Six

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As the heat – such as it was – slowly increased last summer, my satellite dish became less and less interested in capturing and processing satellite TV signals, and, around Christmas, it finally decided that it wasn’t interested in doing that anymore and took up knitting…so I have no idea if Six made it to ‘normal’ TV screens in New Zealand. Replacement parts for the dish aren’t that much and I suppose I’ll get to doing something eventually but I just don’t miss normal TV that much…

Anyways, as part of transfer my ISP and phone allegiance back to Spark, I wound up with Spotify and Lightbox accounts. These came into their own with the new unlimited broadband account. Lightbox didn’t really float my boat too much: I found the selection rather limited and also that I no longer have a lot of time for binge watching TV. I manged to squeeze in Defiance, Lucky Man and the UK Ashes to Ashes (listed in ascending order of enjoyment) but kinda got over it…

Six was a refreshing new addition to the Lightbox line-up. Unhyped and unheralded, one evening, there it was on the menu – I may have ignored it for a while, mistaking it for The Real SEAL Team Six, a made for TV take on the 2011 bin Laden raid. I was cautious at first as most of the contemporary special operations genre seems to be Desperate Housewives with guns, even The Unit and the unlamented Ultimate Force: way too much domestic angst and not enough boots on the ground.

Six didn’t disappoint on the domestic angst front but its focus remained firmly on the ‘rescue one of our own’ plotline. The ‘one’ was played by Walter Goggins and, do admit that I have watched the full Justified enough times that I was expecting Raylan Givens to amble onscreen and laconically resolve the bad guys.

I like the current trend of episodic story-telling across a season: one story, one season. I’m not sure if that makes it a mini-series or not but it certainly resonates with me: beginning, middle and end. It worked with Bosch; it worked with the TV version of Shooter; and it works with Six. Each episode isn’t a standalone but roll into the next: there are only eight episodes and I was disappointed to get to the end – but only in that the next series was not ready to go (hasn’t been filmed yet ).

The story rolls smoothly and offers some insights into contemporary international security challenges . The equipment looks OK but the US DOD probably didn’t offer a lot of support to the production: too many C-130s, not enough C-17s, too many vanilla Blackhawks, no special ops birds…in this case, I don’t think that makes a big difference to the story or my enjoyment of it – and I tend to be picky on such things…I think that if you liked Band of Brothers and Blackhawk Down, Six is probably for you…

Say no to sugar taxes

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Drone alert in more ways than one…

Healthy Food Guide reports today that

“A petition calling for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages that collected nearly 10,000 signatures was presented to Maori and Green Party MPs in Parliament last week”

That’s on the HFG site that is so paranoid that it has blocked the right mouse button function to prevent people copying or printing its articles and recipes. Heads up, team, all that does is force people to other sites more friendly (you’re not that unique), to use the browser drop-down menu, and/or just give you a miss: most, if not all of your recipes are available elsewhere (it’s not called the world-wide web for nothing you know)…just Google the recipe title to see if you can’t find the same -or often a better – recipe elsewhere…

But…back to the sugar thing…dear food fun Nazis, please get a grip…taxes don’t stop people using commodities they want to use…increasing taxes hasn’t drastically changed usage stats for spray paint, petrol, alcohol or nicotine, nor, had the legislation been enacted, would it have stopped sheep farting…all taxes on products like these is make them more expense so that people waste more money on them (less the sheep farting – sheep farts will always be free).

If you really want to stop people using something, then ban it and make it totally unavailable, except of course, for the bootleg and black market alternatives that will spring into existence the second the ban goes into effect. Bans – certainly where the market mass is most of the population – are rarely (not really!!) effective.

