Monday, 18 August 2014

The Silver Linings Playbook - Matthew Quick

Silver Linings Playbook has been on both my TBR and movie lists for a while now. I was determined to read the book before seeing the movie (as I usually prefer to do). Billed as a comedy/drama, I had heard from a colleague about how accurately the movie portrayed bipolar disorder and that her partner, a practising counsellor, highly recommended it.

Written in 2008, The Silver Linings Playbook is the debut novel of American author Matthew Quick. It begins when the main character, Pat Peoples, is being released from a mental institution, referred to as 'the bad place', into his mother's care. Pat has little concept of how he came to be in the bad place and is unsure about how long he's been there, but his determination toward self-improvement so his ex-wife, Nikki, will return to him once their 'apart time' is over is the driving force for the novel. He develops some extreme behaviours as part of his self-improvement, some of which are endearing while others border on being disturbing.

But it's not funny at all. The humour, if you could call it that, is deeply poignant and almost tragically sad. That's not a criticism in any way; the writing style is clever and conveys through Pat's internal dialogue far more than overt words could reveal. Pat's condition is never named in the novel and doesn't actually need to be; its complexity is subtly introduced rather than boldly announced. The reader figures out that apart time is never intended to end. Ever. And there are very good reasons for apart time, even if Pat doesn't realise what they are. The twist is finally revealed in the final two chapters, when suddenly everything makes sense.

And that's what I found so hard about watching the Silver Linings Playbook (2012) movie. A complex set of circumstances gradually revealed throughout the novel's plot is bluntly hammered out within the first few minutes of the movie, establishing a whole new story. There is a new gambling subplot and various changes in characters, their relationships and prominence. The dance competition is merely another part of Pat's journey in the book and not the climactic ending it became in the movie. Pat's relationship with his father is the polar opposite of the one portrayed in the book, where Pat's dad is cold, closed and incredibly disconnected. It loses the subtlety of Pat's disorder, which is only ever hinted at in the book; naming the disorder itself is not important but becomes the main focal point - and that's a shame.

The movie was basically a collection of a few carefully constructed characters, sub plots and events rearranged and exaggerated for the purpose of entertaining an audience, rather than invoking thinking or reflection. Also, it tried to ruin one of my favourite songs ever. Perhaps the movie should have been renamed instead of keeping the original title, which suggested it was an adaptation of the original novel?

My recommendation: read the book and watch the movie but treat them as standalone, separate pieces of work.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake! How's that for a title? My second Wellington on a Plate event today promised all the ingredients of a fine outing for ladies who lunch. (Ooh, that's us!) The setting was Colonial Cottage Museum, the site of Wellington's oldest original cottage.

We began with a standing high tea provided by Martha's Pantry. Take a look at the menu so see what we indulged in.

High tea menu
As always, food made by Martha's meets the "you only have one opportunity to impress so use it well" high tea rule. Each bite sized portion on the three tiers offered a different, tantalising flavour. The lemon curd on the tiny scones was some of the best I have tasted. Their lovely hostess circulated among the tables, serving tea and coffee and making conversation with the guests.

Martha's Pantry high tea
To be honest, I'm not sure how well the standing high tea concept works. Sure, the food is the same and you still work through the tiers from bottom to top but it didn't seem to be the same high tea experience that you'd get when seated around a beautifully set table.

After high tea, we had a tour of Colonial Cottage and gardens. We learned about the Wallis family who built and lived in the cottage upon their arrival in Wellington during the 1830s. Some parts of the cottage have been restored and others seemed to be in the process of refurbishment. Pieces of furniture had been reupholstered and others added to replicate similar period items.

Not so easy to cook or bake on this stove
There's a good reason why I don't iron.
There's no way I would have even considered it in the 1830s!
No modern comforts in this outhouse
At $75, this was a pricey event for just 1.5 hours. It didn't seem very well planned and I wondered about how prepared the venue was to host several groups of guests on one day, given the appearance of the facilities and grounds. I didn't come away with the WOW feeling that I usually get at Wellington on a Plate events. There was very little cake (and no reference to cake at all), other than a teeny tiny cupcake on the top tier of high tea. While the food was impeccable, as always, I'd give this particular event a miss in future and go directly to Martha's Pantry for high tea instead. It certainly would have been better value.

Friday, 15 August 2014

WOAP dinner: Avida Bar

Wellington on a Plate has kicked off for the sixth consecutive year. Until the end of August, Wellingtonions can feast on a celebration of local food and drinks.

I began my campaign tonight at Avida Bar on Featherston Street. An after-work drink with a friend turned into an impromptu dinner and tapas appealed. The $25 two course lunch or dinner tapas menu has several tempting offerings. I paired my meal with a tall lime and soda.

