Archive for June, 2011

Smells But No Bells

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Since time immemorial, incense has been used for religious purposes and to cleanse the air in homes as well as in places of worship.  Much of the incense is based on fragrant gums like frankincense and myrrh and come from Arabia and India.  When you go to India, places like Bangalore almost seem infused with the rich smells of sandalwood.

At Steenbergs, you can get the practical benefit of incense sticks from India that come in a huge range of flavours.  I particularly like frankincense and sandalwood, but you can have more exotic aromas like patchouli and ylang-ylang.  I burn them every so often to cleanse the house and burn them over our fish shaped incense stick holders.

Incense Stick On Fish Shaped Holder

Incense Stick On Fish Shaped Holder

Incense Burner For Gums

Incense Burner For Gums

But what I really like are the incense burners and the charcoal that comes in handy 10 briquette packs that are remarkably good value.  These charcoal circles can be made hot over a candle or a gas flame to get to a burning temperature, then placed into the beautiful clay burners – we have the Mysore shape.  You can then drizzle over some pieces of frankincense for a sweet, turpentine-like smoke or myrrh for a bittersweet flavour.  Or you can mix them together into an aromatic base, where I use a ratio of 2:1 of frankincense to myrrh.  Then perhaps you can make a truly cleansing aroma by breaking some cinnamon or sandalwood bark over these resins to add another flavour to the whole.

Frankincense On The Burner

Frankincense On The Burner

Myrrh Gum Burning On Hot Charcoal

Myrrh Gum Burning On Hot Charcoal

Mysore Burner With Frankincense Smoke Erupting

Mysore Burner With Frankincense Smoke Erupting

For more recipes of do-it-yourself incense mixes, you could do worse than go to http://incensemaking.com/incense-recipes.htm or http://www.scentsofearth.com/how_to_make_incense.htm .

Ripon’s Flood Alleviation Scheme

Sunday, June 12th, 2011
Around a year ago, I wrote a few blogs about walking along the Rivers Skell and Ure in Ripon.  The rivers run through Ripon and circle around the ever looming presence of Ripon Cathedral on the mount at Ripon’s heart.  The rivers bring the countryside and riverine nature to the centre of city life, stopping us becoming a classic urban landscape and staying a leafy, watery, sleepy rural cityscape.  I love it.

However, the rivers do flood, particularly when both the Skell and Ure are full and the Ure backs up the Skell and into Fisher Green, a low lying area at the edge of the city.  So a major flood scheme was started late last year just as the flood season starts, so initial work was hampered by, you got it, flooding.  But after a really wet start to 2011, work has progressed decently and I felt it time to record some of the work being done.  It is not necessarily pretty, but it is community history, something which shapes all our lives – usually mundane, but nevertheless important even if much less exciting than the media titillating misdeamours of minor celebrities.

By North Bridge on the floodplain for the River Ure as it comes down from the north, the land has been landscaped to create flood walls from earth and breeze blocks to contain the water as it swooshes down.  While the arches of the bridge have been opened to allow the water to flow through into floodplains lower down, rather than building up behind the bridge.

Diggers On Flood Scheme By North Bridge In Ripon

Diggers On Flood Scheme By North Bridge In Ripon

Barriers By New River Wall On River View Road (not much of a view now!)

Barriers By New River Wall On River View Road (not much of a view now!)

As you wander through the city, there are major changes to Alma Weir by The Water Rat pub.  The weir is being lower to allow water to flow through the city more smoothly rather than building up and threatening houses in this area.  However, work is being hampered as some of the bigger houses prevent access and work on the river walls close to their properties without financial compensation – very civil community spirited.

Changes To Alma Weir On River Skell In Ripon

Changes To Alma Weir On River Skell In Ripon

As you walk to Fisher Green, the old concrete river walls have been removed and the banks repaired and covered with gabion baskets.  Similarly, earthen banks have been built around the three houses on the north bank of Fisher Green.  Lots of work is being done, but I am feeling sentimental about the destruction of the stepping stones, and I pray that they are not going to be permanently to satisfy insidous health and safety requirements.  On the downside, they have managed to dig through a sewage pipe that connects Sharow with the sewerage works, so are needing a continuous movement of sewerage by tankers from Sharow to the works.

Gabion Baskets On River Skell At Fisher Green In Ripon

Gabion Baskets On River Skell At Fisher Green In Ripon

Barrier Where Stepping Stones Used To Be - Fisher Green

Barrier Where Stepping Stones Used To Be - Fisher Green

Small Barrage Along Skell Downriver From Fisher Green In Ripon

Small Barrage Along Skell Downriver From Fisher Green In Ripon

I am sure it will all be a great success, especially as there is a new mini reservoir at Birkby Nab to hold back flood surges on the Laver, which flows into the smaller Skell to the west end of Ripon.  However, it does all look ugly with raised earthen flood banks obscuring the views for some.