Ongoing effective education is the solution. Not anti-sugar propaganda because even kids can see through that. Tell it like it is. Put the truth – not truth, not your truth – out there. Be first with the truth. It’s not perfect but have a read of That Sugar Story anyway. Damon Gameau is a bit OTT at times but his basic premise is pretty good and pretty healthy – and you don’t need any laws or taxes to make it work. Consume less sugar. Avoid hidden sugars: quick tip, if it’s in a plastic wrapper that says it’s healthy, don’t touch it…you DON’T have to give up food fun to be healthy…there’s more to healthy food than water and lentils …

(lentils get a bad rap sometimes)

Stop trying to protect everyone from themselves. Nanny-stating has an opposite effect in the long term: instead of protecting the people from themselves, the increasing absence of challenge turns them into mindless drones incapable of applying judgement, solving problems or thinking for themselves.

I caught up with an old friend last week – someone who I had not physically seen 2007 but whom the miracle of Facebook had kept me in touch with. She made the very telling comment that the more support services we offer, the more people demand AND the less capable they become of thinking and fending for themselves. More and more people expect everyone to be nice to them and for ‘someone else’ to doing all think and supporting for them as well…

The truth is that sometimes life throws up challenges; life is sometimes a bit hard; things do not always go according to plan. ‘The people’ need to make their own decisions and accept the consequences of those decisions. They need to be given opportunities every day to exercise and practise those skills. Taking away their ability, indeed their right, to make lifestyle decisions for them and their families doesn’t make us smarter or healthier as a nation…

Look askance at any politician babbling in support of a sugar tax…

 

Know Before you go; if you don’t know, don’t go…

‘Tis the season…for inexperienced (in New Zealand conditions) and poorly-prepared trampers to ‘walk’ the Tongariro Alpine Crossing…and every year Police and volunteer rescue teams put themselves at risk to rescue these wallies

Last week, this brochure was released to get the message to national and international visitors to Tongariro National Park. That message is really quite simple:

Know before you go:

Know the weather AND ground conditions

Know what to do in alpine conditions

Know what to do in avalanche terrain

Know what to do when the plan goes wrong

If you don’t know: don’t go – or go with a guide…

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A lot of the information online and offered by staff in the hospitality line is well-intentioned but ill-informed. Many people, especially those off the mountain or not ‘mountain’ people, do not understand the hazards of the Crossing in winter, or during bad weather. Many think it is just a case of ‘giving it a go‘, of ‘going harder‘, or just willpowering themselves over the snow and ice. Others think that it is more importnat to promote ‘tourism’ at all costs…

“…the trampers were lucky to escape with their lives…”

“…not sticking together caused the group to inadvertently separate…”

“…All their clothing was wet…they didn’t have it in waterproof packing…”

“…they didn’t call for help until it was very dark and one tramper was unable to walk…”

We don’t say these things, we don’t make the Crossing sound dangerous to scare visitors off, to try to keep the place for ourselves, to discourage commercial operations in the Park.

We say this because we want visitors to come here, enjoy themselves and leave safely.

We say this because we don’t want our people putting their lives on the line for rescues that are unnecessary; being dragged from their beds or jobs at all hours because of good intentions and poor information…

Don’t become a statistic

Know before you go

If you don’t know, don’t go

…or go with a guide…

 

Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study

Last day of July, three and a half hours til August (at the time I started typing) and I realise I haven’t written anything all month…

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Unmanned aircraft is a subject that I thought I had moved on from but this report popped up in my inbox this evening…only a couple of days after I spoke with a couple of clowns flying a large drone over the Chateau Golf Course in Whakapapa Village. They pleaded ignorance of both National Park and Civil Aviation Agency legislation relating to flying drones in or over the Park but really? You don’t buy and operate a big drone like that without knowing the law.

That law is quite simple:

It is illegal to land, take-off or hover an aircraft in, from or over Tongariro National Park. A drone (of any class or size) is regarded as an aircraft. Any exceptions must have prior formal written approval from the Department of Conservation.

The land-owner’s prior permission is required before a drone can be flown over private land; or the permission from the mandated controlling authority for public land e.g. the local council or, for the Park, the Department of Conservation.

 In addition, rescue helicopters can and do enter the Park at any time of day or night, from any direction. Even on a clear day, the setting sun can obscure vision to such an extent that a pilot may not see a drone in time to avoid it.

