Cold Comfort

For the second week running, I found myself unable to go sailing last night. This time, however, it wasn’t the weather that kept me ashore but the fairly heavy cold I’m currently nursing.

This sprang up from nowhere on Monday morning and steadily got worse as the week progressed, reaching its zenith (I hope) yesterday and rendering me unfit to go sailing. At least, I would have given it a go if the crew had been short-handed but there were enough other people available and I was feeling sufficiently rough to consider that it would be better all round if I stayed at home.

I think I feel marginally better today, but it’s still at a fairly yucky stage (I’m sure you’ve experienced enough colds to be able to imagine the gory details without me spelling them out) and I’m also missing tonight’s band practice, though I hope to be well enough to go to tomorrow night’s.

While I’ve been sitting at home, reading the fictional exploits of Horatio Hornblower and dreaming of a life on the ocean wave, I have been soothing my throat with a concoction that my boss (officially “line manager”, but that sounds too corporate for my liking) told me about this afternoon while I was manfully struggling on with my work and looking forward to the moment I could knock off and head home to hit my rocking chair. (Incidentally, in case my boss or any prospective future employer is reading this, I should emphasise that when I’m at work I don’t usually just sit there looking forward to going home – only when I’m feeling ill but can muster just enough strength to drag myself to the office in the first place.)

The concoction in question is actually a decoction (I think that’s the correct technical term) of ginger, black peppercorns and cloves in water. As such, it bears a certain similarity to the honey, lemon and ginger decoction that I usually make up when I have a cold. It also reminded me somewhat of masala chai, which is perhaps not surprising given that my boss is Indian and is therefore steeped in the same culinary/medicinal tradition from which that fine beverage comes.

My method of preparation was to roughly chop a bit of fresh ginger, crush a few cloves and peppercorns in a pestle & mortar and then simmer the whole lot for a few minutes in a small saucepan of boiling water before straining into a cup. I drank a little bit of it neat but used the bulk of it, while the water was still nice and hot, to brew a cup of coffee (as suggested by my boss).

I can’t speak for the medicinal properties but it was certainly pleasant and soothing to drink (with or without the coffee – I’m sure it would also work as a masala chai mix with a bit of black tea thrown in, without the coffee of course!) and will be a useful addition to my repertoire of brews to make myself feel better (if not actually get better any sooner) when I have a cold.

A Grate Idea?

Most of the blogs I follow are somewhat more specialised (or, you might say, rather less eclectic — or perhaps just less random) than my own.  Amongst them are a couple of food blogs which I keep an eye on largely for the occasional handy cooking tip I can glean from them.

In the last few months one of these blogs, theKitchn, has yielded a couple of useful tips relating to one of my favourite spices – ginger.  More specifically, they are about the preparation and storage of the fresh root.

The first tip, which I picked up some time last year, is a method for peeling ginger.  Rather than use a knife or a vegetable peeler, which are both (especially the knife) prone to removing (and thus wasting) quite a bit of good ginger flesh in addition to the skin, the blog suggested using the edge of a teaspoon.  This gently scrapes the skin off, leaving the useable part of the ginger ready for action.  Unfortunately I have lost the link to the post that suggested this, but I have found it to work pretty well.  I haven’t tried using a teaspoon to peel other vegetables, but I find a knife or peeler to be perfectly satisfactory for most of them in any case.

The second tip, from LA-based food writer Emily Ho, turned up a couple of months ago in this post.  In it, she tackles the problem of saving fresh ginger in good condition for long enough to use it all (assuming you buy it in fairly large chunks and don’t use it that quickly), as well as ensuring that you can always have fresh ginger to hand.  The idea is simply to freeze it in suitable-sized portions for subsequent use.  I know that technically makes it frozen, rather than fresh, ginger but it seems to work just as well.

Emily suggests peeling the ginger first (she doesn’t say whether or not she uses a teaspoon — it’s possible that the other tip was hers too) and then grating it before freezing.  When I tried that, I found that the grated ginger seemed to come out a bit mushy so I did an experiment by grating half of the ginger and finely chopping the other half, much as I would usually prepare it directly for cooking.  I put individual portions of chopped/grated ginger (roughly a teaspoon’s worth, though I didn’t measure them carefully) in an ice-cube tray that I’d rescued from an old freezer a few years ago and then shoved the tray in the freezer.

That was a few weeks ago and I’ve been fairly steadily working my way through the frozen ginger ever since.  I’ve used some in stir fries and some for spicing up the honey and lemon concoction I brewed up last week when I had a cold.  For both of those purposes it has worked fine to lob the frozen ginger in directly to the pan.  I can’t think of anything I would normally cook with ginger that would need it to be defrosted first.  There doesn’t seem to be any practical difference between the ginger that was chopped and that which was grated, although I definitely prefer the preparation by chopping so I’ll probably continue to use that method in future.

Having looked back at the original article (which I didn’t consult immediately before trying the idea for myself), I noticed that Emily Ho actually suggested putting the individual dollops of grated ginger onto a parchment-lined baking tray, sticking that in the freezer until frozen and then transferring the ginger to an airtight box and putting it back in the freezer.  I’m sure that way would work very well in the absence of a handy ice-cube tray, and would certainly be better than trying to individually bag up each portion, but I’ve found my approach to work quite well for me, so I think I’ll stick to it.

Now that summer is approaching I may get an opportunity to try out using some lumps of frozen ginger in lieu of ice cubes.  They might work especially well in a Moscow mule, in the unlikely event that I get round to making any of those this year.

