Fresh Lime & Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake

It’s been a wild time in more ways than one!

Just over a week ago, Hobart suffered a once in a century storm that saw major power blackouts, even cars being washed away and widespread flood damage, including heartbreaking scenes at the University of Tasmania Law Library, a few steps from my front door. We were incredibly lucky, with minimal damage to the yard and no perceivable harm to the menagerie apart from everyone – including me – being very damp!

I was particularly worried about some of the citrus trees that are something of an experiment in southern Tasmania’s cool climate. In particular, I’ve been nurturing a Dwarf Tahitian Lime for the past two years and let it set fruit this last summer. They were just getting to a reasonable size and I was hoping to pick them later this month, before the hard frosts hit. My worst fear was the torrential rain would cause them to all drop, though they all seemed firm and the tree still healthy. But a few days later, we had our first decent frost of the year and I hadn’t thought to put a bag over the little tree to protect it from freezing. Still, all the fruit were hanging in there (literally), and this morning, I picked the two biggest limes and a couple of lemons for a weekend treat.

Despite the shorter days and the distress of storms, my elderly chickens are still laying and I had a pot of homemade yogurt cheese I made earlier this week, so I thought I’d make a baked cheesecake for dessert.

Here are the recipes:

Lime and Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake

2 limes

2 lemons

6 eggs

400g yogurt cream cheese (recipe below)

¾ to 1 cup sugar

Pastry or biscuit base

Method:

Prepare base (I used pastry but a traditional biscuit and butter base would be lovely with this too) in a spring form pan and set aside.

Grate and juice the fruit, and put it in a blender or food processor jar with the sugar, eggs and cream cheese. Pulse to blend until everything is well combined and smooth.

 

Pour carefully into the prepared base and bake at 150 C (about 300 F) for 45 minutes. After cooking, leave the cheesecake in the oven for at least an hour.

This is incredibly delicious and really very easy to make – I think the hardest part is cleaning the food processor!

Yogurt Cream Cheese

1 litre (about 2 pints) plain yogurt

2 tablespoons salt

Cheesecloth and kitchen string

I make my own yogurt but any good quality store bought yogurt should be fine for this.

Tip the yogurt into a very clean non-metallic bowl and mix in the salt, stirring thoroughly. In another clean non-metallic bowl, lay the cheesecloth so the edges are hanging over the sides. Carefully pour the yogurt and salt mixture into the second bowl, taking care not to drag the cheesecloth into the mix. Gently draw the edges of the cheesecloth together and tie with kitchen string, leaving enough tail to make a loop. Hang the yogurt with the bowl underneath to catch the whey, taking care not to squeeze it. I usually make this in the evening, hang it on my laundry tap and leave it undisturbed until morning.

The next day, carefully remove the string and turn it onto a plate, making sure to get as much as you can off the cheesecloth. It should be very similar to cream cheese but with a beautiful sharp yogurt tang. Keep it in a closed container in the refrigerator. I use this in many dishes, from dips and desserts to ravioli fillings – anywhere you need cream cheese.

I’m seriously thrilled to be growing Tahitian Limes in cool temperate Hobart – it’s something of a gardening coup this far south! So my next question is, what’s your favourite recipe where limes shine? Let me know in the comments.

Take care 🙂

The Martian

The Martian (2015) Directed by Ridley Scott

I re-watched this tonight and was reminded what an excellent film it is and that I hadn’t written a review! In recent years, I’ve been very disappointed with Ridley Scott’s work but here, in a fairly straight science fiction drama, he’s in fine form.

Matt Damon’s Mark Watney is a scientist who gets stranded on Mars, but despite incredible odds, he manages to use his knowledge, training and problem solving ability to stay alive.  Damon brings a ton of heart to this role, there’s a lot of subtlety to Watney’s character arc and I think in lesser hands, this character could’ve become incredibly insufferable very quickly. Despite the set-up and resulting drama, the result is a surprisingly uplifting film, with some nice music choices.