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CAA Rules also prohibit the operation of drones within 4km of an airfield, that is 4km from the closest boundary of an airfield. For Whakapapa Village, that 4km limit takes you to just above the bridge over the Whakapapanui Stream. It means that you can’t fly your drone:

at Discovery Lodge (which has its own heli-pad in any case) or

at the camp site at Mangahuia, further along SH47 towards National Park Village, or

over Mahuia Rapids just along 47 in the other direction or

on the Tawhai Falls or Mound Walk trails that come off SH48.

Those who say that a small drone wouldn’t do any significant damage to an manned aircraft should read the report that I received this evening. You can find the report, Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study, here.

It is sobering reading: even a small (think Toyworld) drone can cause considerable damage to a light aircraft or helicopter, particularly the windscreen and tail rotor. Any components ingested into the engine may also cause unneeded excitement for the pilot and passengers of that manned aircraft.

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The bits that hurt…

In a way this report is quite gratifying as it supports the work that I did for the Air and Space Interoperability Council and subsequently NATO on the hazards of small unmanned aircraft sharing operational airspace with manned aircraft.

If you own a drone of any sort in New Zealand, you do need to read Part 101 and Part 102 of the Civil Aviation Agency Rules, and the note RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft. You won’t, of course, because you think you have an ultimate right to do whatever you like in the Park…that’s alright…but don’t be surprised if guides or Rangers just snap your pic and send it directly to CAA for action…

You might think it’s great your drone will follow your phone as you rip down the slopes at Whakapapa or Turoa…on a ‘good’ day in winter, there may be a half dozen or more rescue helicopter flights on to the ski fields or around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often in restricted visibility: that’s hard enough without the pilot having to worry about some goon operating their drone illegally.

Similarly, around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, no one wants to be subjected to mosquito-like totally annoying whine of your drone…nor should should pilots have to look out for them as they approach for a rescue – when you’re too dumb to hear the helo coming in and dump your drone…

What we really need are a few good prosecutions to drive this message home BEFORE we have an accident…

Aviation Related Concern

To report an aviation safety or security concern, that may include complaints, or allegations of suspected breaches of civil aviation legislation, call: 0508 4SAFETY (0508 472 338) available office hours (voicemail after hours), or email: isi@caa.govt.nz.

Pictures, video, rego numbers are useful information to back up your complaint and hopefully lead to a successful prosecution. Ignorance of the law is no excuse…

Bosch

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I was an early subscriber to Audible when it first set up in the early 2000s…I was doing a lot of rowing in the gym and needed something to keep my mind alive while going back and forward, back and forward, etc, etc, etc; and I was also driving Wellington-Auckland on a  regular basis for work (yes, I could have flown but it was nice to have the flexibility to stop along the way and visit places and friends)…

Back then, Audible had an introductory offer where they would gift you a Rio MP3 player with a whole 64Mb of memory on-board if you subscribed for a year or more -the subscription entitling me to two books each month from the library – even for USD14.95 when the Kiwi dollar was pretty depressed, with each Audible book around 8-16 hours, it was a good deal.

I would often forget about the subscription until just before the drop dead time – the subscriptions didn’t roll over so it was use them or lose them – and have to select the first two books that seemed even remotely interesting. Thus my Audible library was always a tad eclectic and my rule was that any book I started to listen, I would see through to the end, on some occasions the bitter bitter end..

So, that’s how I stumbled onto Michael Connolly, first through his standalone Chasing the Dime, and from there into my first Bosch novel, which I think was Lost Light…Over the next decade plus, I slowly acquired more Connolly novels, in digital and hard copy formats…Bosch was the man though, I could never get into the Lincoln Lawyer series but did enjoy Blood Work (the book is better than the movie). Blood Work (not one of Clint’s better efforts) and The Lincoln Lawyer movie put me off seeking any further screen adaptions and the little I had seen online about the Bosch series did nothing to change that.

