Archive for November, 2009

We’re In The Telegraph Christmas Guide

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Steenbergs was featured in The Daily Telegraph’s Christmas Gift Guide last Saturday (21 November 2009).  Our Fairtrade Sugar & Spice Gift Box of 9 products was featured alongside some very illustrious others, including a Fortnum & Mason Hamper and a set of Divertimenti Kitchen Scales and a really fun looking Gingerbread House Kit from Lidl.

A Christmas Traditional Craft – Making A Pomander

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Today we’ve had a ago at making pomanders.  Pomanders were used in England from the medieval period until the 18th century as a way of perfuming the air.

They are pretty fiddly when you’ve got clunky fingers like me and the cloves start hurting your thumbs after a bit, but they are good family bit of fun and are another tradition around the holiday season.

What you need

Ingredients for pomander

Ingredients for pomander

1 medium sized orange
25g organic cloves (whole)
1tsp orris root powder
1tsp organic Fairtrade cinnamon powder
Some ribbon and tape
A few pins and a cocktail stick
A paper bag or greaseproof paper 

  1. Gently need the orange in your hands to soften the skinDSC_0756_edited-1
  2. Divide the surface of the orange into 4 equal parts and pin the tape into place.  This is where the ribbon will be attached later.
  3. Pierce the skin of the orange with the cocktail stick and set in the organic cloves.  Completely cover the orange with organic cloves.
  4. Mix together the organic cinnamon and orris root powder and put this mix into a paper bag or on a sheet of greaseproof paper.  Roll the orange in the spices mix.
  5. Leave the orange in the paper bag and store in a warm, dry place, or (alternatively) wrap the orange in tissue paper.  An airing cupboard is ideal.  Leave until the skin under the tape is dry.
  6. When dry, remove the tape and decorate with the ribbon and with a bow.
Pomanders

Pomanders

Antony Gormley And 2 Modern Icons (Or Maybe It’s 4)

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I have just been for a short family visit to Corbridge which is from where I hail.  I am born and bred in Northumberland and have Northumberland, the Tyne and the North coursing through my veins and deeply embedded in my psyche.  I love the North and North Yorkshire is about as far South as I will ever go again – I did London for 5 or so years, but it was not for me.

And as we go North, the gateway to Tyneside and Northumberland is heralded by the brooding figure of the monumental Angel of the North that has protected the region from harm since 1998, but sadly not helped its football teams.  It fascinates me how it is that two works by Antony Gormley, a Londoner by birth and working, have become for me some of the best works of sculptural art in recent years – The Angel of the North (1998) and a temporary series of ice sculptures, Three Made Places (2005).  For more on Antony Gormley, go to http://www.antonygormley.com/home.html

The Angel of the North is a massive, hulking structure of rusted steel that dominates the skyline as you are coming from the South on the A1(M), as you start going down into Team Valley, or (if you’re heading the other way) it seems to loom in the distance.  The Angel is a big, muscle-bound presence with his wings stretched outwards like 2 aeroplane wings that are vertical rather than horizontal, which has always struck me a bit odd, a tad rigid and clumsy – this does not feel like an angel that will glide down the hill.

For me, it is almost a metaphor for the North East as it looks Northwards towards the Tyne Valley.  This was once a region redolent with smells and sounds of heavy industry, but gone is the coal, the steel and the shipyards.  It stands near the site of the Team Valley and its ribbed body reminds me of the rigid structure of a ship’s hull.   It would no longer be odd to carry coals to Newcastle because this centre of coal mining for 500 hundred or more years is no longer a centre for this carbon energy source.  And the steel was forged in Hartlepool Steel Fabrications and not in a shipyard or metal basher on the Tyne (when Richard Steenberg fled from the Germans when they they invaded Danish Jutland in 1851 he settled first in Hartlepool). 

Is the Angel symbolic of the North’s decline or is it by turning its back on the South trying to say to us to dream and to fly to our dreams?

