MAKING BASIC SOUTH AFRICAN-STYLE BILTONG AT HOME

All you need to know.

Chris Westinghouse.      March 2014.

INGREDIENTS

Most South Africans will tell you that, despite all the fancy spices and flavours that are available, traditional beef biltong without the frills is still the best.

You’ll need:

  1. A kilogram of silverside, cut with the grain in strips about 1 – 2 cm thick.
  2. Lots of cooking salt, or rock salt.
  3. A small basin of vinegar, any vinegar, but apple cider vinegar is best.
  4. Some cracked pepper.
  5. Coarsely ground coriander.

HARDWARE

You’ll need:  

  1. A container that is well ventilated (close any holes with some sort of gauze or mesh to prevent insects from getting inside).
  2. An electric fan – it doesn’t have to be very powerful, but must be positioned in such a way that the air flows well over the meat.  The moist air is driven out of the ventilation holes in your container.  This is the primary mechanism for the drying process.
  3. A 60 Watt light bulb positioned at the bottom of your container.  This will produce only a small amount of heat, but its purpose is not heating – its purpose is to assist to dry the air.  If you’re using a strong fan, or even a dehumidifier, then you can dispense with the light  bulb).
  4. Some small S-shaped hooks (plastic or stainless steel), that you will insert at the top of each piece of meat and use to hang the meat.  Make sure that the pieces of meat don’t touch each other during the drying process.
  5. Racks, tubes, rods that you will insert into your container’s walls to give you racks, onto which you will hang the meat.
  6. NOTE: The meat will drip slightly during the first few hours, so make sure that this doesn’t drip onto your fan or onto your light bulb – this will make an unhygienic mess.  If you cover either of these items, make sure that you don’t use something flammable too close to the light bulb, or something flimsy that might get caught in the blades of your fan.

METHOD

  1. Buy a kilogram or two (as much as you like, but don’t overfill your container – too much meat risks too much moisture in your container and you don’t want the meat to rot).  Start with a kilogram of silverside.
  2. Cut the meat with the grain into strips about 1 – 2 cm thick. The thicker the meat, the longer it will take to turn into biltong.
  3. Lay the meat in a tray with enough salt (cooking or rock salt) to cover the meat on both sides.  Leave it for at least an hour.
  4. Use paper towels to soak up all the water that will have been sucked out of the meat by the salt. Brush off the salt with a clean brush. Don’t use water!
  5. Dip each piece of meat into a bowl of vinegar, just for a second or two.
  6. Sprinkle (or smother!) your choice of spices over the meat (both sides).
  7. Insert the clean hooks into the meat.
  8. Hang the meat on the racks that you’ve put in your container.
  9. Switch on the electric light bulb and the fan.  Close your container.
  10. And wait…. Depending on how much meat you’ve used, you can expect proper South African-style biltong in as little as 3 days.  The longer you leave it the drier and harder the meat will become.  Most South Africans prefer it to be soft and to have a slightly rubbery feel in the middle, with a hard, black crust on the outside.
  11. NOTE: The meat will thoroughly absorb the salt and spices, so you really don’t have to overdo it.  You will quickly discover how much suits your taste, and you’ll want to experiment with each subsequent batch.

WARNINGS

  1. You can keep an eye on your meat during the drying process.  It will change colour, from gray (that’s what it looked like after you dipped it in vinegar) to black.  If the meat starts to turn green – throw it away, it’s started to rot.  This will happen if your drying container is not well ventilated, or if there is not enough airflow over the meat.  Make more ventilation holes.
  2. If you notice a bit of white mould forming on your meat, the problem is the same: your drying container is not ventilated enough. You don’t need to throw away the meat – simply dip it into vinegar for a second or two, and hang it up again, making sure that you’ve improved  the air flow.
  3. Basic hygiene is important.  But there is no need to go overboard and try to create a hospital-grade sterile environment: biltong was “invented” in the field to accompany settlers on wagon treks.

Here’s a photo of my first arrangement for making biltong at home.

Biltong, made at home

Biltong, made at home

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EPISODE ONE

To what extent does media reporting alter or nuance realities and re-shape our opinions on issues like the current crisis in Ukraine?

(Extract from conversations among International Relations Professionals global discussion group in the context of the current conflict in Ukraine, March 2014.  Since this is a closed group of professionals I am not at liberty to publish the contributions of colleagues).

