March +

Sheesh, I nearly missed this month!

Weather-wise, it's been an odd season. A cold, wet, windy spring; a short warm-but-not-hot summer, a hot and dry autumn. In the garden, beans were pretty crap, tomatoes have just started to come in large quantities, apples and pears did very well, peaches were poor. Figs are just ripening now and we've got some massive ones, so I guess figs like what beans don't.

My first (as primary supervisor) PhD student turned in, defended, emended, and passed. That's a big win, and was a major learning experience for both of us. My second PhD student will be turning in this month. Excellent progress, and it's been a joy working with these two excellent students. I'm co-supervisor for five more, four of whom had better finish up by the end of the year since their scholarships all finish soon/have already finished. It's a bit crazy to give students a three year scholarship when every student takes 3.5 - 4.5 years to finish, but there you go.

An infected oral cyst that resulted in a huge abscess and excruciating pain can't possibly count as a win, but antibiotics sure do. Four days in and it's pretty much all better, though I will of course finish the course of the meds to prevent development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Taking some annual leave so that over Easter I get an 11 day break is the biggest win for March.

Positives for February

I got a secondhand spiralizer, and it is SO MUCH FUN to play with. Zucchinis become zoodles! Sweet potatoes become sweet patoodles! And it's brilliant for slicing (and coring!) apples and pears for the dehydrator. Five dollars at a charity shop has proven to be win-win-win-win.

Taking a few days off work to make for a five-day weekend has been glorious. Lazy and productive, relaxing and invigorating, fun and busy, all at the same time. It's my favourite time of year, when the garden is in full glut: too many zucchini and beans and tomatoes and apples, just enough corn on the cob, the first of the pears and late-variety peaches, and a growing weightiness to the honey supers on the beehives. Putting an entire cattlebeast -- 200+kgs of beef -- into the freezer this week just adds to the comforting sensation of long-term food security.

Home-brewed raspberry-wheat beer is also a win. Light, crisp, zingy, fizzy, aromatic, and barely alcoholic. It's perfect, especially on these hot summer days when Dearly Beloved is harvesting her hops, I'm harvesting and french-slicing and blanching and freezing beans, and the dogs are lying on the cool tile in front of the fan, chomping on frozen lamb bones.

I'm not going to mention the negatives that rammed themselves into my life this month -- despite the plethora of them -- because I'm determined to focus on the positive this year.

Maybe next year will be 'write reviews for the books I read' year?

2021: trying for the positive

2020 sucked for so many reasons, most/all of which do not need to be explained. So many things gone wrong; so many people whose lives are no longer part of mine and who I miss dearly.

I am going to try to focus on my (admittedly rare) posts for 2021 to be positive.

So: January 2021.
Beans. Lots of them. Ditto courgettes/zucchinis.
Trump out, Biden in: yay.

Bagels: Let's try. Because seriously, honest to shit, I cannot buy bagels in NZ. The rare grocery store ones are sadly shite. We don't have bagel shops here. A few weeks ago, I drove about a hundred miles to Welly and paid $2.50 per bagel (!!!!), as a rare Sunday morning treat. They were good, actually nearly excellent, but... yeah, Moore-Wilson bagels is not a sustainable thing for a non-local with a limited grocery budget. If I want bagels, I need to MAKE bagels.

So, today, I made bagels. I kept it simple: plain bagels with no toppings. They're still cooling, so I don't yet know if I got the crust and chewy/crispy ratio and texture and other dough-related things right (?hope hope hope?). We'll find out in a few hours when I slice and toast them for tea/dinner.... However, they don't look like a total failure, which means I should be able to tweak them into eventual awesomeness (or at least acceptable-ness). Which will be great.

Updates will follow, if only for my own gratification and info-tracking. If they work (cream cheese at the ready!), I will run out and buy smoked salmon, because the only thing better than bagels is bagels with lox.

All I want for Christmas, belatedly.... for this year to bloody end.

I'm not a hugely prolific poster, but regardless, when 50% of my posts for the year start with R.I.P., it's really, really, really time for the year to end.

I'm not going to debate with myself which was worse, Donald Trump or The Year 2020. Both were awful and both will have long-term negative effects. I wish I could think that 2021 will be rainbow-pooping unicorns, but it's almost certainly going to contain more COVID variants; my University firing me (and a third of my fellow academics); natural disasters such as bushfires, hurricanes, volcanoes; man-made terrorist attacks; and, heck, perhaps a new pandemic. Yet, 2020 is a milestone that I desperately need to get past, if only to help me mourn the friends and family I lost this year. I don't want to forget them, but I don't want their memory -- and even the memory of their deaths and funerals -- to be tainted by the dual disasters that have been COVID and Trump.

Just a few more days.

I wish....

I wish I were as clever as my father.
I wish I were as kind as Annie.
I wish I were as talented as Debra.
I wish 2020's disasters could be reversed, so that they were still part of my life.

R.I.P., Debra

Doyle: Brilliant writer, editor, wife, mother, sibling, friend, and all-round awesome person. I will miss you. So much. So very, very much.