The action switches between the earth-bound NASA personnel, who (when they realise he’s still alive) are desperately trying to work out how to help bring him home and Watney, who’s dealing with the vagaries of trying to survive on a planet which is hostile to him in every way. I particularly liked how Watney’s crew are reintegrated into the story after the tumultuous opening scene, led by the always excellent Jessica Chastain.

But the thing that really makes this work is the script, adapted from Andy Weir’s excellent novel by Drew Goddard (former staff writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer andx Angel as well as writer/director of the slasher homage Cabin in the Woods). Goddard makes the dialogue sing and brings both levity and pathos to the drama.

While the science is sometimes questionable (there’s one explosion that makes sense in the book but fails miserably in the film), the Mars sets (which I believe were shot in Jordan) bring a fabulous otherness and vibrancy to the movie and the supporting cast are uniformly great. But ultimately, this is Matt Damon doing the heavy lifting with the aid of a great script and Ridley Scott in all too rare form.

Very entertaining science fiction fare.

The Party

The Party (2017) Directed by Sally Potter.

Earlier this week, (before the madness of Avengers: Infinity War hit Australia) I was feeling decidedly tired and run down. Recovering from a head cold, too much work and generally worn out, I decided on an evening of solo self-care.

What would cheer me up? A hearty dinner for one followed by an acerbic, biting black comedy? Yes please! This film, written and directed by the wonderful Sally Potter (Ginger & Rosa, Yes, The Tango Lesson and the sublime Orlando) was just what I needed.

The Party is a short (71 minutes) and fast-paced ensemble piece that revolves around Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), who’s just been made Minister of Health and is having a few friends around to celebrate her promotion. It was filmed just before the Brexit madness in the UK, proving again that truth is stranger than fiction.

Shot in digital black and white and beautifully lit, the focus is often on the faces of the ensemble, accentuating their flaws as much as their beauty. This is particularly true of Cillian Murphy’s often manic Tom and Timothy Spall as Bill (Janet’s taciturn husband). I also think this method showed the underlying dinginess of Bill and Janet’s house (particularly the bathroom), which could also be viewed as a metaphor for their lives.

The entire cast of seven are terrific (I’m a sucker for anything with Bruno Ganz in it) but for me Patricia Clarkson as the no filter, cynical and bitter April steals the film and has many of the best lines. There is a twist that I did see coming but I still laughed out loud when it finally arrived.

This has opened to mixed reviews and I can see that it does sound and look more like a theatrical production at times, playing with caricatures rather than characters in its short running time. Also note it has a MA15+ rating for some graphic drug use. But nevertheless, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it if you’re a fan of black comedy and farce. It’s currently playing at the State Cinema in North Hobart and selected cinemas across Australia.

Avengers: Infinity War (No Spoilers!) + Update

Update: In the last 24 hours quite a few people have asked me if I wrote this spoiler-free review because of Disney/Marvel’s Thanos Demands Your Silence campaign. I would like to be very clear that my allegiance is NOT to any corporate behemoth, but to the many fans and friends who want to see this for themselves and make up their own minds. I plan to revisit the film at some point (before Avengers 4 comes out) and discuss it in full – spoilers and all 🙂

I hope you enjoy the movie as much as I did ❤

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo.

Today I went to the opening screening at (oddly) my local art house cinema, The State in Hobart. I say oddly, because this isn’t high art, it couldn’t be considered quirky and it certainly isn’t an independent production.

This is the 19th movie in the MCU – a decade of blockbuster comic book cinema, which has changed how we think of big, loud action films and helped bring strong threads of fantasy and science fiction narrative into mainstream movie-making.

Essentially, Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of all those films, where incredibly well-paid (arguably overpaid) actors get to dance around in front of green screens, dangle off wires and sometimes wear motion capture (or mocap) suits, all the while acting their hearts out. In many ways, the MCU can be seen as everything that’s wrong with homogenised, formula-driven mainstream cinema – but I cannot begin to express how much I enjoyed this film.

