Thursday, 14 June 2012

A Tart You Can Take Home to Meet Mum


My pre-parenting career required a LOT of abstract problem solving. I had to formalise problems and then devise algorithms to solve them. Invariably, the simple, elegant solutions were the best.

In the kitchen I have a particular fondness for this elegant formula:

Pastry Cases + Filling + Frangipane = Yum

What is frangipane? Is it an almond paste? A filling? A topping? A pastry? A cake? A custard?  I don't rightly know, so we'll just say "yes" to all of those questions because it shares some properties of each.  

What is yum?  I'm not exactly sure but it tastes good and has the added benefit of hardening your arteries.

We will be using the frangipane as a rustic topping on the tart, but it can also be used as the filling if you alter it slightly (see the frangipane section below). If you use the frangipane as the filling, the fruit filling can be used as a topping by pressing pieces of the fruit into the frangipane.  If you take care with the presentation you can make some very elegant, food-porn quality tarts.

These tarts are dead simple and can be knocked up in no time at all (get your mind out of the gutter, I am talking about tarts as food here). There is also a lot of room for creativity with fillings and frangipane flavours.  This recipe should make six tarts that are 10cm (4in) in diameter.

For a guide to my recipe notation, see this blog entry.

To get started, preheat your oven to 190°C (375°F).

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Venus

Venus transiting the sun, in my backyard,
projected through a handheld telescope.
Today is a special day to be an Earthican, if you are interested in more than what is in you own backyard, that is.

The 2012 Transit of Venus is a rare celestial event where Venus blazes a trail across our local star. Every 108 - 121 years, Venus crosses in front of the sun twice, with about eight years between passes.  If you missed it, well, start dieting, exercising and living healthily because the next one won't be until 2117.

There are two stories about the transits of some 240 years ago that I like.  Scientists of the day were attempting to measure the distance to the sun using parallax and they needed measurements from around the globe to perform their calculations.

The first story is of Captain James Cook setting sail for Tahiti to observe this event. After lazy cocktails and basking in the sun, he opened sealed orders informing him that he was to search for the fabled land of Terra Australis.  And by skipping a few pages of the history book we end up with me tapping away on my keyboard on Australia's Eastern coast.

The second tale is not so happy.  It is of the misfortunes of Guillaume Le Gentil.  A Frenchman who was to observe the transit from Pondicherry, India.  On his sea voyage, war broke out between France and England (shock!) and when he arrived at Pondicherry he found it had been taken by the English.  The English forced himout to sea and he set sail to Mauritius. On the day of the transit he couldn't take any readings because of the rolling and banking of the ship.

He decided to take readings of the 1769 transit in Manila and filled the intervening time mapping the east coast of Africa.  When in Manila, the Spanish weren't welcoming so he set sail for Pondicherry once more.  Pondicherry was once again under French rule after a treaty in 1763.  He built an observatory and patiently waited the transit.

The weather was fine in the days leading up to the transit but the skies clouded over the whole day of the transit.He took no measurements.

But it gets worse!  The return trip was plagued by delays; storms, dysentry, unsettled humors.  He made it back home some eleven years after his departure.

But it gets worserer!  In the intervening time he had been declared legally dead.  His wife had remarried and his greedy relatives had picked apart his estate.  He had even lost his seat on the Academie des sciences.

He did remarry, reclaim his job at the Academie and lived a few more decades.  I bet he's glad that the next transit wasn't going to be until 1874!

One Sleepy Quiche

The other day I was walking through the garden wondering what to cook for dinner.  I looked at the herbs, vegies and chooks and it all came together: Sleepy Quiche.


Never fear, I didn't use a chicken, not even the lazy leghorn that is off the lay, just the freshly laid eggs I had been collecting all week.  I got to picking and plucking (but not the chicken, always with the chicken, try stop focusing on the chicken!) and filled a basket nicely. 

This Sleepy Quiche has roasted cherry tomatoes, wilted baby spinach, zucchini (courgette), bacon and onion in the pie.
Nice haul. I must remember to get a bigger basket.