Friday, 19 January 2018

I don't like celery

A while ago, my nephew had commandeered my phone when an email notification popped up with the subject line You've been paid. Here's how our conversation went:
"Hey, I've been paid!" he announced.
"Oh, good! I like those emails," I replied.
"Who paid me?" he asked.
"No, I've been paid," I said.
"What for?" he wondered.
"It's my salary," I told him.
"You get paid with celery??" He didn't sound impressed.
"No, I get paid with money. But I can buy celery if I want," I explained
"I don't like celery," he concluded.
That's a pretty fair reaction. While we all like salary of the financial variety, my father in particular is always keen to voice his dislike for celery the vegetable and his mistrust of any food that is calorie neutral - because eating shouldn't require such hard work. I don't mind celery and will add it to soups or keep stalks in the fridge to munch on while trying to distract myself from cheese cravings. It sometimes works.

One of my summer projects has been to plant my first ever vegetable patch - a tiny square metre garden in a sunny spot in the back yard. I planted some seeds for salad greens, beans, cucumber and celery of the vegetable variety. I'll see if anything comes of them in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I'm happy to receive salary to buy celery. But my nephew is still not convinced.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

What to do with stuff

I have a love-hate relationship with stuff. I'm not a shopper by any description but I still find that stuff accumulates and hangs around until it reaches a tipping point that triggers a big declutter.

My approach to decluttering, gardening and housework are similar but not always effective: some is better than nothing. I want to get on top of all three this year. (Yes, I probably say that every year.) While I'll never be Marie Kondo, I plan to look at stuff through different eyes.

Nice but not quite me
I like this approach to decluttering for busy people. It's similar to my own pruning process and got me thinking about different ways to see and use stuff, rather than just insisting it's all gone at once.

You don't have to bin everything

What to do with stuff

I'm going to take this approach in 2018.

Use it
If you have it, use it. Erma Bombeck was right when she urged us to burn the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose. Use the fancy olive oil every day along with the good vanilla extract, the decorative tea towels, the luxurious bath towels and gift vouchers long before they expire.

Donate it
If you're not going to use it, donate it. If you've read it, watched it or not worn it for 10 years, donate it. There are charity shops and causes that need donations of quality clothing, books, kitchen equipment, linen and more. There's no point collecting hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles, individually packaged bars of soap or linen that doesn't fit any bed you own. Your local refuge will make better use of it  rather than letting it all sit in your junk cupboard.

Gift it
But what about that thing that is 'too good' to donate? Gift it to someone you know who needs, wants or will use it. Put it in the present cupboard with a specific name label attached or just give it to the person when you see them next. You don't have to wait for an occasion.

Freeze it
Don't forget to freeze it. (This one is related to use it.) I'm good at stocking my freezer with basic ingredients (meat and vegetables), mostly bought in bulk and frozen in meal-size portions. While I'll never be someone who has a detailed menu planner on the fridge door, I plan to use all the ingredients I already have before aimlessly buying more. I want to freeze more cooked meals, either by cooking double portions and freezing half or just having an occasional Sunday afternoon binge cooking session to take some pressure off during busy weekdays.

Recycle it
There are many ways to recycle it. Use it and recycle the packaging. Regift it to the right person (and not just because you're being cheap). If you're not going to use it, donate it or gift it, dismantle it and recycle the components.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Toll house biscuits

Good Bitches Baking is back in action for 2018, spreading home baked sweetness in the community. My first bake for this year is a version of Allyson Gofton's toll house biscuits. I substituted dried fruit for some of the chocolate chips and mixed it with white chocolate instead. Almost any combination would work so see what's in your pantry and have fun experimenting.

Toll house biscuits

Ingredients
  • 175 g butter, softened
  • 165 g brown sugar
  • 165 g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 315 g flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 cup dried mixed fruit (apricots, cranberries, sultanas), finely chopped
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (white, milk, dark)
Method
  1. Line two baking trays with baking paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together until light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Sift the flour and baking powder evenly over the creamed mixture. Sprinkle over the dried fruit and chocolate chips. Fold together.
  4. Roll the mixture into 40 gram balls and place on the baking trays. Leave enough room between each ball for the cookies to spread when cooking. Lightly press down with a fork.
  5. Refrigerate the baking trays and cooking dough for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 180°C. Bake for 20 minutes or until the biscuits are lightly brown and firm to touch. 
  7. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 30 biscuits.