I chose a main course and dessert. The slow-cooked PrimeStar beef short rib with BBQ sauce was perfectly cooked, with the beef falling off the bone.

Slow-cooked beef short rib
Now, it's no secret that I love chocolate so I couldn't go past the Whittaker's Dark Ghana and Caffe L'Affare mochachino mousse for dessert. I'm not usually a fan of coffee flavoured food (even though I'm a huge coffee fan) but this mousse was decadent, smooth and simply divine.

Divine mochachino mousse
All in all, a very good start to Wellington on a Plate. I have several events and meals planned during the next fortnight and look forward to the foodie delights in store for me.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Chocolate cider cake

Birthday time. This calls for a special cake. I had been eyeing up a recipe for chocolate cider cake for a while and finally had a good excuse to try it. You can use either apple or pear cider in this recipe. I chose pear as I like the more subtle flavour that pear cider offers. I used Rekorderlig pear cider but would probably use Zeffer pear cider in future as I prefer a crisp, dry cider taste.

Despite appearing in a trashy New Zealand women's magazine, the recipe appears English in origin, meaning that I had to substitute some ingredients. (For example, we don't have double thick or thickened cream here but plain old kiwi cream works just fine.) I am really impressed with this recipe; I don't think I have ever managed to bake a round cake that rose perfectly even all round and didn't need levelling! It was also declared a new favourite by my family judging panel tonight - and that's high praise considering how many cakes I have baked for them over the years.

Chocolate cider cake

  • 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 200 ml apple or pear cider
  • 300 ml cream
  • 150 g dark chocolate pieces
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease and line a 20 cm round baking tin (or 2 x 20 cm sandwich tins) and set aside.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa and baking soda into a mixing bowl. Add butter, sugar and eggs.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat mixture on a low speed until well combined, smooth and creamy. (The mixture will be very thick). Fold cider through gradually until combined.
  4. Pour mixture evenly into the pan(s). Bake for 45 minutes (or 30-35 minutes if using sandwich tins) and test with a skewer; it should come out clean. Loosen edges with a knife and transfer onto a wire rack to tool.
To make ganache
  1. Place 150 grams of cream (weigh the cream - don't measure it) into a medium saucepan and bring almost to the boil over a medium heat. Remove from heat and add chocolate pieces. Gently stir until combined then set aside to cool.
  2. Beat remaining cream until just whipped. Gently fold in 1/3 cup of cooled ganache mixture.
To assemble
  1. Slice cooled cake in half horizontally. Place bottom half on a cake plate and spread with a layer of ganache. Cover with the whipped cream and ganache mixture. Gently place top layer over the cream and drizzle or ice with remaining ganache. Decorate with chocolate curls, if desired.
Chocolate cider cake

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Part of the furniture

We were talking today about an upcoming work anniversary; not a huge milestone but one that has caught some colleagues by surprise.

"Really? Only two years? I thought you were part of the furniture!" my manager commented. He attempted to get himself out of trouble by assuring me that it's a good thing, going on to say he's surprised at how much institutional and sector knowledge I've managed to gain in such a short time ... blah blah blah. He carefully backed out of the room while addressing a question to the room in general:
If you were a piece of furniture, what would you be?
Let's think about it. I used to be like this at work, but thankfully those days are over:

I know this technically isn't a piece of furniture, but it sure would be fun to be one of these:

I like the idea of being one of these, mostly just for the name but also for the images of the exuberant lifestyle it conjures up:

And then I came up with my answer: a bright, colourful and unique Tiffany lamp.

It wasn't until I got home tonight and discovered a quiz that can tell you exactly what item of furniture you are supposed to be. Of course.

A desk? No thanks. I prefer my colourful Tiffany lamp.

Go on ... what item of furniture are you?

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Bake Club

I work with some great foodies. We each like to bake, savour food, explore new flavour combinations and pick through each other's ideas for inspiration. We also like to share food with family and friends and are usually the initiators of office parties, morning teas and other random occasions.

Travel and other commitments during the next few weeks has meant that the Wellington On A Plate Bake Club was not going to work for me this year. Also, I prefer to share and celebrate food and cooking, rather than use it as a form of competition ... but maybe that's just me. Having said that, these bake club entries look mouth-wateringly good. I thought about what we bakers could do to enjoy all of the above.

We've decided to start our own team Bake Club. Each week, one of us will bake something either savoury or sweet to share over coffee. We will also provide the recipe for our fellow bakers, then let the rest of the office fight among themselves for leftovers - if there are any. I'll kick things off next week, probably with gingerbread loaf from Gran's Sweet Pantry. From then on, I'll look forward to enjoying a yummy treat each week and learning some new baking tricks along the way.

Watch this space for new Bake Club recipes!