Three Made Spaces were carved out of the thick white ice on the Island of Svalbard in the Arctic Sea whilst on the 2005 Cape Farewell Voyage.  Cape Farewell (see www..capefarewell.com/) is an amazing concept run by David Buckland, a photographic artist, who brings together artists of all genres with scientists on trips to parts of the world impacted by climate change; most of the journeys have been to the Artic.

Three Made Spaces was created with Peter Clegg, an architect from London, who came up with the idea that we need to visualise a kilogram of carbon dioxide as humans are visual creatures and being told you emit xkg CO2 a year is not very easy to relate to.  He worked out that the space enclosed by 1kg CO2 is which is 0.54 square metres or roughly the size of a coffin or the space around a human being.

Three Made Places, therefore seeks to express man’s CO2 emisssions in sculptural form; it comprises Shelter, Standing Room and Block.  You can read more about their thoughts on the work at http://www.capefarewell.com/expeditions/2005/blog/day-9.html

However, for me the simple work, Standing Room, is the most interesting – it is an upright block of ice, carved to the shape roughly of 1kg CO2.  It is a very clean, simple and crisp icon for climate change; it gives you the size and shape of the problem that we are creating for the planet, which also happens to be roughly the size of a human.  The sculpture is like carbon emissions man-made, and because it is in the Northern Polar region, it reminds us that the whole world is being impacted by our actions not just our own local regions or even just the extremes of the planet. 

Finally, there is an irony in that like the ice in general it is an impermanent work of art – it will be destroyed by the elements, whether more snow, wind, sun or global warming and so like the ice and other environments it will change with the elements thrown at it by the planet’s weather systems. 

We need to adapt to the changes and mediate our actions to reduce the potential scale of the changes, but are we even aware of the immediacy and closeness of the problem?

Keep Governments Out Of Saving The World

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

One of the areas of society that is exercising my thoughts at present is how societies organise themselves, are governed and whether we (as citizens) are actually free … or just whether we are being told that we are free, but in reality are all just tax and regulation slaves beholden to some amorphous and distant SuperState.  And one of those areas of concern relates more specifically to how society addresses environmental problems, such as climate change.

Will there be a tragic destruction of the commons?

Elinor Ostrom is a relatively controversial winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics.  She is not an economist, but a political scientist with a current interest in social-ecological systems, which is the cause of the ruffled feathers amongst pure economists.  The Nobel Foundation cites that her award (she actually won ½ the prize with the other ½ going to Oliver Williamson) is in recognition of “her analysis of economic governance especially the commons”.

However, the concept of social-ecological systems and how to manage the commons is fundamental to all our environmental concerns, and since the potential destruction of the environment is regarded as one of the most pressing medium-term issues for the global economy, we can surely regard her work as impacting on the global economic system.  Or as Stern wrote in his seminal report on the economics of climate change: “Climate change presents a unique challenge for economics: it is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.” (Source: Stern review on Economics of Climate Change, HM Treasury, October 2006).

What is Ostrom interested in?

Firstly, let me explain what is meant by the commons.  It is the natural resources of the earth, ranging from the fisheries, lakes and forests and the soil through to the air quality and temperature and the planet’s biodiversity in animal, plant and microbial life.  Pretty serious stuff.  These are being impacted by everything from massive climate change and local pollution to overpopulation, the advancement of cities and urban developments.

The basic theoretical concept is called the tragedy of the commons.  In 1968, Garrett Hardin coined the phrase “the tragedy of the commons”.  In this case, the tragedy is that people, businesses or countries will continue using a bit more of the the earth’s free natural resources, the commons, while there is still some economic benefit left within Mother Earth until those resources are finally wiped out.  Then everyone suffers.

So for example, in an arid climate, herders will graze their livestock on all available vegetation until finally all the vegetation is destroyed and this method of farming collapses, ie there is no capacity within humans to mediate their actions to maintain the vegetation so that they can continue with their particular agrarian lifestyle.