Toll house biscuits

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Ice cream spiders

It's warm and sunny in Wellington today. Sure, there's wind - but that's to remind us of which city we live in. After a few wintry days inside, I decided to spend an hour wrangling the hebe bushes and deadheading the proteas that have been thriving since the early arrival of summer this year.

It was hot work and reminded me of summer days when the whole family got stuck into outdoor work at home. I don't remember having much success in Mum's garden but I do remember our reward if we helped: Dad would make us an ice cream spider - and there was nothing better in the middle of a hot afternoon when we'd been working hard.

Here's how it worked. We'd sit at the kitchen bench and watch Dad place one or two scoops of ice cream into a tall glass that was kept especially for this occasion (along with the extra tall teaspoons that could reach all the way to the bottom). He'd bring it over to us and pour Coke all the way to the top. Sometimes he plonked a straw in so we could sip up the last of the liquid at the bottom. There were no cherries, berries, cream, wafers, syrup or sprinkles in our spiders; simplicity was the key. You had to be alert, though; fizzy drink and ice cream could quickly overflow if you didn't catch it in time, which is why Dad assembled them right in front of us.

These days, I'm not much of an ice cream fan and haven't drunk fizzy drinks in more than 20 years, but nostalgia hit hard while I was gardening and I suddenly felt like a spider. I settled for a handful of ripe cherries and some leftover gingerbread instead.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Catching up

'Tis the season for catching up:
With neglected friends and family
With unwatched TV series
With untried recipes
With unread books and blog posts
With saved podcasts
With unfinished blog posts
With socialising
With learning new skills
With exploring hobbies
With housework and household chores
With house renovations and repairs
With life in general.
Now that the holidays are here, I am blessed with some time and space to catch up on so many things. Hopefully I can take a break from chasing my tail for a while. But how did I get so behind in the first place? Who sets this unattainable tempo that is punctuated with escalating goals? I often wonder whether I'm trying to keep up with other people's expectations or my own. I suspect it's a combination of the two and one feeds the other, leaving an ever growing To Do list that doesn't really get anywhere.

No matter how many times I've said it, next year will be different. I want to achieve a better balance and am open to ideas and strategies for how to do this - or just to get started. Walking away from a stressful job should help me catch up on all the things I've put on hold for so long and also make some forward progress, but I need to sustain it once I add work back into the mix.

All I know is that things can't continue as they have been and the best time to make a change is now. Who's with me?

Saturday, 18 November 2017

High tea at the InterContinental

Team building exercises can be tiresome. Some are bearable. It turns out that a 3-hour long scavenger hunt around Wellington's CBD brought out the competitive side of my workmates and ended up being a huge amount of fun. Even better was the promised prize of afternoon tea for the winning team ... us! We perused afternoon tea menus and settled on high tea in the Lobby Lounge at the InterContinental Hotel. What a great choice!

The atmosphere in the Lobby Lounge is comfortable and relaxed. There's an extensive tea menu that, naturally, I cast aside in pursuit of coffee. We knew we'd be in for a feast so made sure nobody had lunch beforehand but still weren't certain we could finish a full high tea each - although we'd certainly try our best.

The staff were great. While we wouldn't be able to take home any savoury foods, the sweet items could be packaged up if we couldn't make it through all fifteen pieces. Just as well ... most of my top layer came home in a beautiful doggy (piggy?) box to be devoured later.

So what did we eat? The menu was similar to the high coffee I enjoyed last year. We started at the bottom with   warm bacon and avocado slider, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, pumpernickel with apple and aged blue cheese (I'm still getting used to pumpernickel), cucumber and egg club sandwiches, followed by mini date scones with jam and cream.

Intercontinental high tea
And this is what we brought home: gateau opera, white chocolate mousse, strawberry tartlet, chocolate and popping candy lollipop (so much fun!), mini cheesecake, coffee éclair, tropical fruit salad and a tiny macaron.

We had an amazing high tea with delicious food and excellent company. I can't think of a more pleasant way to spend a Friday afternoon.