Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Joy of Eating

Dear readers. I feel like I need to reintroduce myself. My good friend Anelle very tactfully enquired via email this morning why she's been looking at Zoo cookies for two weeks now. I thought I better come clean.

Unfortunately I've been unwell for quite a few months now. Without going into too many gory details, I'll just casually mention that my poor gallbladder was the cause. When I was pregnant with the Little Girl, I spend about 7 months on the coach feeling too sick to even contemplating eating, and my gallbladder became full of stones due to not working. After her birth, I started having very severe abdominal pain whenever I tried to eat something a bit more substantial than dry toast. I had a few tests, which determined that said gallbladder needed to come out. I was put on the waiting list (last November), and waited ever since. The joys of public health.

All the food on the blog? Of course I tasted everything, but mostly only had a bite or two to determine that it's edible. I survived on dry bread and marshmellows. Until the marshmellows, supposedly fat free, caused an attack of biliary colic. Dry bread from then on. Occasionally I tried to eat more, but random foods made me ill again almost every week, sometimes more often, so mostly I stayed away. And hungry.

Early last week I got a call from the hospital. They had a cancellation on one of their theatre lists. Did I want it? People, I couldn't say yes fast enough, and went into surgery on Friday night. The Little Girl and the Fabulous Man spent Friday night at my lovely mum-in-law's, and I joined them there on Saturday to recover. I cannot tell you how wonderful I feel. Yes, I have some pain, but mostly I've been so overjoyed by eating again, any tears are due to happiness and nothing else.

I cannot begin to tell you how fabulous it feels to be able to eat anything I want. And not be haunted by the feeling that this might make me ill, and if it does, crying in agony for hours untill it passes. It's only now that I realise how difficult it's been. And I've come to the same conclusion I did a long time ago: Eating well makes me happy. I love eating not just for energy for my body, but also for mental health. Comfort eating? Yes. Chocolate to cure whatever's wrong that day? Absolutely. Creating lovely dishes to share with my family and you guys? Bring it on.

It's good to be back.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Zoo Cookies

When my mum was still a diplomat posted overseas, she used to send me a wish list from everybody in the embassy that was as long as my arm and took up half of my baggage allowance. I never understood this. Fanta Grape? Honestly? You want me to bring a sixpack of Fanta Grape? A BIG bottle of Mrs. Balls chutney? Are you sure the Hungarians don't have chutney? etc. etc.

Since graduating and living in 3 different countries, now in Australia, I understand. When you're not in your own country you really miss the little things. Big things as well, like friends and family, and mountains and jacaranda trees, but mostly the little things. Like Fanta Grape. And Mrs. Balls chutney. And Zoo cookies.

I can't remember Zoo cookies ever being my favourite while growing up, but it was defenitely part of my cookie eating repertoire (Romany Creams - a chocolate sandwich biscuit - was my favourite). There was a special way to eat them: First you nibble the exposed cookie around the icing. Then you lick off the iced animal. After this it was up to your own discretion. Either you could lick the coloured icing off the leftover biscuit, followed by the biscuit itself, or you could finish off the whole cookie in a couple of bites. Thinking back about this, eating them this meticulously must have stopped us from scoffing the whole box in one sitting, which is what I did with Romany Creams on a regular basis.

Luckily for me, there's a whole bunch of South Africans living in 'stralia, which also means you can get hold of  some of your favourites fairly easily. Like Fanta Grape, Mrs. Balls and Zoo cookies. I haven't come across Romany Creams yet, but I'm sure I will if I look for them. I found the Zoo cookies in our local Maxi's the other day, and it's now a regular item in my shopping basket. I've even been known to share them occasionally, which I usually don't do with my South African hoard. The feel good memories I get from eating them is almost as good as a trip home.

Except, and I know this is going to make me sound really old, they're not like I remember them. They seem a lot harder, and the iced animal on top is too thick to lick off without cutting your tongue to shreads. Which of course made me think that I must try and make them myself. And then Meeta came along and announced that the theme for this Monthly Mingle is South Africa, and I was sold. Zoo cookies it is.

For the biscuit I used the butter cookie recipe from my favourite favourite How to be a Domestic Goddess. I love this recipe. It's easy to make, it tastes good and it freezes well. It might be plain, but I think in the same way people call vanilla "plain". Not plain at all, just understated perfection. As you can see my biscuits don't have the animals on them like the original Zoo cookies. I wanted to put my own stamp on it. Also, I didn't trust my icing skills to reproduce recognisable animals. Let's be honest, I barely pulled off little paw prints. Maybe one day when I'm all grown up.

Zoo Cookies
Makes 3 dozen

175g soft unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
400g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
300g icing sugar, sieved, and food colouring

Preheat the oven to 180 deg Celsius.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale, then beat in the eggs and the vanilla. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, and mix until combined. Let the dough rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

Sprinkle a suitable surface with flour, and roll out one half of the dough to a thickness of about 1/2 cm (keep the other half in the fridge for now). Cut into rectangles, or any shape you wish, and place them on a baking plate.

Bake for 8-12 minutes until lightly brown. Cool on a rack and continue with the rest of the dough.

Add the icing sugar to about 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Add more water to form the consistency you want. Divide the icing into different batches and colour, remember to leave one batch white. Add a colour layer to your cookies, and let harden completely. Draw some little animals of whatever your heart desires on top with the white icing. Let harden again before serving.

Enjoy with some Fanta Grape.