Or forest communities in the equatorial rainforests have a reputation that suggests they will trash their forests, slashing them down for timber or burning them to clear land for small-scale agriculture.  But is this really so?

Even worse than this, there will be a short-term tragi-comedy where businesses and Governments see significant short-term benefits deriving from global warming as the Arctic becomes ice-free during the summer months within the next 20 years, and largely ice-free within 10 years.  This will open up shipping lanes across the North Pole and will expose land in Greenland, Northern Russia and Canada that can be exploited for mineral, oil and gas resources.  So businesses like Angus & Ross, a British minerals exploration company, which owns large tracts of land in Greenland has seen what were large areas of valueless ice are now fast becoming regions of prospectable mineral wealth as the ice retreats.

How do you protect the commons then?

The mainstream argument goes on that it is best for Governments to intervene, taking ownership and control of the land and so protecting it.  In fact, the United Nations intends to pay Governments to protect their forests ascribing a price per hectare in a way that the European Community offers farmers a subsidy for unused agricultural land under the set-aside scheme.

The climate change meeting in Copenhagen this December 2009 is expected to formalise this method by agreeing a formula for a scheme called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (or REDD). 

But Ostrom’s work contradicts this State driven paradigm.  Elinor Ostrom addresses social-ecological systems at the ground level and how natural resources can be best managed without Government input and without the free market.  She highlights that while the free market might work in many circumstances the non-market part of society is also vitally important. 

She poses questions like the following: “”Why do some locally managed forests thrive better than government protected forests?…what factors affect the likelihood that farmers will effectively manage irrigation systems?…When will the users of a resource invest time and energy to avert “a tragedy of the commons”?” (Source: Ostrom, Science, Vol 325, p420, 24 July 2009, edited by Axel Steenberg and annotated with my emboldening for emphasis).

She suggests that communities will, in certain circumstances, self-organise to protect and manage their resources rather than let them be razed to nothing.

This propensity to self-organise depends on a large number of factors, including the size of the territory (a large resource is hard to manage while a small resource has no value), the predictability of the system (a forest is fairly easy to monitor whereas fisheries are chaotic), the mobility of the resource (trees stay still whereas herds of caribou move around), the number of users (large groups are harder to manage than smaller groups), leadership (respect for the leadership or elders), norms/social capital (where all users have the same moral-ethical code they are more likely to pull together), knowledge of the social-ecological system (you need to understand the resource to be able to manage it), importance of the resource to the users (fisheries off Mauritania are important to the Mauritanians rather than the British, even if the British and the rest of the EC are overfishing the North-West African Shelf, hence this disconnect between the beneficiaries of the overfishing and the actual resource has been and continues to be fatal to fish stocks in this highly productive area for marine biomass) and collective-choice rules (if locals have control over their destiny without interference they are more willing and able to defend their resources).

To quote again from Ostrom: “Larger-scale governance systems may either facilitate or destroy governance systems at a local SES level.  The colonial powers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, for example, did not recognize local resource institutions that had been developed over centuries and imposed their own rules, which frequently led to overuse if not destruction” (Source: Ostrom, Science, Vol 325, p421, 24 July 2009) and (my words) a 100 or so years later local conflicts have arisen across ethnic groups where the colonial powers rode roughshod over traditional structures as they carved up Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

She shows that if the State gets out of the way, local communities will respond by forming their own local, specific systems to manage scarce natural resources to prevent resource collapse, using their own rules (for which they have local buy in as they are home grown rules) and that this local social-ecological system is an adaptable framework that can apply in numerous different circumstances.

In other words, we (as in the human race) do not have an uncontrollable desire to self-destruct if we are left to our own devices and allowed to develop our own social-political systems on a local scale. 

So when we go back to the concept of REDD as introduced above, we find that perhaps the State is not the solution but perhaps the issue. 

Ashwini Chhatre and Arun Agarwal of the University of Michigan have compared data on carbon sequestration with types of forest ownership and have found that tropical forest under local management stored more carbon than those managed by Governments. 