Yes, there are faults. I think stylistically, the Russo brothers played it very safe, employing design and style elements from previous films which stand out against original scenes such as those on Thanos’ home planet Titan, which become almost too generic and to my eyes, bland. There was a moment early in the film where the CG really stood out – and not in a good way! – but fortunately, this was the only point where I felt the strain of all those pixels trying to be “real”. Also, unlike nearly all previous films in the MCU, this is not a stand-alone product and requires at least some background knowledge. The other is Captain America: Civil War (2016), which acts in many ways as a set up for this film.

Looking at it as a classic three act structure, we leave this story about halfway through the second act, and things are looking very bleak. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t miffed that I have to wait another year for the conclusion, reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010). But unlike the Potter experience, where nearly everyone I know had read the books and we knew what was going to happen, in the MCU not everything plays out like the comic book versions.

Thanos is a particularly complicated and multilayered villain, far more I think than in the comics. The rationale behind Thanos’ desire to reduce populations is psychopathic and extreme to say the least but he truly believes it – and despite the character being a CG/mocap mash-up, Josh Brolin makes us believe his sincerity too. And Brolin’s scenes with Zoe Saldana’s Gamora had me immediately thinking there’s going to be a lot to talk about in feminist film circles regarding Thanos’ “love” for his adopted daughter.

Perhaps the biggest plus is the slick pacing, which the Russo’s and their editing team did incredibly well. At almost two and a half hours, there’s barely time to breathe, let alone gasp, wince or laugh – and there are quite a few laugh out loud moments – but I was left wanting more. It’s like being on a roller-coaster joyride with heroic deeds, death and destruction all around. (So my pro tip is prepare with a toilet stop BEFORE the film starts!)

So why did I love this so much? Because at its heart, this is the culmination of really good long-form storytelling. While some characters don’t speak to me as much or as well as others, I’ve found myself over the last ten years completely invested in some stories and now, caring about their outcomes and departures. I’m really glad that Marvel have gone down the route of killing my darlings, raising the stakes makes their actions and how they say goodbye all the more important to us as fans. (Oh, that DC could understand this!)

I must also note there’s no mid-credit sequence after the film to set up part two (currently listed simply as Avengers 4), due for release in May next year. Having had a few hours to think about it, I think it’s because the whole film is the set up for the next movie. But I do encourage everyone to stay to the very end for a particularly pertinent sequence that leads down yet another narrative rabbit hole.

Roll on 2019!

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows – Book Review

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (The Cthulhu Casebooks, #1)

This is an expanded version of my review on Goodreads

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be honest, I wasn’t sure when my friendly, neighborhood bookseller Richard, from Cracked & Spineless recommended this to me about a year ago. I affectionately call Richard my “book pimp” for good reason. Like any bookseller in today’s cutthroat market, he makes it his business to know his clientele – and in my case he’s rarely wrong!

As a fan of Lovecraftian horror and Conan Doyle-style detective fiction, I had many misgivings about this particular mashup. I think the resurgence of interest in Sherlock Holmes as a media property in recent years made me more than a little suspicious of publisher intentions – it could easily be seen as a quick cash grab.

From the first pages, I knew this was something entirely unoriginal but oh so endearingly well written! Author James Lovegrove wears his heart on his sleeve, with an obvious love of both source materials and a clear professional, literary understanding of the respective narrative, style and pacing of each. It also caused me to see how many similarities there are between the two in these important areas.

Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t believe this book is in any way high art – but it is rollicking good fun, easy to read and highly entertaining, cherry-picking some of the best aspects of Lovecraft’s horror and Conan Doyle’s consulting detective. The entertainment factor for me was very high and I’m looking forward to the second book in this series that currently sits in my bookcase, waiting patiently to be read.

I also have to give a nod to the design team at Titan Books. The cover design and chapter plates are superbly in character, and even the typeface and paper used adds a good deal to the nostalgia elements of the book. It feels and smells like something that would’ve graced my late father’s library shelves – certainly not a bad thing!

Incredibly stylish and a fun, fast read.

View all my reviews

One final note, it was announced last month that Lovegrove is one of three writers chosen to pen novels set in Joss Whedon’s Firefly universe, something else to look forward to!

Summer in a Bottle – Fermented Chilli Sauce

 

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I’ve had a fabulous crop of chillies so far and this season I really wanted to experiment with fermenting for flavour.