     Strategic Scientist, Jurist, Political and Corporate Reputation Management Specialist, occasional Photojournalist

I’m spending a lot of time and energy on the current issues in the Ukraine, and am appalled by the egregious media embellishment of the facts, including statements by political leaders.

For example, Russian President Putin says he “reserves the right to take military action” to protect the Russian-aligned people of the Crimea (whose right to have Russian as a second language was ominously repealed by the Ukraine Parliament last week). But CNN reports that “Putin reserves the right to a full scale invasion of Ukraine.” That’s not what he said. But it is more exciting, more alarming, and commands more attention. It prompts an emotional response.

It also raises the temperature. And that compels real politicians to up the ante. Before you know it a minor spat becomes a global conflagration.

We’ve seen this sort of licence being used by the media many times before, not only in global conflicts, but also where economic and other rivalries have been involved. In some ways, I argue, the media sometimes overstep the boundaries and behave as if they were the actual roleplayers. They certainly control the message. Far more so than any other institution. But is it “the message,” or is it “their message?”

Is it sloppiness? Is it aimed at making their reportage appear more exciting than the issue at hand really warrants? Is it more sinister, and are media being manipulated in order to (consciously or unconsciously) promote the interests of those who have a stake in a particular point of view?

This is how the media often reshapes political conflicts, by “sexing them up” to make their stories more entertaining and viewer-attracting, as happened in Iraq, for example. Is it the shape of the media into the 21st Century, i.e. has the Fourth Estate started to shove its way into the game as direct participants?

Pravda might use the headline, “Putin Walks on Water” (after somebody witnessed Putin doing a Jesus-like stunt), but CNN would likely publish it’s headline like this: “Putin Can’t Swim.”

I am no media-basher – I occasionally write and do photojournalism assignments myself – but I cringe at the way mainstream media have adopted the kind of licence and exaggeration that one expects of citizen journalists who are typically held to a lower standard.

In the current Ukraine conflict I am persuaded that tensions are substantially increased by speculative reporting, filling the airwaves with the voices of people who are not credible (but who are willing to go on camera and sprout their nonsense), just as long as audience numbers can be maintained.

In the meantime whole nations are being thrust toward intensified insecurity. How much of it can be blamed on irresponsible media reporting?

EPISODE TWO

CONTINUATION:  I think there are a vast set of potentially lethal consequences when the media inserts itself between the original facts and its audience. When a journalist tells a story (firsthand) of something that has been observed, witnessed etc., then there is likely to be a more human, adjectival, even emotional content in the report, and that’s the nature of story telling. As long as it isn’t fiction. The more serious issue that I have is when the media reports on things that roleplayers have said, and when their embellishment changes what was said. The reporters then tell us what they think was said, or imagined they witnessed – but it isn’t an accurate reflection of what was actually said. The example that I used of President Putin’s reservation of the “right to take military action” is the case in point. That’s all he said, but that didn’t stop CNN’s Christiane Amanpour from telling you and I that this meant he claimed the right to a full scale invasion…

Of course there are occasions when there is outright fabrication. In a previous incarnation during my political days I once had occasion to order the deportation of a journalist who wrote a graphic and gruesome story about an attack on protesters by police using dogs etc., and where there was blood all over the place. Fact is, no such incident took place. If I hadn’t deported the journalist, whom I remember well, I suspect his media colleagues would have torn him limb from limb. He can thank me for his life.

But it’s not just blatant fabrication that bothers me. What really worries me is the way in which stories, including the statements of roleplayers, are reported: if media exaggerate and embellish statements these are quickly absorbed into the popular (and political) history – and form part of the information upon which significant actions are taken. Worse, a small embellishment can lead to a larger one, in a snowball effect. Before you know it the history is corrupted.

In the case of the invasion misreport, the fact that the statement was made by a highly respected journalist on a relatively highly respected global media platform gives it credence. In the minds of viewers, among whom are heads-of-government (whose staff often don’t do their homework properly), the conflict would now appear to have escalated from what they already knew (i.e that Putin reserves the right to military action – they saw him say that on TV), to something they didn’t know, and now believe (i.e. that Putin is talking invasion – they didn’t see this, but a reporter apparently did). But it isn’t true, and isn’t what Putin said…

Consequence? 1. Escalation based on the new but unfounded perception that Putin is about to invade Ukraine. 2. Raised anxiety in eastern Europe. 3. Stock markets get the jitters. 4. Ukrainians start building bomb shelters. 5. Armies are moved into place etc etc etc. All very expensive… in more ways than just monetary terms.