One reason, per Ostrom, is that locals tend to be better at looking after forests if they own them as they then have an interest in ensuring the long term survival of the natural resource, as it is their livelihood.  Conversely, Governments (however good their intentions) will usually issue licences for destructive logging or free-for-all land grabs that strip forests bare.  The authors also suggest that locals may be better at managing common pastures, coastal fisheries and water supplies.  (Fred Pearce “Let the people look after their forests”, New Scientist p 12, 10 October 2009).

And then with all the best will in the world, you will get local political disasters that will create chaos with globally orchestrated plans, for example:

  1. The Burmese military government does not care about global political views so will continue to strip their tropical hardwood forests for their own gain whatever the developed world tries to tell them and it is estimated that two-thirds of timber revenues in Burma are from illegal trade and most of that simply crosses the border into China’s Yunnan Province and then elsewhere into China; or
  2. In Madagascar where there is currently no effective Government since the President was ousted in a political coup in March 2009 – so now the national parks are being logged at a rapid pace with 750 tonnes of rosewood “legally exported” this year to China while bushmeat hunters are exporting 100s (if not 1000s) of endangered lemurs to sell onto exotic meat restaurants (Catherine Brahic, “It’s open season on Madagacar’s biodiversity”, New Scientist p 12, 17 October 2009).

My current conclusion

What the work of Ostrom, and others, says to me about how to manage our global environment is that: (a) solutions by Governments or States are doomed to failure, as they will be destroyed inter alia by corruption and lack of local buy-in into their imposed schemes (however good and sensible and well meaning on paper); and (b) big global schemes will never work because they will never be specific enough to local factors and will be incapable of flexibility or have any in-built local intelligence, so will fail to marry up with the social, ecological and political requirements actually needed on the ground. 

In the end, global climate change will only ever be addressed by a concerted effort by people – that’s individuals, households and local communities – to work on their own towards a better planet, taking into account their own local, special circumstances.  It will mean forsaking the help of the State, and often working towards a distant, barely visible target, without any apparent success and even some possible failures. 

It really needs a wholesale lifestyle change, a change in our individual philosophies and how we interact with the world.  We need to look at the world holistically and sustainably – respect nature, don’t waste anything, work for a greater good and live together respecting people’s opinions and differences.

It, also, tells me that many of the modern political superstructures that have been built across nations, and even perhaps current social-political systems within countries, need to be re-appraised and new ways of organising societies need to evolve if humanity is successfully to sort out global environmental issues like climate change, overpopulation etc…but that’s for another day.

Recipe – Quince & Ginger Steam Pudding

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

CSC_0738_edited-1A good friend of ours – Jane – gave us 8 large quinces the other day and I have been racking my brains as to the best way to use them.  They have a gorgeous light green-yellow colour and an almost eye-like shape, but finding recipe ideas for them is well nigh impossible. 

I eventually found a Gordon Ramsay recipe on line which I have tweaked to be a bit more interesting as his recipe appeared – at least on paper – to be quite bland.  It only used 2 quinces so I still need to find a way of cooking the rest – I don’t want to have to make quince jelly.  We had it for our pudding after a delicious Sunday roast beef, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings, which was gluttonous but very satisfying.

For the topping:

200g/ 7oz quince (about 2 large ones), peeled and diced small to 1cm max., removing the tough core
100g/ 4oz Fairtrade caster sugar
300ml/½ pint water
1 Fairtrade cinnamon quill
3-4tbsp golden syrup
2 balls stem ginger, diced small to 1cm max.
1tbsp ground almonds

For the pudding:

140g/ 5oz softened butter
140g/ 5oz Fairtrade caster sugar
140g/ 5oz self-raising flour
½ tsp mixed spice
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 free range eggs
1tbsp full milk, i.e. not semi-skimmed/skimmed

Start by buttering well a 1.2 litre pudding basin

Dissolve the 100g of caster sugar in the 300ml of water and heat to simmering point.  Add the cinnamon quill and hubble away for 5 minutes.  Now add the quince pieces and simmer for about 20 minutes until soft.  Remove from the heat and sieve, getting rid of the sugar syrup.

