Tag Archives: cakes

Frogs and Tigers and Us

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A full moon shone through the tree-tops, and apart from the hooting of a distant morepork, and the autumn cricket symphony, not even the careful movements of the four silent searchers disturbed the peace of the forest.

Then a hushed excited exclamation came from Charlotte: “I’ve found one – it’s a baby!”  The other seekers carefully stepped across the lines of coloured string which separated them, and gazed at a perfect, tiny jewel-like creature, smaller than the size of a thumb nail, half hidden beneath a frond of fern, the first find of the night.

A baby Archey!

This is how the two researchers from Auckland Zoo, on their annual visit to monitor our resident Archey’s, began their silent night of seeking for these precious creatures – living fossils – which are among the world’s oldest frogs, and almost unchanged since their 150 million- year- old relatives flourished here.

There are now only two populations left in the world, and one of them survives here in the protected forest where I live. Two zoologists, specialists in frogs, have just been here for four nights monitoring both frogs and our rare striped and forest geckoes. Sara, a resident and our own indefatigable discoverer of so many frogs and rare geckoes, and an expert at both detecting and recording them, organised the searches.

Using coloured string Sara has measured out into four sections a ten-metre square grid on her property. She and the experts from the zoo re-visit this site just once a year to check on the frog population, as to do so more often would be too invasive. (Our friends from the zoo also return four times a year to count and measure and monitor the rare geckos which live here).

By searching the same area each time, they are able to assess the size of the Archey’s population and hope eventually to discover whether it is thriving or declining, as sadly 43 per cent of all such creatures are declining in this country.

Finding these tiny and elusive creatures is challenging. They are usually hidden by fern fronds or leaves, and as in the case of the first find of the night, are often so tiny they are almost invisible. Their camouflaged colours vary from mottled greens to rich browns and pale sandy markings. However, the eagle-eyed team are now experienced enough to spot them.

When they do, they use a surgical glove when holding the frogs so as not to contaminate them, and a separate glove for each frog. They mark and number where they found the frog, and gently slip the tiny creature into a see-through plastic bag, giving it the same identifying name. The bag is then pinned to a nearby tree, until the search is ended, when they are all gathered up. The time, temperature, weather conditions and GPS co-ordinates of each frog’s whereabouts are also recorded.

Back at base, each frog is carefully placed within a protective canvas square, and photographed using mirrors, so as not to disturb the frog, yet capturing all angles in a single shot. It’s then moved to be weighed on very sensitive scales, and then measured. When this careful record has been completed, the frog is taken back to where he was found.

Archey’s frogs don’t need water like most frogs, and produce their tadpoles in a gelatinous sac. When they’re hatched, the male frog carries the froglets around on his back until they have full metamorphosed. The minute exquisite froglets we saw were complete.

To watch the dedicated researchers carry out their painstaking task – first finding their quarry using their torches in the dark forest, then carrying out the incredibly detailed and meticulous procedures laid down by the Department of Conservation (DOC) was so impressive. Anyone handling these precious creatures must have a license from DOC to do so.

Beginning the search at nine o clock, they ended at six in the morning. They did this for four nights, as well as searching, finding, recording, measuring and going through the whole procedure with the rare Coromandel Striped gecko which also survives on the estate.

Geckos are slightly easier to find since they are bigger, and they are just as beautiful. Like the frogs, each one has different markings so they can be recognised from one monitoring session to the next. They have the same sort of protuberant eyes as the frogs, and like the frogs too, tiny exquisite little fingers on their feet. Geckos also have ‘sticky’ feet: their toes are covered with microscopic hairs that allow them to climb sheer surfaces and even walk upside down across a ceiling.

As a somewhat ignorant observer, I felt so privileged to see these rare and ancient creatures who live amongst us as they have done for milleniums, and who are struggling to survive with so many enemies like rats, stoats, possums etc who feast on them. Our predator control programme is absolutely vital to their survival, and our whole community is dedicated to the government’s hopeful policy of a predator free country. Our residents also continue their commitment to our precious wild life with their constant checking and setting of predator traps all over the forest.

To be there with the little research team – even for only one night  – gave me such a profound insight into the richness of our environment, not just the Archey’s and geckos, but insect life which included spiders with beautiful markings as they spun their webs, long legged ones picking their way delicately through the fallen leaves, millipedes which curled into a tiny round ball looking like a large blue-berry, young wetas, and the background of crickets serenading us.

As I write, I look out on a peaceful vista of trees stretching across to the top of our forested mountain range. I watch green silver eyes feasting on insects clinging to the bark of the karaka tree beyond the veranda, and watch the tiny grey warblers and black headed tits flitting among the foliage, looking for lunch, and green finches perching there. Bell birds sends their melodious notes floating across the green valley, and it’s hard to realise that I am in fact sitting here in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction, the worst such destruction of species for 65 million years, and one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the earth, according to scientists.