We saw this in the case of Iraq, didn’t we? We all leapt into our tanks and airplanes and aircraft carriers and ravaged a whole nation, only to find there were no weapons of mass destruction, despite emphatic reports that there were.

Postscript: The on-air resignation of Russia Today’s Liz Wahl (“I’m proudly American”) and Abby Martin’s outburst against whitewashing the Russian “invasion” speak volumes in support of my comments above. They have abused their positions to condemn Russian aggression and an invasion that hasn’t occurred, and inserted themselves onto the front pages at the expense of the story – and reality. My first reaction is to ask where their moral outrage and condemnations were when their own country illegally invaded Iraq? When American drones have wiped out wedding parties in Pakistan, including kids? Many times. My second reaction is to remind myself that in terms of the 1997 Partition Treaty between Russia and the Ukraine on the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Russia is permitted to station 25000 troops in the Crimea until 2042… the estimated (not verified) 16000 troops there now are far fewer than the Treaty permits. Effectively, Russia can send almost 10000 new troops into Crimea and still not be anywhere near to invading. I doubt these two outraged journalists knew this.

They have put their pro-American patriotism above their professionalism. And they’ve got it wrong.

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EPISODE THREE

I too am of the opinion that we still seem to be stuck in an archaic way of thinking about conflicts generally. This includes the way we respond to threats to the peace. You know, haul the UN Security Council out of its cobwebs (and seldom get anything agreed); “unite” behind strong rhetoric that almost always makes things ten times worse; the media gets all excited and recreates the events over and over again so many times that the current reality bears little resemblance to the actual situation; and we aways (a) try to organise sanctions and (b) send military “signals” to the offender by sending warships or attack aircraft into the region. And we pat ourselves on the back at having “done something.” And of course, no matter what the nature of the conflict, or its location, America (except when it is the guilty party) always seems to feel it must be in charge of the response – the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral… All of these may have some value when you’re dealing with a relatively minor player on the world stage, but will, I suspect, not even be slightly persuasive in dealing with a genuinely powerful leader like Vladimir Putin. The habit of boyish, “My dick is bigger than yours” rivalries serve little purpose, but the excess of puerile testosterone does, and it’s destructive: in consequence insecurity is intensified, national credibilities are shredded, and the victims of the crisis in question only become more desperate.

EPISODE FOUR

I have just read an excellent article which I would like to share with you. It concerns the diminishing credibility of traditional journalism in favour of what you and I might call “citizen journalism,” and I think it contains a great deal of validity: http://ijnet.org/blog/new-media-environment-public-decides-whos-journalist#comment-34665

Whenever anybody reads a newspaper, a blog, or any kind of news article we are always faced with the risk of being improperly influenced, misinformed, etc.

My regret is that, whilst I expect the “amateurs” to sometimes get it wrong, or report in an unethical way, and I make allowance for that, I become apoplectic when respected journalists (and their journals) report in an unprofessional way! Indeed,  there is an enormous volume of influential trash available to us these days – and it comes from both the professionals and the amateurs.

I feel it is my right (and duty) to chastise the professionals, from whom we should expect a much higher standard. As for the amateurs, we don’t really have any mechanism for criticism – except (as the article suggests) to dismiss them as not credible, and not to pay any attention to them in future. Whilst I am critical of, for example CNN’s general rapportage, I would find it difficult to dismiss them as a news source, even if I distrust much of what they tell me. Perhaps that is simple healthy skepticism.

This is another interesting difference between the traditional mainstream media as well as the independent but sponsored media (governed by commercial patronage, persuasive advertisers and their cash, political influencers etc) on one hand, and the amateur citizen journalists (with no fetters, no profit to be made, and no institutional allegiances). In order to be informed we have to consider what all three are telling us. And never uncritically believe everything we read / hear / see.