In a bowl, mix the cooked quince and stem ginger until mixed throughly and then put these into the bottom of the pudding basin, levelling it out.  Add the golden syrup and let this settle into the nooks and crannies.  Sprinkle the surface over with ground almonds to act as a slight barrier.

While the golden syrup is oozing down into the quince-ginger, put all the other ingredients into a food processor and mix until it looks like batter.  Spoon this over the ground almonds and smooth flat.

Cut a piece of baking parchment to fit over the top with some extra and grease one surface with butter.  Put a pleat into it.  Lay this over the top of the pudding basin.  Next get a larger piece of aluminimum foil and put a pleat in this and lay it over the top of the parchment.  Scrunch it down around the edges to seal and then tie it down with some string.

Steaming hot pud just out of the pot!

Steaming hot pud just out of the pot!

Put the pudding bowl in a large pan, fill pan to half way up the pudding boil with boiling water from the kettle.  Put the top on the pan and heat the water to boiling temperature, then reduce heat to a strong simmer and steam for 1½ hours, checking the water levels all the time.

Serve immediately with custard.

The Best Christmas Cookery Books

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

As part of our occassional series on our favourite books, I thought I would give you some of my favourite cookery books for the festive season. 

The first one is a secret, and we all have these, because it’s the family recipes that have been handed down from mother to daughter and now (in the age of equal opportunities) to sons as well.  And those recipes will largely stay a secret, so sorry!

Other cook books include:

My favourite has to be “Celebrations” by Claire Macdonald of Macdonald as it’s stuffed full of fantastic recipes and meal plans for everything from Christenings to Funerals and has a great countdown to Christmas and New Year.  My copy, which was given to me by my mother-in-law, has pages falling out of it now as it has been well thumbed.  Claire Macdonald also is a favourite because she has been so very kind to Steenbergs over the years, and for that I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

Next is a posthumous work of Elizabeth David’s called “Elizabeth David’s Christmas” and as always is erudite and inspiring.  I find the section on Poultry and Game the best and most luscious of all, especially her classic rendition of “Pork and chestnut stuffing” and also her “Cassoulet of Turkey” is a wonderful way to deal with turkey that’s different from the usual slam it in the oven.

Then, although she is not one of my favourites generally is “Delia Smith’s Christmas” by (yes you’ve got it) Delia Smith.  I think she is really good in this book on Canapés and Nibbles, especially liking her “Savoury cheese palmiers with ham and anchovies” which have been a family staple for Christmas Eve now for at least 10 years.  She also has a really useful countdown to Christmas.  The rest is okay.

All of these are available via www.amazon.co.uk:

Claire Macdonald: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Celebrations-Baroness-Claire-Macdonald/dp/1841586064/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256723985&sr=8-1

Elizabeth David: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Elizabeth-Davids-Christmas-David/dp/0718146700/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256724053&sr=1-1

Delia Smith: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Delia-Smiths-Christmas-Smith/dp/0563370645/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256724099&sr=1-2

Steenbergs in the press

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Steenbergs Organic is in the press again with some nice articles. 

At the weekend, we were in a beautifully photogenic piece the The Mail on Sunday’s magazine for our organic rose water; amusingly we were also in the same article for Renaissance Stardust by Laura Santtini’s Easy Tasty magic range as this is something we have developed with her and will be packing up for sale shortly.

Today, we are in an article in The Ecologist which talks a bit about us and how we go about our business.  It’s really quite flattering to be written about in The Ecologist as (for me) they are the granddaddy of the green movement.

Here’s a link to the article:

http://www.theecologist.org/green_green_living/food_and_drink/352912/10_organic_spices_to_cook_with_this_winter.html

Recipe – Making Your Own Christmas Pudding

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

We have had a brief hiatus from Christmas preparations with Halloween and Bonfire Night, but this weekend I’ve got back to the task of preparing for Christmas.  This weekend was the turn of the pudding.

