Monday, 29 June 2009

Mid-winter Christmas dinner

Mid-winter Christmas has just been and gone for us in the southern hemisphere. We decided to mark the occasion with friends by having a pot luck dinner. We had lots of yummy food and my sweetie made eggnog, which we hadn't tried before. I don't think he was supposed to add chocolate ice cream to it later on but no-one seemed to be complaining. I made Christmas cupcakes, which were vanilla flavoured with vanilla buttercream frosting and decorated with hand-made holly leaves.

Santa Claus also made a rare mid-year celebrity visit, along with the Christmas Fairy, to oversee our Secret Santa/Yankee swap - which brought plenty of laughs. I think Santa just enjoyed having lots of pretty girls (and guys!) sitting on his knee. ;-)

Our party gave me a great excuse for goal #80 - Decorate a room with fairy lights. Actually, I've hurt my back so my sweetie had to put the lights and other decorations up, but I'm sure it still counts. Obviously photos of the room didn't look very impressive, so you'll just have to take my word about how pretty the lights looked. :-)

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Wellington Marathon 10km walk

In February, I entered the Wellington Round The Bays and managed to walk 7km in a time of 1 hour and 6 minutes. Today, I upped the stakes slightly and finished the Wellington Marathon 10km walk. I was aiming to complete the walk in 1 hour and 30 minutes, or nine minutes per kilometre, but somehow managed to hurt my back a week ago - not to worry, some strong drugs and my iPod would see me through. I decided to reset my time goal to 1 hour 45 minutes, then as my back progressively got worse I thought I'd forget about times altogether and just aim to finish the course.

The weather conditions were perfect: overcast and cool with a slight breeze. My brother ran the full marathon in 2005 to southerly gales and icy rain with waves breaking over onto the road, soaking the runners. NOT something I would be keen to try for myself!

My unofficial time was 1 hour and 42 minutes. Considering how sore my back has been lately, I'm pleased with the result. I started out ok with my first kilometre just on the 10 minute mark, but slowed down to 13 minutes for the next km. That's when I decided to just keep on walking and not worry about the clock at all. Well, of course I sneaked a peak at the time on my iPod at every race marker, but surely that's only natural?

The Wellington Marathon starts and finishes at Westpac Stadium. The course winds around the waterfront and bays with various turnaround points for the 10km walk, half marathon, and full marathon. With 4700+ athletes (and me!) out there on the streets, the event was well marshalled but inevitably there were times when runners were required to run through groups of walkers on their return to the stadium. As Wellington is such a hilly city, I'd imagine it would be difficult to plot an alternative course on flat land. Walkers were expected to let runners pass them, especially those running the marathon and half marathon. Still, it wouldn't have been easy to negotiate your way through some of the bigger groups, or those strolling along with dual walking poles!

I have just had a hot bath and am going in search of coffee now to wash down another dose of painkillers. I'll see what the doctor has to say about my back tomorrow, but I'm certain the race hasn't aggravated it. Regardless, I was determined to achieve goal #6 - Complete Wellington Marathon 10km walk and now feel very proud of myself. Maybe next year I'll finish with a time of 90 minutes.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra concert

Tonight, we went to see the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra in concert. Having only caught snippets of the orchestra's clips on YouTube, I was looking forward to a fun night. The 12-piece orchestra (including double bass) are incredibly entertaining. The stage was decorated with no less than 30 old fashioned lampshades and light fittings, supposedly resembling a living room. Their outfits were all retro 1950s-60s style glamour; I'm sure they looked good in their day.