The Habanero chillies in particular have been really prolific this year and while not as hot as past seasons, incredibly flavourful, with a citrus tang that I thought would make a great sauce.

So, here’s the recipe I developed for the ferment and the subsequent sauce. I’ve tried to include as much detail as possible about my process, but as always, please ask if there’s something I’ve missed that needs clarification!

Fermented Hot Sauce 

 

Ingredients:

Fresh chillies (I used ripe Habaneros from my garden)

Salt (cooking or kosher salt without additives is best)

Water (filtered or rain water boiled and allowed to cool to room temperature)

(For the sauce) Lemons, vinegar or citric acid (available in most supermarkets as a powder in the baking needs section).

You’ll also need gloves (if the chillies are Habaneros or hotter this is necessary!), some reasonably accurate kitchen scales and measuring spoons, a scrupulously clean jar, a weight to hold the chillies down and a lid that can accommodate an airlock or similar. Even with small ferments, I prefer to exclude any organisms other than what’s on my fruit or vegetables. I’d also recommend a book of litmus paper (available from most chemists) to check pH levels of the final product, especially if you’re not planning to put the sauce through a water bath.

Ferment Method:

Before starting, clean everything – otherwise your ferment can pick up organisms you might not want! Sterilise jars, lids, weights, measuring spoons and anything metal in boiling water, thoroughly clean chopping boards, knives, bowls and gloves in hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly.

Wash the chillies and dry them carefully. With gloves on (if you’re using hot chillies) remove the stalk and chop the chillies. I like the heat, so I left the seeds and membrane in, but if you’re looking for a more mellow and somewhat smoother sauce, cut the chillies in quarters and scrape out the seeds and inner membrane with a paring knife.

Weigh the chillies and pack them tightly into the clean jar. You can either sprinkle the salt over the chillies (which I did) and pour the cooled water over them or mix the salt until it’s fairly well dissolved in a small amount of water. I went for a roughly 8% solution and had 200 g (7 oz) of chopped chillies. This meant needed 16 g salt, which is a scant tablespoon. (My old spring loaded kitchen scales aren’t designed for very small amounts but digital scales are perfect for this job).

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Once you’ve added the brine, it’s important to twist the jar a few times or push the chilli pieces around with a clean skewer to remove as many air bubbles as possible and weigh the chillies down so they are entirely submerged. I use wide mouth Mason jars with easy to clean glass weights and a silicone Pickle Pipe – a waterless airlock that allow ferments to release carbon dioxide, without allowing air (and unwanted organisms) in. Then cover, label and leave in a dark, cool place for about a week.

I keep my ferments in pantry shelves that I walk past all the time, so I tend to check them once a day. It never ceases to delight me, seeing bubbles, smelling the wonderful aromas and particularly with this ferment, seeing the colour really develop. It’s also a good habit to check your ferments to make sure nothing has risen above the level of the brine and no unwanted moulds have developed.

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Fermenting Habanero Chillies, weighed down with a glass insert and covered with a Pickle Pipe.

After a week to ten days, check your chillies (I left mine for a week). They should still be submerged and reasonably crisp, and the brine should smell good and taste spicy and salty. It’s quite normal for a thin film to form across the top of the brine and I recommend removing this carefully with a spoon. If any chillies aren’t submerged and showing signs of mould, I would recommend removing the uncovered ones carefully from the brine (toothpicks are good) and composting them. The rest of the ferment should be fine. Of course, if you’re assailed with funky smells and your chillies are slimy, don’t take any risks – throw the whole lot in the compost bin – food poisoning is not to be trifled with!

If you’re happy with the ferment, here’s the rest of the recipe:

Sauce Method: 

Once again, assemble all your tools first and make sure they’re ridiculously clean – preferably hot water or heat sterilised. You’ll need a non-reactive sieve and bowl, a food processor or blender, a small funnel, bottles and caps and (if you opt for lemons) a grater and hand juicer or citrus press.