Last week, I needed to put new tyres on the truck – winter roads need robust tread – and took the opportunity to have a wander around Taumarunui while I waited for the job to be done. There is an interesting little second-hand shop just off the Main Street down near the supermarket and I can easily kill half an hour exploring its nooks and crannies. I saw Bosch Season One sitting there and walked past it a couple of times but for $5 it was hard to pass up even if I expected it to be quite average.

I had thought that the developers of this series had attempted to squeeze each novel loosely into a single episode but exactly the opposite is the case. For Season One anyway, the ten episodes cover a single novel, in this case City of Bones. The story flows well and the character development is good, It has been a while since I read the book but the series rings true to my memories of it. This first season is based on the eighth novel in the series but then, I never read them in sequence so having a bit of a preview often adds some flavour to later exploring the pre-story. It is a little annoying that the first episodes contain a lot of, too many really, references to other Bosch novel titles in a rather heavy-handed way – not clever or subtle, just annoying but that novelty seems to have worn off by the third episode…

I thought that this was good enough to binge watch the ten episodes over two nights and am keen enough to watch it again to see what subtleties I may have missed on the first time through. It looks like three season have been made so far and I am keeping an eye out for the next two – hopefully Mighty Ape might take the hint from Season Two’s presence on my wishlist to dump it into the Daily Deals for me…

So, yes, Bosch on TV, Season One looks good, recommended, waiting for Season Two…

Winter solstice dinner

Still no snow this winter…we did have a bit of a teaser dump mid-May but nothing that stuck around…21 June was the shortest day. We have a largish expat community here, mainly outdoorsy types like guides and ski field staffies, who get a bit homesick for a winter Christmas dinner so we did one, bring a plate style…

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My opted plate was Christmas pudding, the unhealthier the better, and who better for unhealthy culinary fun but Nigella. This is her ultimate Christmas pudding, made exactly as per the recipe except I for got on the day to make the whiskey sauce…I guess we’ll just have to do this again so we can see how that goes…

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It is rich as, mainly sherry-soaked fruit with about half a cup each of flour and breadcrumbs to tie it all together and steamed for a total of eight hours: five hours for the initial cook, then three hours to warm for dinner itself – in the interim, Nigella says it will store nice on a dark shelf for months…

…and yes…we did set fire to it – with four firefighters in attendance – next time I will serve it on a more dished plate so that the surplus fuel pools there and not on the table…

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It burnses, it burnses….

 

Mad Millie Nut-milk Bag

 

Anyone who knows me will know that I am a big fan of reducing dairy content in our diets. I caught up with my sister and her family in Waitomo late last year when they were visiting the NI: we exchanged a few foodie tips and then this arrived a few months later for my birthday.

Previous on this green journey, I’ve tried nut-milk bags and dumped them in favour using simple squares of voile that I bought from Spotlight. I was happy using the voile but squeezing the milk out was kinda messy. Using the Mad Millie bag works best if the milk mix is left to drip through overnight so adding an overhead of coordination and organisation to ensure a continuous supply of milk: in short, the full process of soaking and filtering takes 24 hours so ideally needs to start as soon as the current bottle runs out.

I usually only use the milk at breakfast time on my muesli and in my cuppa tea and only in my cuppa if it’s in my take to work thermal cup. The reason for this is that something in the milk reacts with some teas (haven’t worked out a pattern yet) and causes a mild congealing reaction. It doesn’t affect the taste but doesn’t look so sharp: a friend recently re-introduced me to straight black tea and I’m more likely to have this for an open cup cuppa. Unless it’s bake fest night and I need to use some milk, I don’t usually use any milk in the evening.

My daily coffee fix, I now usually get via a bannofee smoothie using coconut milk powder for the milk content so no need for milk there anymore ‘specially since switching to this drink has dropped my coffee consumption to a cup a day (from 7-8!)

So..the Mad Millie Nut Milk Bag

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It’s quite simple really: extend the legs, hook the bag into the frame and pour in the milk and meal mix. The legs aren’t quite long enough to rest on the counter and hold the bag clear of the accumulating milk. One day I might get round to making a base frame to hold it slightly higher…

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After that, just let it sit overnight. By morning most of the liquid will have filtered through and the last vestiges can be gently squeezed out before consigning the remaining meal to the dryer.

