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Displaying items by tag: Lifestyle
Monday, 19 September 2011 12:06

Life in the 1500s

We are all being affected by the current global financial crisis. However, life is still much easier now than in the 1500s. Domestic life then was a lot more challenging and demanding. Before we yearn for times past, it may be prudent to read about life in the 1500s.

• Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to reduce body odour that had started to set in, hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

• Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. From this comes the saying, don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

• Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof, resulting in the saying - It's raining cats and dogs.

• There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up clean beds. A bed with large posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

• The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance way. Hence the name 'a thresh hold'.

• In the 1500s, families cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and little meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been in there for some time. This was the origin of the rhyme, 'peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old....'

• Occasionally a family might obtain some pork. This was such a rare treat that when visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show it off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could bring home the bacon. They would cut off a little to share with guests and sit around and 'chew the fat.'

• Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach into the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

• Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

• Lead cups were used to drink ale of whisky . The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

Steeped in History

In 1810, the Peugeot brothers converted a mill inherited from their miller ancestors into a steel mill. Since then, rolled steel has been at the heart of Peugeot's activities. Saw blades and tools led to a wide and various range of manufactured products - from crinolines, to sewing machines, sheep-shears to penny-farthing bicycles and finally, to cars. In 1840, the Peugeot coffee mill entered the kitchen and opened the way for the pepper mill in 1874. Since then, many spices have felt the Peugeot lion's claws.

A recent resurgence in cooking programs has reconfirmed the genre as an enduring household favourite. But if best known food formats bring to mind dreary Delia or feisty Floyd – think again.

Local, modern programs are fast paced, fresh and showcase the best of Aussie talent and produce. One of Australia's favourites, breathing new life into culinary TV, is undoubtedly The Best in Australia, a remake of the BBC's popular The Best. So what are the challenges in making great food TV? What does it take to bring a show like this to fruition? Life n Fork went behind the scenes with producer of The Best in Australia Alun Bartsch, to find out.

Alun and his wife marian head up mago Films, a production company that makes international documentaries as well as food-based lifestyle series for both the Australian and international markets. According to Alun, the company aims to make original, innovative television that inspires and excites but most of all, entertains. "In the case of The Best, it was originally a BBC idea, and even though we've used the core elements, the Australian version is completely different. It's fast-paced, fun and full of larrikin Aussie humour," he says.

Getting a world class show like The Best off the ground takes a lot of time and money, and requires a small army of specialists. Producing a series begins with around three months pre-production. This is when all the research and preparation takes place.

Next there is three weeks of filming. Involved at this stage are cameramen, the director, the producer, sound recordist, make up and hair artists, two production assistants, a food economist and two assistants (who source all the food and pre-prepare it), set designers, scaffolders, lighting directors, an on-set editor and last but not least, the talent – foodie favourites Anna Gare, Ben O'Donoghue and Darren Simpson.

A question Alun often gets asked is if there are rehearsals and whether or not the show is scripted. "There are no rehearsals," says Alun. "As the writer I create scenarios for the day's filming and myself or the Director might seed the conversation if we'd like it to head in a certain direction. Though overall the vibe is very spontaneous and the presenters converse naturally."

You might be surprised to hear that each one hour episode of The Best in Australia takes two days to film, and on average around 20 hours of footage is filmed to produce one hour of television.

Alun says, "On the first day we record all the banter, gags and pranks. The food is prepared and photographed – then the crew eats the food! There's much competition to be one of the crew as we get to eat some of the best dishes in the world. "On the second day the cooks prepare the dishes again, this time for the judges, concentrating on the dish rather than the dialogue."

"We film our close-ups on this day, for example the bubbles in the rich broth or a steak searing gently on a grill - we refer to these shots as 'food porn'. The dishes are then taken into the judges and we film their comments." After filming, it's into post-production for about four months. "Here we work with composers, musicians, editors, sound mixers and sound foley (where we put in all the cooking sound effects separately) plus colour graders, graphics people and mastering, among others," says Alun.

With a title like The Best, it's not a surprise to see the three cooks using state of the art equipment in the kitchen set, with Le Creuset products featuring especially heavily. Alun says, "Le Creuset is a perfect fit for us as it's pure quality, works like a dream and looks great on camera."

"Plus as The Best in Australia is seen around the world, every kitchen item we use must stand up to international scrutiny and reflect the quality of our brand."

The Best in Australia is on Foxtel's Lifestyle Food channel

Monday, 19 September 2011 12:56

Superstitions of the knife

We use knives on a daily basis, from simple tasks in the kitchen at home, at work, and to celebrate special occasions.

The substantial role knives play in our lives has meant that many superstitions have evolved over time, so here is a list of interesting, age-old superstitions we've carved out for you.

• Giving a knife as a gift to a friend will "sever" the relationship. To avoid this bad luck the receiver of the knife should give a coin in return so as to "pay" for the gift.

• A knife placed under the bed during childbirth is said to ease the pain of labor.

• If knives are crossed at the table a quarrel will occur.

• It is bad luck to close a pocket knife unless you opened it.

• A knife as a gift from a lover means that the love will soon end.

• A house is protected once a knife is thrust into the front door.

• A baby is protected by a knife stuck into the headboard of the cradle.

• A knife thrust into the mast of a boat is for good luck.

• If blades dull when the owners are away, the owners are not fairing well.

• People holding a knife during an eclipse will cut themselves.

• Sharpening a knife's blade at night invites misfortune.

• It is bad luck to toast bread with the tip of a knife or speak of the word "knife" at sea.

• The bride must cut the first slice of the wedding cake or the marriage will be childless.