They point to the disappearance  of billions of plants, insects, animals, reptiles and amphibians all over the planet, saying the Sixth Mass Extinction has progressed further than we thought. It’s caused by over-population, loss of habitat, hunting, use of poisons like pesticides, climate change, pollution and in some cases, as in the case of NZ’s Archey’s frog, by disease.

There are so few of our frogs left here that they are number one on the list of endangered species, which is why we are guarding and monitoring and cherishing them. Just as saddening is the knowledge that in the last fifty years tigers, for example, have declined from 50,000 down to three thousand – a thought that fills me with terror at the thought of losing them all soon.

Scientists fear all big cats will be extinct in less than a hundred years, and point to lions as a symbol of what has happened to our world. They remind us that lions used to live and roam all over Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East right up to north-western India, and yet now, there are only small parts of Africa and tiny populations in a few other places.

While hunting and habitat loss is behind the loss of so many creatures like the big cats, over-eating is the problem that most frogs face! In the US alone, three million kgs of frog meat are imported every year. This is roughly 26 million frogs – mostly from India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Germany, France, the Netherlands and Africa are also keen on eating frogs’ legs. Luckily for them, our Archeys are too small to be a tasty morsel for homo sapiens – (if only we were truly homo sapiens).

It’s easy to feel discouraged when facing a global event of such momentous proportions, and one which in the end could mean our mass extinction too. And when it is such an enormous and profound happening, we can only fall back on the only thing we know – love. By loving and reverencing every creature, plant and sentient being we can feel at least that we are doing something positive. Giving in to despair or hopelessness is not the answer. Nor is burying our heads in the sand.

The words of a children’s hymn printed in 1864 which my grandmother taught me, come into my mind.

We are bidden:”… to shine with a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

………..                                           all around
Many kinds of darkness in this world abound:
Sin, and want, and sorrow—we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.”

So yes, I will light my candle in my small corner.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’ve always been keen on cakes that require very little effort, and I’ve used this one several times recently, and it’s never let me down. All you have to do is stir all the ingredients together and bake – no beating, creaming, or separating! The ladies from the Zoo loved it when they came for afternoon tea!

Grease a cake tin and line the base with grease-proof paper. Set the oven to 180 degrees. In a large bowl, tip 100gm of melted butter, a generous 100 gm of brown sugar, three eggs, a 100 gm of self- raising flour, a 100gms of ground almonds, a tsp baking powder, four tablespoons of milk, and a table spoon of honey. Mix them all together thoroughly, tip into the cake tin, and bake for just over 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clear.

I wanted a slightly bigger cake so I increased everything by a gram, and added another egg. I also made lemon butter icing using the juice and grated peel of a lemon. The cake did n’t last long!

Food for Thought

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”

JRR Tolkien This favourite quote seemed like the most appropriate one for this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under animals/pets, birds, cookery/recipes, environment, philosophy, pollution, sustainability, Uncategorized, wild life

My drug of choice

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“I thought I’d make a cup of tea”, were the last murmured words of the mother of Janet Frame, NZ writer, as she died in her husband’s arms in the kitchen. They could well be mine… tea for me marks waking up and going to bed, a break mid-morning and that indispensable cup in the afternoon, the cup that cheers when a friend calls, or the one that sustains after a shock or a long day’s retail therapy.

I felt the would-be murderess Mrs McWilliams who shot her enemy Mrs Dick in the Tudor Tea Rooms in Christchurch NZ was a kindred spirit. When she was disarmed after her pot- shot she retorted: “Oh, give me a cup of tea, that’s what I came here for.”
When told that her victim was not dead or even much hurt the redoubtable Mrs McWilliams replied, “Oh isn’t she, what a pity.” (She got seven years jail for her failed attempt to eliminate her enemy)

We can sheet back this country’s addiction to tea to our discoverer Captain Cook, who concocted the first brews from leaves of the manuka tree, which he called, and many still do, the tea tree. He experimented with it in 1769, brewing the leaves in the hope of preventing scurvy, and wrote in his journal ( men write journals – women are downgraded to writing diaries): “The leaves were used by many of us as tea which has a very agreeable bitter scent and flavour when they are recent…. when the infusion was made strong it proved emetic to some in the same manner as green tea.”

In some ways, tea was the answer to coffee… men had gathered to gossip in coffee houses in London and elsewhere, for several centuries, while women had nowhere acceptable to congregate. The first tea-rooms opened in Glasgow in the 1870’s and tea-rooms quickly became as important to women as coffee houses to men in previous centuries.

Afternoon tea at home also became an institution… it was a relaxed time when women took off their corsets before changing into finery for dinner, and wore soft floating tea gowns. The great French food philosopher Brillat-Savarin called afternoon tea: “an extraordinary meal … in that, being offered to persons that have already dined well, it supposes neither appetite nor thirst, and has no object but distraction, no basis but delicate enjoyment…”

I’ll say – and not just for tea but for chocolate cake and shortbread, meringues and cucumber sandwiches. I used to think tea was an occasion just for ladies to enjoy… I couldn’t imagine inviting a man to tea… but then I remembered the delicate courtships conducted over silver tea- pots by the fireside in Edwardian times, and realised what pleasures we have forfeited in our nine to five world. I also wondered if this was the raison d’etre for those loose floating tea gowns… easier for making love?