Of course we’re mainly talking about bias. I guess the level of plain incompetent reporting is another discussion altogether…

Having spent a big chunk of my career helping others to manage their public reputations, “image” and commercial value, I have to confess that I am still absolutely incompetent when it comes to marketing myself.  I like to use my inherent modesty as an excuse for this failing.  But then I realise, in moments of look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror honesty, that I’m not a modest fellow…   Damn.     I realise that both my “real” work and my photography are infected with the same problem:  I am a control freak, a harsh self-editor, a cruel self-critic.  The result?  Nothing gets done.  Or the best bits get left out.  Because I can’t “agree” with myself on what’s best.  I suspect this is a problem that’s endemic to solo practitioners in all walks of life.   We all need a spare set of eyes, ears etc., to help us to understand the value of things when we can’t see the wood for the trees.   That’s why so many of us solo photographers are so good at pinpointing the first class images – in other peoples’ portfolios!  Here are my current comp cards, as an example.  I think they look “ok,” but it would be nice if they were “outstanding.”  Some of them might actually be quite brilliant, but then my judgment is clouded by the fact that, for every image I publish, more than a thousand are filed away, never to see the light of day.

CHRIS 2014 DL Monkey_small

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_MG_7483The summer is approaching in the southern hemisphere, the days are getting longer, children are out to play, and so are the adults, young and old, with their cameras… And once again I’m contemplating the ironies and the taboos that face photographers in many western countries: photographing children.  Deliberately or inadvertently.  I thought I’d share an article that I wrote a few years ago, in which I lament the internet-age paranoia that “all photographers, particularly middle-aged men, are all paedophiles in disguise.  A recent experiment by a major TV program here in Australia actually set out to test this premise, by sending out two middle-aged photographers, one a woman and the other a man, to take photographs at a bathing pool on a Sydney beach.  The woman snapped away for half an hour without incident, photographing swimming children.  However, within a few minutes the man who was sent to do precisely the same thing was approached and interrogated by “officials” responding to complaints.  I resent the assumption that I am a predator, a criminal, whenever I raise my camera to take a photograph in which children might be included, deliberately or otherwise.  I do, however, entertain the possibility that sometimes photographers are guilty of poor judgement, perhaps even poor taste.  I also grin at the irony that photographers in western countries are often admired, praised, even given awards for photographing children in developing nations (even naked children!), but dare not point a camera anywhere in the direction of “one of our own” children… There’s a word for it and that word is “hypocrisy.”

Balinese boys, Sanur, 2012

Balinese boys, Sanur, 2012

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Source: Digital Photographer Magazine

Like most adventurous photographers I like to head off and travel to exotic places at least once every year.  Often more than once.  But, as this small series of local images reminds me…. sometimes there are exciting visual things right in your own backyard.  One has to be reminded that it is not always necessary to go on expensive overseas trips in order to find challenging photographic subject matter.  After all, don’t foreign tourists spend heaps of money just to be able to come to YOUR city, or mine, to explore and find photographic inspiration, in the same way as we go to theirs?

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Balmain Town Hall

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Balmain Court House

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Leichhardt Town Hall

Thailand 2013

Posted: June 12, 2013 in Photography, Travel
Tags: , , ,

I’ve recently returned from a few weeks exploring old Bangkok and the Andaman Coast of Thailand – during the hot season!   If you’d like to see a hundred of my favorite photographs of the trip you can see them at http://www.pbase.com/cwest/thailand_2013

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The Grand Palace on the eve of Songkram, 2013

It was probably not smart to visit Thailand during the hottest month of the year (April), but it certainly gave me plenty of excuses to spend a lot of time in the pool.  Actually, I lie, I did swim every time I had time, but when one is visiting a country as exotic as Thailand the last thing you’d want to do afterwards would be to recall spending all your time lazing about.  More so than Indonesia, I noticed that whilst I was dripping with perspiration it was very rare indeed to see any of the locals with so much as a shine on the forehead.  Talk about evolutionary adjustment!

Another observation, and now I’m speaking as a photographer and explorer: if you’re as committed to exploring ancient temples, palaces and the like, it all gets a bit overwhelming.  I’ve been processing thousands of photographs of the Grand Palace and temples of old Bangkok, as well as Chalong and the Phuket area – and it seems I have a gazillion images with more detail and nuance than my head can deal with.  There have been times when I’ve deliberately taken a break for a few days before going on with the post-processing simply because it’s too much to handle.

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Wat Chalong, Phuket 2013

UPDATE: I’ve had to cancel these initiatives, for now, as I am utterly useless at seducing people into parting with their money.

I’ve set up a crowdfunding initiative to get support for two projects that I’ve been invited to undertake in Cambodia and in Bhutan this year.

The complete details are here: http://www.indiegogo.com/chriswestinghouse

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