Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Perfect Roti Recipe

Roti is the perfect complement to almost any Indian dish, and is actually quite easy to make. Easier, according to mum, than rice. This is her recipe and method...

  • 1 litre of Cake Flour
  • 500 millilitres of Boiling Water
  • 60 millilitres of Vegetable Oil
An electric mixer is invaluable to those wishing to avoid scalded fingers. Put all of the ingredients except for a very small amount of the water (about 10ml) into an electric mixer and mix thoroughly. Use the reserved water to moisten the dough if it is too dry. It should neither crumble nor ooze; it should simply hold its shape without being too sticky or tough.

Remove the dough from the bowl and roll it into one or two long rolls about 5 cm in diameter using your hands. Put this dough roll onto a floured board (the flour is essential in preventing the dough from sticking to the board, remember to use it well, but carefully as it can dry out the dough!). Break off small balls of dough by taking a handful from the end of the roll and twisting. Flatten each of the resulting balls to form a small dough discus and set aside under a dish-cloth. This keeps the dough moist as you roll each out.

 Small discs next to already rolled rotis. Both can overlap, as they shouldn't stick to each other very much. Once the rotis are rolled, they can be handled quite easily, just don't keep them suspended long enough to sag.

Flour the board and roll each of the discs into thin and as-circular-as-you-can-manage circles. Mum has a special method of doing so when it's not too sticky, and if I can convince her to let me film her explaining it, I'll find a way to put it up here. For now, just know that she keeps the left end of the rolling pin above the middle of disc and presses away from herself with her right hand. This pushes the disc in an anti-clockwise spin and flattens it evenly as it spins. This works better than rolling in many directions fixing imperfections. The rolled out rotis can be kept on a floured surface or - preferably - a tablecloth until they are ready to be cooked, although not for too long otherwise they'll cook stiff. Also, make sure the kitchen is not to breezy as that will dry out the dough.

A Thawa: basically a heavy steel pan without sides, perfect for making roti.

To cook them, you'll need a Thawa, but if you haven't got one to hand, then any pan with a sufficiently large flat and thick bottom will do. Grease the pan with butter (or oil) and turn the heat on high. Allow the pan to heat up and then turn it down to medium-high heat. Pick up a rolled roti and place it on the pan.  Allow it to cook for a few seconds, then spin it with your fingertips by touching the surface with all fingers very briefly and twisting, pausing every few turns to let it cook. Keep doing so until faint white spots appear on the top of the roti. Then, you can do what mum does and pull it to the edge, pick it up and flip it over. Or you can do what I do, and use a lifter. Her way is cooler and more accomplished, mine safer and more suited to a novice. Either way, turn over the roti and keep spinning it with your fingers.

What is now the top should be evenly dotted with white spots, and a few light brown patches are okay too. That's the dough beginning to cook. Lift the edge every few seconds after about 20 seconds of cooking and when medium dark spots (like those in the picture above) establish themselves on the side touching the pan, flip it back over so that the roti is now back in its original position. If you have already cooked a few rotis, then place a cooked on one on top of the current roti and spin it, pressing gently.
If the roti is cooking perfectly, it will begin to puff up. This means the roti will be airy and soft. Be careful! These pockets are full of very hot steam which can escape suddenly. A dearth of air pockets is not the end of the world; the roti should be okay anyways. Press down carefully to spread the air pocket around as far as you can, and then pinch the rotis together, lift them and put them both onto the pile. Ideally, three should therefore be the maximum number of times the roti is cooked; any more will cause it to become stiff.
Keep the pile covered and somewhat insulated otherwise they may dry out or cool. I recommend a high sided dish with a lid, lined with grease-proof paper with extra paper to cover the top. Once you've cooked them all, cover the top of the pile with the grease paper and a dish cloth. This should keep the rotis warm and toasty until they're served.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Malachite Sunbird

A Malachite Sunbird sitting on a Yellow Pincushion at Cape Point, 10 September 2009
I captured this as it alighted, and within seconds, it was gone again in a brilliant flash of green.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Spices of Life

Our spice container (or Masala Dabba - above) caught my eye, and I already love cinnamon, so I decided to get artistic with the spices. Turns out, as well as being the foundation of Indian cooking, our spices are also really photogenic...

Cinnamon, The Spice of Life 

Mustard Seeds

Curry Leaf, where would we be without it?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Reflections of the last day's light in the temporarily calm pools thrown up by the surf.
The Promenade, Cape Town, 8 September 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chocolate Tart

One of my birthday presents was Jaime Oliver’s ‘Cook with Jaime’, and while I have yet to try one of the many intriguing and sometimes strange food recipes, this recipe caught my eyes. It is a chocolate pastry shell filled with double thick chocolate mousse. How could I not make it?

The recipe called for one 28cm tart dish, but I only had the 23cm dish, so I divided it up into the small dish and a rectangular casserole.

Chocolate Tart

  • 150g of Unsalted Butter
  • 100g of Castor Sugar
  • 250g of Plain Flour (sifted)
  • Zest of One Small Orange
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 30g of Cocoa Powder
Mousse Filling
  • 200ml of Whole Milk
  • 568ml of Double Cream
  • 30g of Castor Sugar
  • 350g of Milk Chocolate (grated)
  • 2 Large Eggs

I made the mistake of grating the chocolate on before the tart had cooled, hence the oozing chocolate death above.

Cream together the butter and sugar, then fold in the flour, orange zest, egg and cocoa powder. When the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, work it gently into a ball and then flour lightly. Do not work the pastry too much or it will become elastic and chewy rather than crumbly and short as it should be. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove the pastry from the fridge, grease a 28cm tart dish and line the dish with it.

