Food, Feelers, and Fantasy

rweissmugshotThis website is an odd mix of my interests as a writer, entomologist, naturalist, gardener, and educator. You’ll find blog posts about rural New Zealand life, links to my books, and some of my favourite recipes. Feel free to explore, drop me a line, and sign up for my e-mail list.

Upcoming release: Backyard Bugwatcher

The final proof…

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of Backyard Bugwatcher. This kid-friendly book includes all the cool information and identification keys from Insects in the Classroom. A great addition to any bug-lover’s library, this guide complements insect guides like Which New Zealand Insect? and Life-Size Guide to New Zealand Insects, giving you additional background information on a broad range of New Zealand arthropods, and providing keys that can help you learn to quickly categorise creepy crawlies for identification.

Contact me to order your copy, or order on Amazon.com after 31 July (I’ll add the link here once it’s live).

Funny Fruit

Some days you just have to be silly.

Half way through cooking yesterday’s dinner, I felt it was incomplete. It need a little something extra. Something light and fresh. By the time I thought this, it was already dark outside. I didn’t feel like picking a salad in the dark, so I thought I might make a fruit salad.

But neither the bananas, nor the pears in the fruit bowl were ripe yet, and that left just apples and mandarines. Pretty boring fruit salad.

How could I make plain old apples exciting?

Turn them into swans, of course!

I found instructions for these fun little fruit birds on the Curious Little Kid blog. Hers are much prettier than mine, but mine got a laugh at the table all the same. They turned boring apples into an exciting side dish.

Spring is Coming

Last weekend we were hit by a major winter storm. The weekend before, another storm dropped snow almost to sea level. A third storm is forecast to blow in over the next couple of days.

But John Snow needs to change his tune.

Spring is coming.

No question about it.

I’ve felt it.

The plants have felt it.

The birds have felt it.

Spring is coming.

Get ready.

Spring is coming.

Homemade Oreo Cookies

I’ve had a hankering for my ice cream sandwich cookies for weeks, but it’s midwinter—who wants to eat ice cream sandwiches?

But yesterday I had an idea. What if I turned those same cookies into homemade Oreos?

Oh. Yes.

I took my ice cream sandwich cookie dough and, rolled it out a bit thinner than I do for ice cream sandwiches. Instead of cutting it into rectangles, I cut circles with a cookie cutter. I baked them for 8 minutes at 190ºC (375ºF), and then let them cool completely on a rack.

When cool, I stuck them together with the following icing:

60 g (1/4 cup) softened butter
60 g (1/4 cup) Olivani at room temperature (shortening will work, for those in the US)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups icing (confectioners) sugar

Beat butter and Olivani until smooth and light. Add vanilla and beat thoroughly. Sift confectioners sugar over the butter mixture and beat until smooth.

The icing was too soft at first and tended to squeeze out of the cookie when we bit into them, but it hardened overnight into the perfect Oreo filling consistency. I found this quantity of icing perfect for the number of cookies, but if you like double-stuff Oreos, make twice as much filling.

It has been decades since I last ate a real Oreo cookie, so I can’t say whether they are exactly like Oreos or not. But they are FANTASTIC!

Cinnamon Biscuits

The line between biscuits (in the American sense of the word) and scones is a blurry one—add an egg and little sugar to a biscuit and, hey presto, you’ve got a scone! Take away the egg from a scone and, voila, you’ve got biscuits!

This morning, wanting scones but facing an egg shortage, I found myself improvising. The biscuit variation I came up with was absolutely marvellous, particularly when eaten with a dollop of honey.

This is a giant Sunday morning quantity of biscuits—enough for breakfast for four, plus extra snacking through the day. Easily halved, if you’re not feeling like Sunday decadence.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp brown sugar
125g (8 Tbsp) cold butter
1 1/2 cups milk

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Stir in milk. Briefly knead dough, just until smooth. Roll to 1.5 – 2 cm (1/2 – 3/4 inch) thickness and cut into squares, rounds, or whatever biscuity shape you like. Bake on an ungreased sheet at 210ºC (425ºF) for about 15 minutes, until browned.