Portly philanderer, Edward the Seventh used to visit his lady loves for afternoon tea, arriving in an elegant black carriage with his coat of arms on the door. Inside, his inamoratas awaited him. They could be the ravishing Lily Langtry, the Jersey Lily, as famous for her beauty which adorned postcards, as Kim Kardashian is today; or others, like Winston Churchill’s gorgeous mother Jennie, or even Camilla Parker Bowles’, (aka Prince Charles’ second wife) great-grandmother, Mrs Alice Keppel. She was Edward’s mistress for twelve years and was invited to his death-bed by his generous wife, Queen Alexandra.

Afternoon tea for me has never been graced by the presence of king, prince, or even lover… my most un-forgettable afternoon tea was at a Catholic convent in Ipoh, Malaya. The Chinese nuns in this little convent had been accredited to examine children taking GCE, the Cambridge University secondary schools exam, in oral French. So accordingly, I and nine classmates, embarked on the day- long journey in stifling armoured vehicles (to protect us from lurking Chinese bandits) and then by train, from the Cameron Highlands down to Ipoh.

Arriving in the early evening after travelling all day, we went to sleep in a dormitory with other Chinese teenagers who all, to our amazement, managed to get undressed and shower without showing an inch of flesh. This proved quite a challenge to us less inhibited girls trying to do in Rome as the Romans did. The next day we hung around until afternoon in the steamy convent grounds, and then I was first in alphabetical order for the exam.

I was shown into a little room, where a bowing, smiling, gentle little Chinese nun in heavy black horn-rimmed spectacles and starched veil awaited me. It would have been bad enough trying to understand a Chinese person’s French, spoken by someone who had never been to France or met a French person, but worse was to come. She made a cup of tea and offered me a cake, baked especially for us all, she explained in broken English.

So there we were, an Asian nun, performing, not the tea ceremony of her culture, but an adulterated version of a western ritual, and speaking a foreign language to a person who couldn’t make out a word she was saying, and who knew that shortly an even greater ordeal awaited, in which two people who already couldn’t understand each other, were about to embark on a conversation in a language foreign to them both.

But it was the preliminary that almost silenced me. I bit into the cake, and discovered with horror that the nuns knew no more about baking English cakes than they did about speaking French. They had obviously used sawdust held together, not with butter and eggs, but with some sort of inedible glue. With the first bite drying out my mouth and clogging my throat, I realised that now I had to struggle through the whole of this un-eatable culinary disaster, as well as bluff my way through the exam. Each bite nearly choked me, and I still had to look as though it was delicious.

Somehow I got to end of this terrible experience, and there seemed to be an unspoken agreement that if I ate the cake, she would find my school girl French understandable and acceptable to her Chinese ears. I left with us both bowing and smiling, with great good humour, and walked into my classmate waiting to go in. She raised her eye-brows questioningly, and I smiled maliciously, which she optimistically took for re-assurance… later our profane school- girlish post mortems and accusations would have curled the ears of these innocent kindly nuns.

Other teas, with silver teapots, even a white-capped maid, tiers of scrumptious cakes, and lace napkins have never blotted out the memory of this ordeal. And now, a law unto myself, I break all the rules of the English ritual afternoon tea, which is a very different thing to tea ceremonies in parts of the world where tea drinking originated. My most daring break with convention is to put the milk in first, considered so vulgar by generations of tea drinking aficionados.

And having discovered that tea tastes much nicer when the milk goes in first, I have now also discovered that science supports my taste buds. According to research carried out by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2003,”… if milk is poured into hot tea, individual drops separate from the bulk of the milk and come into contact with the high temperatures of the tea for enough time for significant denaturation or degradation of the milk to occur.” There you go, as they say in this country…

I have n’t space to touch on one of the most thrilling aspects of drinking tea, which used to be illegal in this country, and provoked fiery debate by male Members of Parliament; and now since 1981, it’s become illegal again ( MEN !!!). I refer to the innocent pastime of reading the tea leaves… but that is too vast and esoteric a subject for this little blog to tackle!

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Cucumber sandwiches are de rigueur for the ritual English afternoon tea, and very dull they can be too. These I served for a friend’s birthday party, and we gobbled them up… with relish….
Apart from white bread sliced as thinly as possible – even supermarket sliced does the job… you need peeled and thinly sliced cucumber, eight ounces of softened cream cheese, quarter of a cup of mayonnaise, a good sprinkling of onion powder, garlic powder and a pinch of lemon pepper if you have it.
Mix everything except the bread and cucumber, spread the mix on the bread, and arrange the cucumber on top. Cover with another slice of bread also spread with the mixture. Press down firmly, and cut into dainty bite-sized sandwiches. Irresistible.

Food for thought

By experts in poverty I do not mean sociologists, but poor men.
GK Chesterton

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