Fuck you, 2020.

In which I use leftovers, with success and happiness

Earlier this week, I made beef cheek and skirt steak stew with onions. Lots of leftovers resulted, so we had it a second night for dinner. With still some left.

Then I made roast chicken with various veg. Again lots of leftovers resulted, so we had it a second night for dinner. With still some left.

Today I used the chook carcass plus another previous frozen carcass to make stock. I recovered the leftover bits of meat, then put the stock on the boil to condense.... got distracted with a 2 hour plus skype call with my niece/nephew-in-law, and ended up condensing three litres into about three tablespoons (!). Happily I caught it minutes before disaster struck.

I mixed some of the super gelatinised stock with the chicken meat and diced leftover veggies (carrot, onion, cauliflower).

Then I got some suet from our cattlebeast out of the freezer, grated it, added some minced thyme, and used it to make pie pastry.

Then I got some leftover roasted butternut squash out of the freezer.

Then I made mashed potatoes.

Then I rolled out the pastry and cut circles, and used my new super awsome steel-reinforced silicon mini muffin tin to make mini pie pastries, which I baked till just gold on the edges.

Then I added the chicken mix topped with pumpkin, or the beef stew topped with mashed potatoes, and baked them for another about twenty minutes.

They are so cute. And so delicious. And I am so happy.

Grocery shopping in lockdown

I thought I could hold out for a month, but I ran out of cat food. Priorities, we haz them.

We are allowed to have one person from our home 'bubble' go out to our nearest grocery store to shop; click-and-collect and home delivery services are overwhelmed so we are asked to reserve them for people who are at-risk (health conditions, aged over 70, etc).

In some ways, the grocery store had it well managed: a covered walkway up to the store, with X marks on the pavement every two meters. Signs saying "leave your bags in your car". People, some (including me) wearing mask and gloves, standing on the Xs and moving forward in an orderly manner. A staff member in the shop foyer telling when to enter, and cleaning each trolley with spray disinfectant before it was used.

Still in an orderly manner, I and the people in front of me went through the turnstiles and into the produce section. And then... everyone went feral, like they'd never seen a carrot or apple before. Every aisle was two way, so you couldn't maintain a 2 meter distance from other shoppers. Not much choice of what to buy -- if you wanted potatoes, it was a ten kilo sack or nothing at all. One brand of mustard remaining on the shelf. No baking paper. One lone box of Ziplock bags, which I grabbed. If you touch it, you buy it, so there was no standing looking at the ingredients list on the back of the package. If you want crackers, you grab the first box you see and keep moving.

I hadn't been grocery shopping for three weeks prior to that, and I didn't want to go for the next two weeks while lockdown continues, so I loaded up on cat food (of course), kitty litter, milk, and cheese: all stuff I can't make at home. (Yes, I did try making cat food, but they refused to eat ground beef, chicken thigh, goose breast, ox liver.... pretty much every single thing I gave them.)

The poor checkout people were overwhelmed, trying to keep people on the X marks in the lane, spraying down the conveyor belt after each customer, piling groceries into trollies, conversing from behind a perspex shield. I thanked the girl at my register: they're providing a vital service and keeping the community fed.

Naturally, as soon as I got back to car it started raining, so I stood there in the drizzle spraying each item I'd purchased with ethanol before putting it into bags in the car. It was quite a marathon.

My neighbours, both over 70, should not be going into town for shopping. I keep offering to do it for them, but they refuse. They want to get out of the house, they say. They've arranged to shop at the same time as friends so that they can catch up, they tell me. They have health issues that put them at risk, but they don't seem to care. Not much I can do, after offering and being refused for the fifth time.

I'll stay in lockdown as long as the PM says we need to: I trust and support her implicitly. But I will be glad when we come out of Level 4.

And....we're in lockdown.

I'm really glad that our PM has moved swiftly and decisively. It's NZ's only chance to get through this.

I'm working from home, which is a lot harder than working from work -- so many things I don't have handy, so many files I can't access, so many new programs I have to set up to make the linkages between home and work IT systems. I'm moving all teaching to online, which is a lot harder than teaching face-to-face -- every question has to be answered individually rather than discussed in a group, every lecture has to be pre-recorded, every exam has to be rewritten for 'open book' circumstances since they can't be invigilated.

We were fortunate enough to see one set of friends on Friday, and another set on Saturday. They're the last people I'll see, other than my DB, for a month. Luckily we like each other a lot.

I'm going to try to work through my pantry/freezer and not buy anything at all for as long as possible, as much for the exercise as for practical COVID-avoidance reasons. We're super lucky that we produce pretty much all of our own meat, fruit, and veg, so we'll survive.

I will insist that we go out to a park or beach for a walk once a week -- to keep the car battery from going flat! Nope, that too is not allowed. I will have to go at some point to pick up cat food and dog food, I guess. And maybe milk. But other than that, it'll be isolation all the way for as long as we can manage it. The initial period is 4 weeks. I think it's going to be a long, stressful four weeks.

All y'all: Stay safe, stay well, stay sane.