Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Apricot summer

Every year when the apricots are really ripe - not straight after they arrive, but a little later - I make a dessert I found in a Penguin book I've had for years: Cordon Bleu Desserts and Puddings, by Rosemary Hume and Muriel Downes (1976).

It takes a while to put it together but none of it is difficult. However, all the measurements are the old imperial ones so I have to be approximate here.

Apricot Suedoise

just over 3/4 cup sugar (it's 6 ounces in the original)
1 1/2 cups water
a few strips of lemon zest

Boil together in a large saucepan for a few minutes to make syrup.

just under 1 kilogram of fresh ripe apricots
12 or more skinned almonds

Halve apricots and remove stones and any bits of stalk at the top. Poach gently in the syrup, cut side up (but put them in cut side down first and then turn them over), until cooked through. (I find it easier to do this in two batches. The idea is to end up with 10-12 halves that have kept their shape well. The rest can be a bit mushy.) Leave it all to cool down.

juice of 1/2 large or 1 whole small lemon, made up to 5 tablespoons with water
25 grams gelatine

Mix juice/water and gelatine in a bowl that you can then sit over a small saucepan of boiling water. Stir the gelatine mixture over the simmering water until it is well dissolved.

Arrange the firmer apricot halves, cut side down, into a round flat-bottomed glass or china dish of some kind, not too shallow - a souffle dish, for example. If you're feeling clever you can fit an almond or two under each one so it sits in the space where the stone was. If not, just scatter the almonds among the halves.

Put the rest of the apricots and the sieved syrup into a food processor and turn it into puree. Add the gelatine mixture and whizz it all together.

Gently pour the puree over the apricot halves so they stay in place. Cover and leave to set in the fridge for at least half a day.

To turn out the suedoise, dip the outside of the dish briefly into hot water. Hold a serving plate over the top (preferably one with a bit of a curve around the edge) and turn the dish upside down. With any luck, the suedoise will turn out neatly onto the plate with its apricot halves looking pretty on the top.

(Or you can just whizz up all the apricots and set and serve the suedoise in its original dish, or set it in individual glass dishes.)

Whipped cream is good with this, and little almond biscuits are very good too.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Not getting it

Gremlins are all around us. Both my son (back from overseas) and I had important applications for courses vanish without trace. I emailed mine, as instructed, in late January and had an email confirming I'd done everything correctly and it was all taken care of. Then I found it had never reached the right person. Fortunately I had just enough time to do it all again. He posted his last week, then suddenly realised he hadn't sent a photo with it. So he phoned up, only to be told it had never arrived. He spent the day doing it all again, and faxing it this time. Both of us could so easily have missed out completely, never knowing our vital communications hadn't got there until it was too late. We did everything right, but systems let us down.

That must be what thousands of New Zealanders are thinking, as they watch their jobs disappear from under them. They've done everything right, so how come they're suddenly out of work? Today the Stats people came up with some numbers: 105,000 unemployed, the highest number since September 2002.

I hope this time around we'll at least be spared the finger-wagging rubbish about people not wanting to work and being eager to bludge off the state instead. I could never understand how politicians such as Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley were so sure that the appalling unemployment levels of the early 1990s were due to a sudden mass collapse of moral fibre, and that the only remedy was to slash already far from generous benefits.

Labour never saw fit to restore them, though it tinkered around the edges a bit, and did at least fix the worst problem: ludicrously high state house rents. But there's been no serious attempt to work out whether the amounts paid are actually capable of covering the most basic levels of current family living costs. The foodbanks have learnt the answer: they're not. And soon large numbers of shell-shocked people will learn it too.

A new film about "the David Dougherty case" screens this weekend. I've put a Letter from Elsewhere about it - "The invisible victim" - up on Scoop this week at