I started making my own Christmas puddings several years ago as an experiment and you know what – it’s way better than the things that you get from the shops.   It also gives you a great sense of achievement.  It does takes ages to steam though.  Also, the recipe does make masses of Christmas pudding, but then we usually make two and give one away to great friends of ours, the McMurrays.

I like to be a bit nerdy with the stout or beer that I use.  I like to find something a bit special, slightly quirky.  This year I have used Titanic Stout from the Potteries, brewed at the Titanic Micro-brewery run by Dave and Keith Bott in Burslem Stoke-on-Trent.  It is the CAMRA Champion Bottled Beer of Britain for 2009.  Titanic Stout is full-tasting and full of character, with a roasted grain, coffee, licquorice and tangy hop resin aromas.

Some of the ingredients for Christmas pudding

Some of the ingredients for Christmas pudding

Another great thing about using beer rather than the brandy that most chefs use is that (and anyone who’s done the maths will see where I’m going) you’ve bought a 500ml bottle of gorgeous beer but only need 150ml, so in the best “waste not want not” attitude I think I better enjoy the rest of the beer myself!

This year I am also reviving an old tradition and have stuck some Christmas favours into the Christmas pudding.  Silver charms were popular in the past, with the traditional shapes like a boot (for travel), ring (for marriage), a button (lucky for men) or silver sixpences for general good fortune.  To stop them tainting the pudding, I have wrapped the coin tightly in baking paper.

The recipe I’ve got down below is an evolving recipe.  I think that my original recipe came from  a Keith Floyd book, but I’ve looked back at his books and I must have changed it a heck of a lot over the years as it bears no relation to his recipes anymore.

That’s one of the things I love about real cooking – you start with the germ of an idea (either from a book, something your mum does or just something that seems to fit with the ingredients you’ve got in front of you) and then you play with it, changing ingredients for those that you’ve actually got in the cupboard or just because they seem to have the right taste, then (when it works) you’ve got your own recipe.  I guess what I mean is don’t be beholden to a recipe book, you’re your own best cook – experiment and play and the more enjoyment you have in doing the experimentation the more happiness will flow into your food.

Ingredients

This recipe does 2 x 1.2 litre puddings, so if you want only the one pudding, simply halve the quantities.

25og/ 9oz vegetarian suet (you can use Atora if you want)
350g/ 12oz sultanas
350g/ 12oz raisins
250g/ 8oz currants
50g/ 2oz almonds
100g/ 4oz mixed peel (I use Crazy Jacks)
75g/ 3oz glace cherries, snipped with scissors (use Crazy Jacks as it includes no horrible added colours)
75g/ 3oz crystallised or stem ginger, snipped with scissors
350g/ 12oz Fairtrade dark Barbados sugar, such as Traidcraft Muscovado
2 grated eating apples
250g/ 9oz fresh white breadcrumbs
175g/ 6oz plain flour, sieved (we use Sunflours who are a fab local hand miller of flours)
1tsp Steenbergs organic Fairtrade mixed spice
1tsp Steenbergs nutmeg powder
½tsp fleur de sel
6 free-range organic eggs
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1tsp Steenbergs natural almond extract
150ml/ ¼ pint pint stout

DSC_0719_edited-1Toast the almonds in an oven for 5 minutes or so. Mix all dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs; add lemon, orange, Steenbergs almond extract and stout. Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in all other ingredients and stir thoroughly.

Now make a wish! Cover and leave somewhere cool overnight.

Turn into greased basins, cover with butter papers and a double layer of cloth.   Sneak a silver coin into the mixture; I wrapped a cleaned 20p or 50p piece in some baking paper and push it into the mix.  Tie securely with string going right round the bottom of the bowl to make a strong handle to lift the bowl.

The Christmas pudding all wrapped and ready for 7 hours of steaming!