• Knives under pillows of people who are hurt or ill will cure them.

• To initiate a love affair, slice an apple in two with a sharp knife while making a wish about the desired person. If you cut through the apple without slicing any seeds, then the desire will be fulfilled.

• Some cultures believe that a knife doesn't truly belong to someone until it has made them draw blood, and that it is less likely to accidentally cut its owner once it has tasted their blood. Believers of this superstition intentionally prick their finger on the blade of the knife rather than risk cutting themselves later down the track.

• Some Chinese believe that the day children learn to walk, a relative should follow behind with a knife and draw three lines on the ground. these figurative slices sever invisible bindings around children's ankles, so that they will not be bound by previous lives.

• In Greece a black-handled knife placed under a pillow is used to ward off nightmares.

• As far as romance is concerned a "knife falls, a gentleman calls" and "a dull knife, a dull wife".

Finally, in pursuit of maintaining harmony in the home it's important to know that if you "stir with a knife, you stir up strife".

Monday, 19 September 2011 13:03

The History of Champagne

"I only drink Champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."

Lily Bollinger

There is little doubt that of all the drinks available, Champagne has become the most romantic and provides the most exhilaration for our minds and senses. The history of Champagne dates back to the 17th century when in the cold, northeastern region of France, bubbles accidentally appeared in bottles of fermenting wine. In fact, Champagne was the product of a wonderful science experiment, but when trapped carbon dioxide bubbles appeared in fermenting wine, the science experiment was put on hold – and the rest, as they say, is history!

Champagne has always evoked the sort of obsession that Lily Bollinger has become famous for. There are very few special events or occasions that may pass without an obligatory glass of Champagne. In fact, to put matters into true perspective you need look no further than Winston Churchill's remarks during WWI, "remember gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!"

English scientist and physician Christopher merrett created his own Champagne production method in 1662, but it wasn't until the 17th century when Dom Perignon, a cellar master at the abbey Saint-Pierre d'Hautvillers spent many years tending the vineyards and eventually perfected the art of Champagne production during his years at the abbey.

Dom Perignon combined forces with another cellarmaster, Frère Jean Oudart from the abbeys of Saint-Pierre aux monts de Châlons, just two miles down the road, together creating the naturally sparking wine in its purest and most perfect form. Together, they managed to understand the typical fermentation, mix the grape varieties, invent the cork and add sugar which dissolved the carbonic gas in the wine.

The beauty of their creation was aptly described by Dom Perignon when at the moment he discovered Champagne, he said: "Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"

The First World War and Prohibition were disastrous times for Champagne. Vineyards became battlefields, cellars were emptied, export markets evaporated and economic depression left few buyers for luxury goods. A major market for Champagne had been Imperial russia, and of course, that market disappeared following the revolution in 1917.

Again, in World War II, the vineyards once again became battlefields and France was occupied by the Nazis. It is only since the end of World War II that Champagne has so spectacularly rebuilt itself. In 1941, the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne was legally established, and has since contributed not only to administering production regulations in Champagne, but to promoting the wines throughout the world. The CIVC also has a team of lawyers protecting the name of Champagne!

Today, walk into any liquor store, and the supply of champagne is abundant. From cheap to expensive, from sweet to dry, from vintage to non-vintage – you can enjoy a glass or two to celebrate your next special occasion.

Monday, 19 September 2011 13:05

The Secret to Fresh Home Grown Vegetables

Tired of vegetables from the supermarket that are tasteless and deteriorate within days of purchase? Have you always loved the idea of building your own vegie garden but aren't quite sure how?

Growing your own fresh vegetables is easy. Warm weather and frost-free nights mean the vegetable gardening season is in full swing. We've put together some tips on creating the perfect vegetable garden.

Step 1 – Choosing where to put the vegie patch

Vegetables need a spot that is in full sun and protected from strong wind. It is also important to separate the veggie garden from other big plants or trees, so the roots do not get in the way. You can use a patch of grassed area, or put some pots on the verandah.

Step 2 - What to Plant

Personal preference decides what vegetables to plant. However, the following vegetables are best grown in Spring:

Carrots Tomatoes
Spring Onion Silver beet
Peas Ginger
Potatoes Rocket
Asian Vegetables Lettuces
Cucumbers Capsicum
Eggplant Cherry Tomatoes
Zucchini Cabbage
Herbs Beetroot

Step 3 – Preparing your soil and planting

The secret to a successful vegetable garden is in the soil preparation. This needs to be done one month before planting. The soil needs to be well-drained with a good structure (nice and crumbly) that allows rapid root growth and easy access to nutrients, water and air.

Add compost, organic matter and manure to ensure that the soil is rich and nutritious. Add some plant tonic, soil conditioner and slow release fertilizer. Leaf vegetables need fertilisers that are high in nutrients, while fruit and root vegetables need a good supply of phosphorous.

The degree of soil acidity (i.e. the pH) can affect nutrients available to plants. Most vegetables thrive in soil with a pH between 6 and 7. A simple pH test with a soil testing kit will indicate if your soil is too acidic or too alkaline.

Planting is the easiest bit! Seeds are the cheapest way to buy the plants. Follow the instructions on the pack regarding seed spacing and depth, ensuring you water daily (but do not drown the seeds) for the first few weeks.

In no time you will be cooking with those home grown vegetables. To turn everyday vegies into flavour sensations, add a liberal pinch of sea salt and a sprinkling of fresh rosemary, thyme and olive oil. Cook them up with a succulent roast at your next dinner party and be sure to show off your vegetable garden!


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