Sunday, January 25, 2009

Shed project 2

This weekend was supposed to be unbelievably snowy.
It did snow a bit.

Then the weather went really nice, and my thoughts turned again to shed building. Here are the foundations that I finished last weekend. Note the homemade 'spirit level'. Very effective.

Making a straightforward wooden frame is more difficult than I thought. Simple as right angles are in concept, in execution they are tricky things. I made some very basic errors in calculation, and spent an inordinate amount of time unscrewing screws. It's fortunate that I've largely conquered Time, otherwise I'd have been very unhappy.

Just as I had raised the left and right frames into place and was standing with arms outstretched wondering how on earth I was going to join them together without them falling on top of me, the young master came tumbling out of the house to announce his willingness to help. We had a good 'ole time hitting our thumbs with hammers, and after a longish interval, we had the quite convincing makings of a shed.

Next weekend: Boarding up, painting, floor, door and windows. Insh'allah. (Or maybe that should be roof first. I can't quite make up my mind...)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shed project 1

I've finally decided to use up the lumber remaining from building the house for building a little shed. I need somewhere out of the rain to store my tools, and I need another roof in the garden for gathering rain in a new butt. A small shed should serve both purposes.

This is the first semi-permanent structure that I've ever built, so it'll be interesting to see how it turns out. Dry, solid, functional, and picturesque are some words that spring to mind in terms of hopes.

Here are the foundations going in.

It looks dark because it was. I decided around 5 pm that I would build a shed, and the sun was going down. I hastened to the bamboo grove to cut a culm as a frame for some stones and broken roof tiles which will form the foundations. The winter wind was sighing and soughing through the bamboo, and I rather hoped to see a wraith, but none appeared. The darkness forced me to halt operations even though I was all hot to finish the thing in one go.

More another time I guess.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

When camouflage fails

Insect camouflage is truly a wonderful achievement of evolution. But however wintry it may be outside, pretending to be a hibernating twig on a white painted interior simply does not cut it.

I awarded 40 points for effort and transferred the little creature to one of my old business cards. He maintained his façade, or maybe the charade, on the edge of the business card. I tore off the piece that he was clinging to, and tossed it into the bushes on the other side of the hedge. He was still maintaining his carefully calibrated angle and his stiffness has he hurtled and twisted through the air.

Pressure cooking with my own produce

Happy New Year! Let's hope peace breaks out around the world this year, and the dire economic situation is taken as an opportunity to build a more humane and sustainable economy.

Recently I've been left on my own due to various piano events involving the missus and young master, and so I've been experimenting with making dinner with home-dried ingredients that the missus seems to baulk at using. The results have been most satisfactory to my mind.

We have a 'super-pressure cooker' (a 'kasturyoku nabe' from Asahi Kasei*) which cooks anything in about 1 minute. The first thing I tried was chicken breast with shiitake and wolfberries.

* The word is out on these things. If you want to buy one now, there's a waiting list of several months.

Fry garlic and ginger, then sauté pieces of chicken breast.
Add equal quantities of vegetable oil, sesame oil and sake/shokoshu mix, with sugar and salt in sensible quantities.
Add shiitake with the stems removed, and a suitable quantity of wolfberries (dried).
Bring to the simmer and pressure cook for 1 minute in a super-pressure cooker.
Open the lid and enjoy the smell of ... ramen!

When my family came home, they said "It smells like ramen!" more times than I could count. I served it on rice with boiled broccoli. It had a hearty, wholesome taste and the wolfberries went very well with rice. But the young master was not keen on them and eventually forked the remainder onto my plate, while approving of the chicken, shiitake, and 'ramen' gravy. The many cookery blogs of English-speaking Asians attest to the common theme that wolfberries are not really a children's favourite. Well, tough, they're good for you.

You may recall that in the summer, I sun-dried my excellent mini-tomatoes. The other day I was on my own for dinner and I made a risotto with sun-dried tomatoes and minced pork.

Simmer sun-dried oil-stored tomatoes in a pan with a little water (as to quantity, your guess is as good as mine).
In the pressure cooker, sauté garlic and onion in the olive oil from the dried tomatoes, then add pork/beef mince and sauté until sealed. Chicken or white fish would probably do too.
Put the tomatoes in the pressure cooker, and in the remaining water, dissolve a bouillon cube.
Add a seemingly sensible quantity of rice to the sautéed mix and ensure that it's well coated in oil. Then pour on the bouillon water, simmer, and pressure cook for 1 minute.
Open the lid with trepidation and excitement, transfer to a bowl and stir in plenty of black pepper and Parmesan. Top with fresh, chopped Italian parsley.

Since the water content was calibrated extremely roughly, the result was something between risotto and congee. However, the rice was pleasantly al dente even if the consistency overall was a little sloppy. The tomatoes had the same characteristics as when they were fresh; sweet, tangy flesh, and rather tough skins. The sweet, tangy taste more than made up for the toughness, and drying them intensified the flavour. The whole mélange was very agreeable, especially with a glass of white wine.

From this I conclude something of interest to the agriculture and food culture of Ehime and to parts of Japan with a similar climate. Both mini tomatoes and wolfberries can be grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, and can be preserved relatively easily by sun-drying. They can also be combined with readily available foodstuffs to make delicious, healthy, and easily prepared dishes. Nota bene as we Latins say.