Remove the weight from your ferment and sieve the brine off the chillies into a bowl. If like me, you’re chilli-obsessed, reserve the brine (it’s deliciously spicy!) put it in a clean bottle, cover and refrigerate. It will keep for a few weeks in the fridge and I use it in curries, stir fries, soups or stews for an extra kicking salt replacement 🙂

Put the chillies into a blender jar or food processor with either vinegar, fresh lemon juice or citric acid powder and pulse to the desired consistency. I also added a tablespoon or two of the brine. The target here is to bring the sauce to around 4.5 pH – quite sharp. I used the juice of 3 lemons and, for extra citrus notes, the grated zest.

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Next, carefully put this into the sterilised jars and seal immediately. It’s possible now to put the jars in the refrigerator where they’ll last for months and be full of probiotic goodness, but I’m here for flavour – so I opted to do a water-bath sterilisation for 10 minutes This stabilises the sauce, guaranteeing longer pantry shelf life.

This sauce is sensational with – well, pretty much everything! My original 200 g of chillies made two 125 g bottles plus a few tablespoons that I’ve put in a sterilised jar and refrigerated. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any significant flavour difference between the water-bath processed sauce and the refrigerated version.

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The finished product after water-bath processing – that beautiful colour!!!

I think this basic fermentation would work with any chilli and I’m going to start one with Cayenne chillies and garlic later this week that I plan to finish with my home made Apple Cider Vinegar.

Let me know if you try this recipe, what flavour combinations you use and how it works out – I always love to hear from you 😀

Meanwhile, take care wherever you are on this beautiful planet ❤

 

 

 

Black Panther

Black Panther (2018). Directed by Ryan Coogler.

I’ve had a very mixed weekend. I was considering going to the movies yesterday but my painful back, hip and knees would’ve made sitting still uncomfortable. My body is telling me the seasons are starting to change, and that really is depressing – I haven’t finished my love affair with this summer yet. But with some careful management (stretching, hot packs and yoga), I managed to get some quality gardening time in, and planted a heap of vegetable seedlings. Also yesterday, there was a state election here in Tasmania, and from my point of view (and anyone working in the arts sector) the results were less than encouraging.

So, I was in the perfect mood for some blockbuster action to take my mind off things, and (with a makeshift back bolster) went to the local Village Cinema to see the latest offering from Marvel Studios.

Black Panther didn’t disappoint! It has an excellent premise, a top-notch cast and some fine action moments. The film begins with a really beautiful animation that backgrounds the history of Wakanda, the fictional African nation that is the only place on earth to find the equally fictional vibranium (the metal used to construct Captain America’s shield) and this gives new viewers enough backstory to get them through the film. The story picks up from the end of Captain America: Civil War (2016) where Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home after the death of his father to become king of Wakanda.

Ulysses Klaue (played with manic relish by Andy Serkis) makes a return, as does CIA agent Emmett Ross (Martin Freeman) – but the rest of the main cast are black and many of the strongest characters are female. It’s also pertinent to point out that all the female characters are appropriately dressed for their roles, don’t try and fight in high heels, don’t require saving and have some of the best dialogue. In fact, at one point a character does complain about having to wear a wig to a casino, which (for me) really drives the point home.

The action scenes are for the most part, the high quality I expect from the MCU, but there’s a couple of ropey moments that don’t quite work. A car chase in Seoul (part of which features in the trailer) is a real standout and will certainly bear repeat viewing when the DVD comes out. Narratively, it’s a little baggy and threatened to get bogged down in the second act but the final act is very good and (unlike so many films in this genre) I don’t think the last big fight scene outstays its welcome. I’ll be seeking out other films by Ryan Coogler now for sure!

For me, three things really made this film work. Firstly, at one point I genuinely forgot I was watching a Marvel film, I was fully invested in the characters and story in the moment, without all the add-on Marvel baggage. Secondly, the two young boys in the row behind, their gasps and obvious delight reminded me how important pure action entertainment is.

But above all, I really liked that this film raised questions of how to deal with refugees, sharing knowledge, resources and how (for a film that’s based on a comic book), they strove to resolve those questions. It brought to mind the often quoted phrase “when you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence”.

Long live the king!

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