The pitter patter of tiny feet…

We’ve had lots of visitors and houseguests in the last month and thought we’d waved goodbye to the last set on Monday. But last night, as I sat up late working, I realised I wasn’t alone. We have an intruder. Actually, we probably have more than one. And I’m sorry, but he/she/they have to go.

Image from here

Call me selfish and heartless, but I’m not sharing my kitchen with these furry pests (who look nothing like the cute fairytale mouse in this photo). But how am I going to get rid of them in a reasonably humane and child-friendly fashion? More importantly, am I going to be able to get off this stool without one running across my foot?

The condensed version

Like many on the Pacific rim, we have suddenly become obsessed with our distance from the sea, the safety of our neighbours’ brick chimneys and having an emergency kit. My sister, who is still dispossessed after the Christchurch earthquake, says that when people ask her how they can help the recovery, she tells them to get a disaster kit. She’s the reason why we now have plastic containers full of toilet paper, tinned food, bottled water and various other essentials in our garage. Hopefully, we’ll be in the happy position in a few months to have to eat all the disaster supplies because they’re reaching their expiry date rather than out of catastrophic necessity.

In the meantime, I’ve discovered a packet of milk powder in the cupboard that’s reaching its best-by date and rather than a) throw it away or b) drink it, I’ve been looking for things to do with it. My friend Ann puts a generous cupful into her extremely decadent homemade muesli (which I don’t make any more because we eat it straight from the jar in about a day) and I’ve been using it to make milk for breadmaking. You can also add a spoonful of the dried powder to enrich homemade yoghurt. But my favourite thing to do with it is make my own sweetened condensed milk – a handy trick for the committed condensed milk fan who doesn’t always have it in the cupboard. 

DIY Condensed Milk

Sweet things are good in a crisis, aren’t they? When disaster strikes and our house has sailed down into the next street, I’ll be the one with the fridge full of condensed milk.

1 cup milk powder (full fat, please)

3/4 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup freshly boiled water

Put everything into a jar, attach a well-fitting lid and shake like your life depends on it. Let sit for at least 30 minutes in the fridge before using. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Oh crumbs

The natural by-products of all this breadmaking I’ve been doing are crumbs and flour everywhere, especially when my constant kitchen companion asks if she can “help Mummy?” Flour I can cope with – it’s like silky dust – and crumbs underfoot are a small price to pay. But some weird genetic impulse to avoid wasting food also means our freezer has been filling up with small plastic bags full of crusts and the nobbly bits at the end of a loaf that are too chewy for the Small Girl to eat.

I decided I had enough of these bags in the weekend and blitzed several of them into amazingly delicious breadcrumbs that can be pressed onto thick pieces of white fish or scattered over pasta. You could, of course, use crusts from bought bread, but you won’t feel nearly as smug.

Posh Breadcrumbs
These transform the most boring dish into something a bit more exciting – such as the “emergency pasta sauce out of the freezer tossed through penne and put into the oven” dinner we had last night. They’re the breadcrumb equivalent of dangly earrings or a shiny new lipstick when you’re wearing an old t-shirt and harassed working mother frown.

A few decent handfuls of crusts and bread bits
A couple of cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
A handful or so of fresh parsley (out of your own garden for extra smugness)
Olive oil
Optional: stoned black olives, lemon zest, finely chopped chilli

Throw the crusts into a food processor and blitz them into crumbs (you can do this with frozen bread but it makes a hell of a racket). Add the garlic, parsley and optional extras (if using) and whiz again. Dribble in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and pulse to mix. You want the crumbs to be moistened, not a sticky paste.
Use as directed above. You can also freeze these crumbs and use them direct from the freezer. Bash them against the counter to break them up a bit if they’ve frozen into big clumps.

Sweet Sweet Friday: Beautifying Chocolate Honey Tea

This month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, in which tea is the special guest star ingredient, had me really stumped. I could only look on in awe as other bloggers created incredible cakes and puddings and was just about ready to throw in the towel altogether.

In a last-ditch effort, I idly Googled ‘tea and chocolate’ and somehow ended up at a site advertising chocolate and green tea face masks. Now, we all know chocolate makes us more beautiful thanks to its powerful antioxidants and green tea is often heralded for its detoxifying properties, but did you ever think of mixing them together and slapping them on your face?

While I was playing around with a homemade version – mixing a bit of green tea that I’d smashed to bits with a mortar and pestle with cocoa and a spoonful of manuka honey (also good for the skin) – it occurred to me that this trio could also make a delicious drink. In the time it took the kettle to boil I’d spread half the chocolatey goo on my face and scooped the remainder into a tea cup. I’m not sure that it made me any more beautiful but my skin did feel nice afterwards – and the chocolatea was delicious.

We drink buckets of peppermint tea at our house and so a peppermint version was the logical next step. I didn’t spread this one on my face (there’s only so much beautifying a Kitchenmaid can take in a day), but the tea smelled and tasted like a liquid After Dinner Mint. If I could distill this into a perfume I reckon I’d make a, err, mint…

Beautiful Chocolate Honey Tea
If you’d prefer to spread this on your face than drink it, here are a few handy hints. Use green or peppermint tea from a teabag (or matcha tea powder, if you’re posh) to save yourself the trouble of grinding up leaves in a mortar and pestle. Otherwise you’ll end up with scratchy twiggy bits on your face, which will be rather more exfoliating than you may like. Just mix the cocoa, tea and honey into a paste (add a drop of olive oil if it seems too thick), spread it on your face and lie down for 10 minutes. Wash off gently with a facecloth.

2tsp cocoa
2tsp honey
2tsp green or peppermint tea (about a teabag or two’s worth)

Put all ingredients in a fine china cup and mix to a paste. Add just-boiled water and stir briskly. Sit and drink while thinking beautiful thoughts.

Foie out: a culinary dilemma

The text message was short and to the point: “Do you want some foie gras?”

My fingers hovered above my phone. What to reply?

I thought about it for a minute or two, then texted back: “Um, is it bad to say YES PLEASE?”

Depending on your point of view, foie gras is either one of the most delectable foodstuffs of all time or the cruel byproduct of man’s inhumanity to animals. There’s no delicate way to put this, but it’s made from the engorged livers of ducks or geese who have been force-fed. Lovers of foie gras, which is most often made into pate, swoon at the thought of its creamy, rich, flavours whereas animal rights advocates are more likely to faint from suppressed rage.

Our benefactor, a vegetarian, had received this precious jar from some visiting French friends. She gave a Gallic shrug when I asked her about it, claiming it didn’t bother her whether other people ate it or not, but she knew it would go to waste at her place. So it’s now sitting in our fridge, with a large chunk missing after a visiting lover of foie gras and France seized upon it with absolute delight. Perhaps he should have taken it with him, because I haven’t quite been able to follow suit yet.

Where do you stand on the foie gras debate? Is there anything else you don’t eat for ethical reasons?