture and balance that can make a cake truly lovely, then it will be a promising partnership if they bring photos from bridal magazines or mention Albertson's or Costco better break it off, now. I use terms like "simply elegant" and "adorned with fresh flowers" as my pledge and disclaimer as to the level of sugar acrobatics I will perform. Speaking of performance Let's galette now.

Galette fillings


Breakfast danish style cream cheese and tart fruit filling.

Good for both breakfast and dessert

Blend softened cream cheese -4 parts, sugar -1 part, flour 1/4 part a dash of good vanilla, 1 egg for each 6 oz or 175 grams of cream cheese. Too much math? OK

1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2tbs flour
1tsp vanilla
1 egg

Blend all ingredients

I use this with fresh fruit or lightly cooked fruit filling. My favorites are raspberries stirred up with a little sugar and a scant amount of flour and shown to the flame just enough to coalesce into a bright red sauce with the sugar and flour absorbed but the berries not really cooked, it turns a duller color and the flavor isn't nearly as snappy if you cook it thouroughly. Strawberry and rhubarb prepared similarly works. I'm in the Southern hemisphere, I have springtime ideas, now. Orange and cranberries are a nice combination with the cream cheese, especially if you add some orange zest into the pastry crust. Apples are good, but you have to partially cook them first, or they'll have to much crunch. Apricot puree is tasty and beautiful swirled around the danish cheese mixture. Frozen blueberries can go in whole on top of the cheese filling as can canned cherries. One decadent filling I once made was a little orange juice concentrate (the organic one is orangier, both in color and taste) a little orange zest in the cream cheese part and chunks of bittersweet chocolate or leftover ganache (a simple truffle filling/ chocolate glaze that is illegal under secret culinary law to waste.)

Its bad when the secret culinary police come by to get ya. They storm in while your entertaining that new vegetarian love interest and bust you for the stupid chicken stock you used or the fact that you didn't fillet the tomatoes and barbarically added the tomato wall with the skin still on. Where are those guys when your husband uses only three cups of water to boil the pasta?... Or when your friend destroys the expensive steaks with twice the cooking time they need? Or when your well meaning and frugal boss insists that real chocolate and vanilla are too extravagant. That's when the culinary police need to be there! Do culinary police go for donuts? I want to know where! Those would be the perfect non offending donuts, no trans fats, no mixes, real filling. Do I need to get a life?? I have one, thank you. I just cant hold steady to galette filling.

Just Fruit

You can make the galettes a traditional pie filling approach, you just have to be careful with the moisture content. If you use a fruit with a lot of moisture like peaches, apricots, cherries and plums and even pears or apples you need to add extra flour, cornstarch or breadcrumbs to absorb the liquid so it doesn't sink into an uncontrolled slough. Rhubarb galettes work, while berry galettes arent a good idea because of all that moisture and lack of structure (lots of small bits). I like to make apple galettes with a little lemon juice and currants and torn stale bread, sort of strudel tasting. Its a good idea to roll the pastry thicker on the fruit only fillings, since it will need to be a bit stronger to hold the cooking fruit in.


Savory galettes are a great option if you don't have much on hand and have to make something delicious and attractive. Leftover meats like ham, salmon, crab, and sausage or smoked fish are excellent components, while added to a filler like cooked potato or artichoke heart chunks or torn stale bread and flavorful additions like sharp cheddar, gruyere cheese, green onions, capers, green peppercorns-crushed, roasted bell peppers or capsicums, shallots finely chopped. I really revel in a crab and Tillamook cheddar with green onions galette. Its rich, so serve it with a nice near naked salad. Asparagus or broccoli with ham and Swiss is really good, too. Chicken mushroom or chicken pot pie can be galette style as can ratatouille or eggplant parm'.

Really, the sky is the limit. Sometimes galettes made from leftover dinner outshine the first meal. You just need a filling that holds together pretty well to scoop or form with your hands. let it cool if you made out of hot ingredients so the pastry doesn't "melt" when you are tucking it up around the sides.

Putting it all together : Oven 375 degrees F

Ill give instructions for individual galettes which turn out to be a few inches across. If you make a larger one for more portions, just use a larger ball of dough use the same proceedure. If you have refridegerated the pastry for more than an hour, pull it out to warm up to a workable firmness for an hour or so, (time varies, depending on the size of dough balls and the ambient temperature in your kitchen.) Place a ball of dough on a lightly floured surface, suitable for rolling out. Roll the dough out into a circle (don't be too precise, they are supposed to be rustic looking). Roll out to a thickness of about 1/8th of an inch or 3 mm thick, a little thicker if your making a mostly fruit based filling. If you are making individual sized galettes they will roll out to about 7 inches or 10 cm across. Place it to the side dust lightly with flour and roll out the rest. As a I mentioned earlier, it is advisable to use baking paper to line your pan. Place the galette dough circles on the pan/paper next to each other. Place the filling in the center of the circle. If it is the cream cheese and fruit type spoon the cream cheese first, about 1+1/2 tbs on each one then follow around with the fruit spooning sauce or filling (1-2 tbs) or just dropping berries or cherries onto the filling. Now take an edge and tenderly fold it up onto the filling and take the next section of edge and fold that up and continue until all the sides have been curled up around the filling, making a little tart that looks like a drawstring satchel that is laying flat, slightly open. If you are using a savory filling or fruit only use the same process but you use more filling, heap up a half a cup or so on the circles before folding up the sides. Scoot them over and make room for more on the sheet pan, the Danish don't spread out much and the fruit ones do just a little.
Brush the sides with beaten egg and sprinkle lightly with sugar (for dessert galettes) and bake in a 375 degree F or 160 degree C oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Now please enjoy your galettes.
By the way, Id like to thank Friday Harbor`s own Dick Brass for inventing the spell check.