Honey and lemon time

I seem to have a bit of an incipient cold at the moment.  It’s been hovering around for the best part of a week and so far hasn’t been any worse than a slightly blocked or slightly runny nose and a bit of a cough, so I’m hoping it will go away soon without getting any worse first.  Fortunately it didn’t severely impede my playing at yesterday’s brass band competition (we came 5th out of 9 in our section and were quite pleased with our performance, thanks for asking).

As a precaution, I’ve been making and drinking a few batches of my DIY honey and lemon mixture (essentially, half a lemon, a spoonful of honey and a bit of chopped ginger lobbed together in a saucepan with a pint or so of water and boiled/simmered for a few minutes) to soothe my throat and make me feel like I’m doing something pro-active against the cold, in the hope that I can persuade it not to get properly underway.

This also gives me an opportunity to dig out a poem I wrote about 7 years ago on another occasion when I had a cold, in November 2006.  That one was a lot worse than the one I’ve currently got, and I had lost my voice.   I’m fairly sure (although I can’t remember for certain) that I didn’t have the second half of the poem in mind when I wrote the first half.

Incidentally, if you’re of a sensitive disposition and are currently eating something you may want to finish your food and take a break before you read on (especially lines 3 and 4).

I have a cold.
I’m feeling pretty bad.
I feel like I’m slowly drowning
in a sea of my own snot and spit.
And if that sounds horrid, it is.
The back of my throat feels under attack
from a horde of tiny, malicious imps.
Arms and legs and head all ache.
Constant coughing gets me down.
Nostrils feel raw –
are those tissues or sandpaper?
To cap it all, I’ve lost my voice.
I can’t speak above a whisper
and, worse, I can’t sing.
Frustration, thy name is silence!

But wait a moment, whining one!
What gives you the right to moan?

Have you spent your whole life unable to see or to hear?
Are you missing your legs, never to walk again?
Is your voice gone for good, never to sing or talk again?
Does your whole family spend their life
labouring to provide food for the table?
Are you too stupid to see what I mean?

I have a cold.
Big deal.

Hot Chocolate Ginger

As I mentioned the other day, I’m quite partial to chocolate-coated ginger so I decided to have a go at making some with the crystallised ginger I picked up recently.

Deliberately flouting the first rule of cooking (well, one of the rules anyway: always use the best ingredients you can afford), I picked up a bar of the cheapest dark chocolate I could find – Morrisons economy label; I was shocked to note that it’s gone up 50% since I last got a bar a few months ago and now costs a whopping 30p instead of 20p, but it’s still far cheaper than any of the competition and is respectably good chocolate for the price and certainly good enough for my experimentation.

Being unsure as to how best to melt chocolate and too impatient to google it, I just put about half the bar in to my smallest saucepan at a very low heat, stirring it with a wooden spoon to try and prevent it burning.  This was only partially successful and I ended up adding a small amount of milk to try and make it a bit smoother.  I then dropped in bits of ginger, one or two at a time, and gave them a good stir round to get them well-coated before taking them out and dropping them on a plate.  The added milk seems to have made the chocolate set quite soft, but the finished pieces are very tasty.

To use up the remaining chocolate and go some way towards cleaning the pan, I added a fairly generous amount of milk, a little bit of sugar, some ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt while it was still on the heat, then let it simmer for a bit and decanted it into a cup to enjoy as  a drink of hot chocolate.  This was a bit richer than the usual stuff I make up from powder and, although probably not the way I’d want to make it every time, has potential for being an excellent way to make it up as a special treat (I was inspired by a recipe I’d looked at for DIY hot chocolate that suggested adding cream too; that one started with heating the milk (and sugar?) then adding the chocolate and other ingredients but was otherwise much the same as my method) and it does seem to be a good way of using up any remaining chocolate after dipping operations.

I think, though I haven’t yet done any research or experimentation to check this, that using a double saucepan or bain-marie (as far as I know that’s just another name for the same thing) is the preferred method for melting chocolate, as it provides a much gentler heat.  I’ve got nearly half a bar of chocolate and a fair bit of ginger left over, so if I can find suitable pots to use, I might give that a try to see if it works better.

Crystallised Ginger and Gathia Mix

I forgot to take my lunch with me when I went in to work this morning.  Fortunately, I did have my wallet with me as I hoped to be able to pick up some herbs and spices that I wanted when I dropped down into town for a meeting, so I was able to buy some things to eat at lunchtime (just as well, too, as the herb buying was a bit of a non-starter – lemongrass doesn’t seem to be sold by many shops round here and cinnamon sticks appear to be undergoing a surge of popularity, judging by the fact that all the shops seemed to be sold out of them).

One of the things I got was a packet of Gathia mix, which looked similar to Bombay mix but was quite a bit cheaper (it was on special offer).  Although I suspect I’ve eaten it before, I wasn’t aware of having done so.  According to Wikipedia it’s similar to Bombay mix but generally a bit spicier and containing fewer bulk ingredients (as opposed to spices); it’s also called Gujarati mix, which presumably indicates where it’s from.  In any case, it’s very tasty.  I haven’t had Bombay mix type things for a while and forgotten quite how much I like them.

The other exciting thing was a bag of crystallised ginger.  That too is very tasty, although probably not all that healthy given how much sugar is in it.  I seem to recall that chocolate-coated crystallised ginger is particularly nice, so I might see if I can pick up a bar of dark chocolate to melt and dip some of the remaining ginger in it.