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You do need to take care that the stand is set up squarely or life may become messy. My meal mix is about 1.25 litres; although the bag would hold more, I would start to worry about its stability if it was filled much more.

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I used this bread bag that Mum made, especially in summer, to prevent any ‘floaters’ or ‘swimmers’ getting into the milk.

The meal mix I’m using at the moment is a 25/25/50 mix of almonds, sunflower seeds and coconut chips. The sunflower seeds help spread the life of the more expensive almonds and add a slightly less sweet edge to the flavour but this could be easily counteracted by dropping a vanilla pod or some dates into the blender during the first part of the soaking phase.

Verdict? Certainly a handy device and now my tool of choice for making non-dairy milk. Yes, the filtering time means I have to be a little more organised but that’s not a bad thing. It would be nice if it came with a second bag so that I could still ‘milk’ when the other bag is in the wash but I guess that I can get another made up if I really feel the need…

Another bucket, vicar..?

When I interviewed for my first job with the RNZAF in 2010, I was on my way to Wellington to deliver a lecture at Victoria University and the nice folk at Ohakea offered to put me up for the night on the Officers Mess. There, I was introduced to ‘the bucket’, a glass container resembling a wine glass filled with red wine…I could never tell a merlot from a shiraz but ever since I have had a love/hate relationship with reds…I love to drink them but often hate the mornings after…

Fuller than these..!

I don’t drink that much now – to be honest, I normally drank more when away from home, overnighting in transit accommodation, – some of which was enough to drive anyone to drink –  but often because of the company of other similar limbo’d transients…I  still love a red and so cast favourable eyes over recipes with a red content…

This is a recipe I tried 4-5 years ago but didn’t quite get it to realise its full potential. My experimentation with sous vice has rekindled my interest in slow cooking  and this was one in the archive that screams for a long slow flavour-kindling simmer…

Unfortunately, this record dates back many years, before I made a habit of noting the original source material, according to the file metadata I first recorded it in 2007 but I;m not able to attribute it back to a sure source.

Preparation is simple: take all this stuff and drop it in the slow cooker before work, come home, put on some rice and that’s it:

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 tablespoon of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1 teaspoon of minced garlic

1 teaspoon of sesame oil

1 cup of Plum Sauce

1 cup of Red Wine

500g of shoulder pork steaks, diced

1 apple, peeled and diced

1 onion, diced

The end product has a delicious medley of flavours and textures that is a real winner: the plum sauce and apple are quite tart but offset by the sweet cinnamon and brown sugar. The flavour is very strong and the abundance of sauce means that a little goes a long way: the sauce-saturated rice if very filling and obviates the need for lots of the solid casserole itself…

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Plated up with rice was so yummy, I forgot to take a pic – three times!!

Very keen to do this again…I don’t think that the type of meat will matter much so my next go-round will be steak-based in the sous vide…and draw me a couple more cups closer to the last of the white rice…

A second oxymoronic treat…

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My first go at an oxymoronic treat was nice and got good reviews but I felt it was still a bit heavy…once again the path of true serendipity took me on another path. A friend posted a different sweet potato/kumara-based chocolate cake on her Facebook page and one of her daughters responded that it wasn’t as good as her black bean chocolate cake…a challenge, for sure…

The recipe is from Chocolate Covered Katie and can be made in a flash: I left work at 4-32 (it’s a 15 minute drive, 20km, 485 vertical metre trip) home, stopped at the National Park GAS station for a can of black beans (was sorely tempted to opt for the chilli black beans but might reserve that for a colder night) and had this OUT of the oven by 5-35…it is that simple but I did modify Katie’s recipe slightly:

  • 1 1/2 cups black beans (1 400ml can or 1/3 cup dry black beans before rehydration)
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • I dropped out the stevia as it doesn’t need any extra sweetening after the maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil It didn’t say to melt or soften it but I had a couple of lumps in the mix that were quite hard to smooth out so, yes, at least soften the coconut oil if you live someplace too cold for it to remain liquid in the bottle.
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup of chocolate chips This worked for me, personally better than the 1/2 to 2/3 cup recommended in the original recipe.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

Combine all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a food processor, and blend until completely smooth.