Bake the pastry shell in an oven preheated to 180°C for 12-15 minutes or until  it’s firm and almost biscuit-like. Remove from the oven and turn down the heat to 170°C.

Out of curiosity, I only cut the crust of the square tart (above) while I pressed smooth that of the round tart. Both are pleasing in different ways.

For the filling, put the milk, cream and sugar into a saucepan and slowly bring to the boil, stirring gently. Take off the heat and add the chocolate, whisking until smooth, then add the eggs and whisk again. Pour the filling into a jug. Put the baked pastry shell back into the oven, carefully pull out the oven shelf and pour in the filling. Push the oven shelf back in and bake for 15 minutes. The tart is cooked when the filling has a slight wobble to it; remember that it will keep firming up as it cools down.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New Look: Welcome to the Blog of a Prolific Photographer

Welcome to the Blog of a Prolific Photographer, formerly "Thy memory be as a dwelling place..."

I spent about three hours last night reverse-engineering the HTML of my blog (I've never actually learned how to use HTML explicitly, but my experience in VB is enough to get me through). I gave it a new name, theme and look, and perhaps a (new) direction.

As much as I enjoy the whole Romanticism thing, and have in no way renounced that, I decided that a) this suited ME better, b) the black background brings out the pictures better and c) I needed something a bit more modern. Sublimity is all very well, but a bit dated...
The colours and arrangement are a work in progress, but for the most part the transformation is complete...

Hopefully I'll be inspired to post a little more often about more than just baking, although in my opinion, my baking fits nicely into photography, in a way - and I already have some ideas -, but we shall see...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lightning Photography: Doing it my way

Lightning Photography

The Johannesburg highveld has some of the most spectacular afternoon lightning storms. It was during one of these that I decided to try and capture a lightning bolt on camera.

I had heard about some cameras that record a four second stream of images at incredibly high framerates, and then when you depress the shutter, it saves the four previous seconds in addition to the picture you've taken. You can then choose the best from those pictures, which makes it ideal for split second photography, such as sport, waves and, of course, lightning.

The best of my shots from the first day

I however, do not possess such a camera. I use a Canon Powershot SX110 IS; a 9.0MP camera with a 10x Optical Zoom. As far as my needs go, I find it to be the perfect camera; small enough to be portable (unlike some of the more ridiculous things you occasionally see), with a decent zoom lens, an expansive and brilliant screen and an excellent sensor. It also allows for Apeture, Shutter Speed and full manual control, which can come in handy. I would say that the three things missing are that it does not support bracketing (which makes HDR photography slightly more challenging), that it does not automatically rotate pictures as they were taken upon caputre, and it lacks the in-camera ability to stitch panoramas. The latter two exist in other forms though; the rotation information is saved in the pictures' EXIF information and can then be used with the Canon software to rotate the images once they're on the computer. As for stitching, Canon cameras come bundled with Photostitch, which is - in my opinion - the best software for the job. It allows lengthy horizontal, 360°, vertical and matrix arrangements and has both intelligent auto matching of edges, and flexible user-defined matching.

Lightning, rain (the haze on the horizon) and a rainbow.

Enough about the camera, let's get to how I used it to take these pictures. I was struck (interesting word choice) by the idea that instead of lightning quick reflexes (ah, again), and miniscule shutter speeds, I should use an incredibly long shutter speed, and thereby capture the entirety of each bolt, rather than an instant only.
I must mention that this idea did not come to me from google. I actually thought it through myself! Woo! At the time of publishing this, I had yet to search and see if anyone else has done this (which I'm sure they have).
So I set the speed to 15 seconds, the highest allowed by the camera. I tried to install the CHDK add on that allows overrides of up to 64 seconds on some Canon cameras, but unfortunately this camera was too new and was not supported. So 15 seconds it was.

The lightning started early on the second afternoon, and so the above image was garish and overexposed. It took some adjustment to make it almost presentable.

My first few shots, despite it being late afternoon/early evening and heavily clouded over, came out pure white. And so I turned down the exposure to -2, and the ISO to 80, the lowest allowed.
And I began to shoot.

Our house is situated on a slope, and so looks out on one side on an immense flat plain, with the horizon off in the distance, broken only by some trees in the foreground. The lightning storms rend the sky from West thru North to the East, half the hemisphere of the sky.

This was an interesting shot, as most of the in-cloud lightning led only to the illumation of the clouds, with no visible bolt.

Unfortunately, I have incredibly bad luck when it comes to taking pictures of waves, and - it seems - lightning. Using my method means that I must commit to about an eighth of this section of sky. Almost invariably, the lightning would strike in another part of the sky, and so 8 out of 10 of my shots were simply the most beautiful, but soon monotonous, and then infuriating storm clouds sans lightning. In fact, I chose 16 out of about the 100 pictures from the two evenings on which I shot. See all 16 here.

But sometimes I was fortunate.

What you see here are the best of my pictures so far, taken from two consecutive highveld storms, on the 22nd and 27th of October 2009. While they cannot hope to compete with true lightning photography, I at least was impressed with what I could achieve with a compact camera. With the exception of having a monstrous zoom, I think that most photographic effects can be achieved through crafty use of a Canon compact camera.

By far the best of my shots; what I describe as fingers in the sky, because the lightning bolts in the upper half of the picture reach out across most of the sky simultaneously. It's stunning.

Mail & Guardian