Over the year, I have taken various photographs which show progress of the Scheme, and can be accessed on my Flickr sight at http://www.flickr.com/photos/steenbergs/sets/72157624084538088/.

My Take On The Modern British Balti – A Recipe For Balti Masala

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

On Thursday, I was at home sorting out some domestic chores with some builders and my mind wandered to food and more specifically curry.  I craved a great balti, so I whipped one up, together with some dhal.

The balti is now a modern classic curry that came out of traditional curries from Northern Pakistan and was nurtured and loved within the Birmingham restaurant scene.  It is an inexpensive and simple way of making a curry once you know how.  Also, it fits well into the stir-fry & wok scene, so while not strictly fusion food it does cross-over nicely between the Chinese cooking styles and curry culture up here in the North. 

I love it because of its sheer flexibility – effectively you make up a sauce that is chocka with vegetables and add your meat to this. 

And of course while here we have made the masala mixes from scratch you can buy a balti masala curry mix or make your own and store it and seriously cut back the amount of thinking time to create a balanced meal.  We tend to eat ours with dhal – in fact we are always eating dhal and pureed pulses with everything – and mop it all up with naan bread. 

Stage 1: the smooth Balti tomato sauce

2tbsp butter, or ghee
1 medium onion (125g / 4½oz), roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2tsp freshly grated ginger
½tsp cumin seeds
½tsp coriander seeds
¼tsp fennel seeds
½ – 1tsp chilli powder (you could replace this for a fresh green chilli, deseeded)
½tsp Fairtrade turmeric
125g / 4½oz chopped tomatoes

The first stage is to make the balti tomato sauce.  In a heavy bottomed pan, dry roast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds for about 2 minutes, then take out of the pan and put on a cool plate.

Smooth Balti Tomato Sauce

Smooth Balti Tomato Sauce

Now add the butter (or ghee for a richer balti) to a heavy bottomed pan and heat to sizzling hot.  Add then stir fry the onion and garlic until translucent which will take about 4 – 5 minutes.  Add the fresh ginger and stir once.  Add the toasted spices and the spice powder and stir these in, turning for about half a minute, making sure it does not stick to the pan.  Finally add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Blitz the sauce either with a hand held blender or take out and pulse in a Magimix until smooth.  Return to the pan and keep on a very low heat with the lid on.

Stage 2: the Balti stir fry

3tbsp sunflower oil
500g / 1lb 2oz chicken breast, cut into 2cm x 2cm cubes
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 1cm pieces
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 1cm pieces
1 – 2 green chillis, deseeded, halved and thinly sliced (we have 1 chilli to keep heat lower)
100g / 4oz spring onions (or 150g / 5oz normal onions)
200g / 7oz button mushrooms, chopped in half
½tsp cumin powder
1tsp paprika
¼tsp fenugreek powder
1tsp turmeric
¼tsp cinnamon powder
¼tsp cardamom powder
2tbsp chopped tomatoes
1tsp Steenbergs garam masala
100ml / 3½ fl oz / ½ cup water
Handful chopped fresh coriander leaves

Heat the oven to 100C / 212F.  Add half of the sunflower oil to a wok and heat until smoking hot.  Stir fry the chicken cubes in batches until sealed.  Put the cooked chicken pieces into the warmed oven.  When complete, clean the wok.  While frying the chicken, measure out and mix the ground spices together. 

Stir Fry The Chopped Vegetables

Stir Fry The Chopped Vegetables

Add the remainder of the sunflower oil to the wok and heat until hot and smoking.  Add the red and green peppers, green chilli and button mushrooms and stir fry for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly, making sure it does not burn and is fried well.  Tip in the mixed spices and stir through twice, then add the smooth Balti tomato sauce and mix in, plus the tablespoons of chopped tomatoes.  Heat until simmering, then add the water and reheat to a simmer, mixing all together.  Cook on a gentle simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked chicken pieces and mix together.  Add the garam masala.  Cook for a further 10 minutes.  About 2 minutes before the end add the chopped fresh coriander and stir through.

Axel's Balti Served Outside

Axel's Balti Served Outside

Serve hot with naan, plus we like dhal with it.

Charities, The Law And Unintended Consequences

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

As some of you know, we have been looking as a socially committed but small business to give support to a charity, either Practical Action or Water Aid, and link that back to sales via the web site as a sensible way to work out the donation and also to give our customers a sense of buy-in back to this.  However, as often comes about, the law is not that simple.