Stir in the chips, then pour the mix into a greased pan.

Cook the black bean brownies 15-18 minutes, then let it cool at least 10 minutes before trying to cut or remove it from the pan.

This was only the first attempt but I much prefer the crispy crunchier texture and the more subtle chocolate flavour than what Katie originally intended. The fire fighters and rangers who tested the end result on Wednesday and Thursday certainly give it a thumbs-up…

Still keen to try a chilli variant next…

An oxymoronic treat…

An recipe that I didn’t, not being particularly chocolatey inclined, seek out…it appeared in one of my culinary feeds and the concept of a healthy chocolate cake begged further exploration, more so when one of the main ingredients is kumara…

I cannot find the source of the original recipe: all the links in my PDF of the recipe go to Happy and Healthy (one of my main sources of healthy raw materials) so I’m assuming that this a Kiwi recipe from a site not particularly visible to Google…

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Rather that try to cut a neat circle with scissors to line the base of the pan, I tried trapping the baking paper between the base and sides of the spring-form pan: perfecto!!!

Ingredients

2 medium (baked & skinless) kumara
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil, melted.
60g or 6 squares of 85% cacoa dark chocolate (Lindt or Green & Gold), melted
¼ cup unsweetened cacao powder
¼ cup organic rice malt syrup
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda (sifted)
¼ teaspoon sea salt

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 165°C

Lightly grease a 20cm cake ring pan with coconut oil.

Place the baked sweet potatoes in your food processor and process until pureed.

Add the rest of the ingredients and process them until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes. Bake slightly longer for a crunchy outer shell.

Let it cool. Once cool, place it in the fridge overnight.

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This is the first result made exactly in accordance with the recipe. I used the Lindt chocolate and, once it had cooled overnight in the fridge, had collapsed into quite a firm slice with e very strong chocolate taste. This version did rise during baking but slowly deflated into a more solid slice during its overnight sojourn in the fridge. To be honest, I think it has a better flavour and texture ‘deflated’…

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For my second attempt I didn’t change anything in the recipe but used the slice as the centre layer on another variation on the no cheese cheesecake theme. The effect that I was after was a strong contrast between the deep chocolate centre and a tangy orange topping.

The base is the standard mix of dates, coconut oil and meal derived from my nut milk production line. This base had a very strong baked overtone and I think this is from overheating the meal when drying it over the fire – we scraped most of this off and the slice was strong enough to still support the top layer.

The orange topping is a cup of cashews soaked overnight in the the zest and juice of a dozen navel oranges and then pureed in the blender. More zest required next time, I think, as the orange taste was quite distinct but without the tangy effect I sought.

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An outcome of discussions on the orange chocolate cheesecake was a curiosity regarding the necessity for the syrup in the recipe. We felt this could be safely replaced with a mashed banana. Version #3 replaced the quarter cup of syrup with a mashed ripe banana and the Lindt chocolate with an equivalent weight of Healtheries sugar-free chocolate baking bits. To compensate for the additional liquid in the banana I added two extra tablespoons of coconut flour.

The result was definitely workable and one small segment survived fire training the following night. An unexpected but not unpleasant result was the embedding of small chunks of unmashed banana – not properly mashed – spread through the slice, delivering a nice banana hit every couple of bites. I don’t think it was necessary to add the extra coconut flour so will skip that next time but keep the banana. The chocolate flavour was not so smooth or strong – but still eminently doable – as with the Lindt but I’m not sure whether that would be due to the change in source chocolate or the drier mix caused by the extra coconut flour.

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A surprise chunk of unmashed banana is just visible in the edge closest to the knife…

Definitely a winner recipe…very simple to make, albeit with the slight inconvenience of needing an overnight chill in the fridge and with the high kumara content, if nothing else, is at least one way to get the kids to eat their veges…