The Christmas pudding all wrapped and ready for 7 hours of steaming!

Steam for about 7 hours.

On Christmas Day, steam again for about 1½ hours or until heated right through.

To flame the Christmas pudding, place the cooked pudding on a plate with a decent curve.  Then warm 2 – 3 tablespooons of brandy or whisky (I use whisky) without boiling.  Pour over the Christmas pudding then set alight with a match, being very careful not to set yourself alight!  I am sure there was a useful purpose for the flaming ritual but nowadays it’s just for the flamboyant show.

Give A Christmas Present Today

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

It’s the end of the ancient British year as we move from the bright, warm summer period into the winter period.  It’s a time to reflect on where we are.  As we move into the colder, winter months, it is a time to be thankful for what we have got and realise that everyone in Britain – yes everyone – is so lucky compared to many parts of the world.

It’s a time to give something back, however small, however seemingly insignificant.  Turn down your heating a bit and save the planet for future generations and other parts of the world.  Or perhaps give something to charity.

We like to give Christmas boxes to children in poorer, more disadvantaged parts of the world.  We do this through Samaritan’s Purse which can be accessed via http://www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk/. This year we have given 2 boxes – one for a boy and another for a girl, i.e. one from each of our children.

Boxes for Operation Christmas Child

Boxes for Operation Christmas Child

We have decorated the boxes with some jolly wrapping paper and stuffed them full of gifts: a tennis ball, a pack of ballpoint pens, a pack of Haribo sweets, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, hair bobbles, a toy car, a toy doll and face towels.  As the Steenberg family, we all hope that someone feels happy from the gift, yet even though we will never know, it is still a great feeling when you drop off the box at school or whichever drop-off point you choose.

Politicians fight wars, make people’s lives miserable.  They don’t give presents from the heart.  That’s what individuals are for – go on make someone happy today.

Bonfire Night and Delicious Parkin Recipe

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Another symbol of the passing year.  Another memory of cold, dark evenings.  Another thread perhaps back to simpler times, perhaps even to pagan times.  Bonfire Night has a special place in our annual celebrations, even though I know it’s not very PC:

1.  Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 just down the road at Scotton on the way to Harrogate, so there are quite a lot of places locally that go out of their way not to celebrate Bonfire Night; he went to school at St Peter’s School in York, together with some other Catholic conspirators.

2.  Also, I have fond memories of warm mugs of slightly revolting soup around huge bonfires and fantastic fireworks displays which used to have a Guy on their top being cremated (I was brought up in Northumberland where we were less prissy about these things);

3.  I love traditional parkin that is eaten on Guy Fawkes – “Th’ children’s all lukkin’ forrad to th’ plot an’ parkin”.  I love any cake or biscuit with ginger in, so I am sucker for parkin.

The one that I made on Wednesday was lighter than the real one which should have black treacle in it.  Our kids are less sure about the dark treacle, so this one went down much better last year and so I’ve made it again; both work and home love it.

A light Yorkshire parkin

A light Yorkshire parkin

Ingredients

110g/ 4oz self-raising flour (not wholemeal)
110g/ 4oz wholemeal self-raising flour
110g/ 4oz butter
140ml/ ¼ pint milk
2tbsp golden syrup
110g/ 4oz Fairtrade caster sugar
55g/ 2oz sultanas (optional)
2tsp Steenbergs ginger powder
1 free range egg (lightly beaten)

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F.  Grease a metal baking tray with a pastry (or paint) brush or butter paper; turn the baking tray upside down after greasing with organic sunflower oil to allow any excess oil to drain away.

Melt together the organic butter, milk and organic Fairtrade golden syrup in a pan.

Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl, sieving the flours.  Add the melted butter-syrup liquid and the beaten egg to the dry ingredients.  Stir well.

Pour into the greased baking tray and bake for about 40 minutes.  Test for its readiness with a skewer or gently touching with a finger to see whether firm.  Leave to cool and cut into squares.