Firstly, by mentioning a charity in our order acknowledgements and on our website, this link is viewed as payment for the promotional use of a charity’s brand in generating sales, rather than a gift or extra cost as we had thought about it.  Therefore, we would need to enter into a corporate-charity partnership via a Commercial Participators’ Agreement with a minimum financial commitment of £10,000.  It would be nice if our sales were that high, i.e. well over £1 million, but they are not.  So that is a non-starter.  Water Aid’s FAQs explain this well.

Secondly, VAT would be charged on the payment as it becomes a promotional service, i.e. HMRC can get their mitts onto it, but Steenbergs could not reclaim the VAT through our business as it is outside of our scope of activity and is not for business purposes, so we would get an extra 20% charged on us for HMRC’s charitable benefit.  That is another disincentive from wanting to do the right thing.

So we can donate the money to charity but we will not be able to tell you about it in a way promotionally linked to any charity.  Overall, I am pretty grumpy about the way obstacles are put in the way to prevent small businesses trying to be good.  Is charity such a bad thing?  Why are all laws and regulations created for the benefit of big business to the detriment of smaller enterprises?  Oh and by the way, yes I really am that naive and stupid.

Can come anyone come up with a solution as we still intend to do something like this as it is the right thing to be doing and is all part of who we are and want to be?  My thought is that we state that we will make donations every year at the rate of 20p per order from our website sales, then give a retrospective donation to an “unnamed” charity determined after the accounting year end by our customers.  In this case, we commit to giving the value, but because we do not gain any benefit direct from any link to a specific charity, this cannot be viewed as receiving anything in return by HMRC, i.e. it is not deemed to be a sale.

Alternatively, we could go for a more woolly “Steenbergs is delighted to be supporting WaterAid in 2011.  To find out more about what WaterAid does, visit www.wateraid.org/uk” rather than linking in to sales.

The upshot is, however, that under UK law it looks as if Steenbergs might not be able simply to have a “named” charity linked to our web sales for the year, nor perhaps could we distribute leaflets to our customers about the charities for their benefit etc etc.  How dumb is that!

Neither Sophie nor I will be backing down on our commitment.  We just need to work out how to do this.  All help gratefully received.

Recipe For Vegan Tofu And Coconut Curry

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Continuing with our vegetarian fest after a successful week during National Vegetarian Week, I was craving a spicy curry that the kids would enjoy but would also be vegetarian – they are beginning to want some meat, but are just about hanging in there.  I came up with this quick and simple recipe for Tofu & Coconut Milk Curry, which we ate with plain boiled rice and red lentil dhal, plus poppadoms.  It is versatile so you can change the tofu for other vegetarian ingredients like Quorn or, if you are a pescatarian, white fish like cod or coley.

Axel’s Vegan Tofu & Coconut Curry

1 medium onion, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1cm / ½ inch cube of fresh ginger, grated finely
1 mild green chilli, sliced lengthways (optional)
2 tbsp organic sunflower oil
1tsp organic  vegetable curry powder, or other mild/medium curry powder
¼tsp organic Fairtrade turmeric powder
10 curry leaves, or bay leaf
400ml coconut milk
4 cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
1tbsp organic white wine vinegar (or cider vinegar)
1tbsp organic lemon juice
1tsp organic garam masala
1tbsp organic sunflower oil
300g tofu, drained then chopped into 1cm / ½ inch cubes
1tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Firstly, we prepare the tofu, by draining it, then placing it between two plates or wooden boards with a weight placed on top to remove the excess water.  This is worth doing as it removes extra water and gives a firmer texture for later.  After 1 hour, pour off excess water and chop into 1cm (½ inch) cubes.

Chop The Tofu Into 1cm Cubes

Chop The Tofu Into 1cm Cubes

Next, we make the coconut milk curry sauce.  Heat the sunflower oil in a heavy bottomed pan.  Add the onion, garlic and grated ginger and sauté on a low heat until translucent – this should take about 5 minutes, but make sure they do not crisp and brown at the edges.

Add the green chilli (if you are after some extra heat, but this is not necessary), curry powder, turmeric and curry leaves and stir in.  Fry gently for 1 minute.  Add the coconut milk and stir in.  Bring to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer.  Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar, lemon juice and garam masala, stir and simmer for another 1-2 minutes. then take off the heat.

Add the sunflower oil to a wok, or frying pan.  Heat until really hot, then add the tofu pieces and turn down the heat.  Fry until golden brown, turning over as they fry to make sure all edges get a nice crispy texture.

Stir Fry The Tofu Cubes

Stir Fry The Tofu Cubes

Until The Tofu Is A Golden Brown Colour

Until The Tofu Is A Golden Brown Colour

Add to the curry sauce and reheat to a boil.  Simmer for 5 minutes until thoroughly cooked through.  Add the chopped coriander leaves about 1 minute before the end.  Serve with plain boiled rice and dhal.

Vegan Tofu And Coconut Milk Curry

Vegan Tofu And Coconut Milk Curry