So, to the set list. Here's a highlighted version; it certainly was eclectic. A special guest appeared after intermission ...
  • Haere Mai. A very sweet, nostalgic start to the show.
  • Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town (Kenny Rogers). This was recorded for a TV ad and sounded fantastic on ukulele!
  • Sunshine Of Your Love (Cream). Amazing. Eric Clapton's solo never sounded so good three octaves up!
  • I Love You, Raylene. This was one of the more obscure numbers, apparently inspired by something painted on a billboard just north of Wellington.
  • It's A Heartache (Bonnie Tyler). Great to hear live.
  • Walk In The Park (orchestra original). Featured a solo whistler. There's one for the CV.
  • Blue Smoke (NZ folk). Celebrating 60 years since its release.
  • Livin' Thing (Electric Light Orchestra). They said this was a song that just left out the string parts; a very accurate description. As soon as the audience recognised the two taps after the introduction, the applause started.
  • Africa (Toto). Incredibly ambitious, Africa really showed off the talent of a couple of the guys. However, they were totally upstaged by the appearance of someone in a gorilla suit to bang a gong. Twice. The second time, he danced on stage until the end of the number before taking off his mask and costume. Special guest: Bret McKenzie, of Flight of the Conchords fame and an original orchestra member. Huge cheers and applause erupted.
  • Short People (Randy Newman). McKenzie sang this one. I don't know whether the audience had simply never heard the song before, or thought it was something he had written, but they laughed hysterically at almost every line. I know it's funny, but ...
  • Jolene (Dolly Parton). Awesome strumming in a minor key. If you're going to play country music, then Dolly's the only way to do it.
  • That's Amore (Dean Martin). I wondered where the extended outro for Jolene was going ... I recognised the chord structure and timing. Surely it couldn't be ... it was! This Italian was happy. :-)
  • Counting The Beat (The Swingers). Ending the concert with a NZ flavour. It got the punters singing.
  • Weather With You (Crowded House). This encore was played and sung acoustically from the front of the stage. I think the audience were meant to play a bigger part but seemed quite shy and reserved.
I'm now even more keen to find a ukulele orchestra in the Wellington area that is happy to have beginners tag along ...

RIP Michael Jackson

Like much of the Western world, I was both shocked and saddened to hear about the death of Michael Jackson yesterday. For me, his death will be one of those "where were you when you heard ..." moments, just like I remember the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and others before me would remember when John F Kennedy was shot. FYI, I was standing in a registration queue for the upcoming Wellington Marathon on Sunday, having just listened to the news while driving there that Michael Jackson had been taken to hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest. There was a large TV screen abovve the registration desk and CNN news was broadcasting; someone next to me looked up and said, "what, Michael Jackson is dead?". We all looked to the scrolling headlines and then I got a txt from my sweetie: "Michael Jackson is dead". Just like that.

I immediately started planning a blog post in my mind. I've thought about it overnight and realise that everything has been said already. Simon Sweetman's blog post entitled Michael Jackson's music summed it all up for me; I'm not interested in the allegations, eccentricities, behaviours, or tabloid fodder either. I may post some bits and pieces over the next week or so; we'll see.

It angers me to hear artists like Jackson called "singers"; performers, musicians, and composers deserve far more credit than that, especially someone who has attained such outstanding musical heights. And it's not just about record sales, either. I have said for nearly 13 years now that Michael Jackson's 1996 History tour to Auckland is the best concert I have ever seen and the yardstick I measure every other event with; none have even come close and I can't imagine they ever will. Three hours of non-stop, high-energy entertainment with brilliant music and exceptional staging; I remember saying to the friends I went with that I'm not surprised he collapses after concerts after all the effort that goes into them. Just when we thought the show couldn't possibly get any better, it did.

I don't want to hear about Jackson's 'weird' life, his chequered history, and anything to do with kids being dangled over balconies or 'playing' at his ranch. Now is not the time. For all the people posting on tribute sites, "was never a fan, don't really care" etc, why bother? Please just stay quiet. I'm happy to indulge in a joke or two about his life and/or death, but my overall mood is sad. The world has truly lost a musical genius.

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Cream of Eric Clapton

I have been slowly and painstakingly rebuilding my iTunes after a malfunction late last year. Aside from all the frustration that this involves, it has given me the opportunity to go through my entire CD collection album. by. album. and do a musical stocktake of what I own. It has yielded some surprises.

Today, I listened to The Cream of Eric Clapton for the first time in ages. Released way back in 1987, it features hits from Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, Blind Faith, as well as some off Eric Clapton's solo material. I first got this album while I was still at school. Actually, I probably stole it from Dad's music collection, but he either hasn't noticed or doesn't mind. Tonight, as I was cooking dinner, I blasted it out for old times' sake.

Songs I'm still in love with
Layla: the full version. Something for everyone in this song and I like the piano work in the second half.
Badge: great to hear a song built around a bass line and rhythmic stops.
Strange Brew: love the lyric, "On a boat in the middle of a raging sea, she would make a scene for it all to be ignored". Classic.
White Room: not many bands are brave enough to feature a 5/4 riff.
Behind The Mask: great experimenting with reverb and effects.

Songs I enjoy listening to
Sunshine Of Your Love: probably for nostalgic reasons. It reminds me of my brother's high school band and featured a drum solo by him, followed by the announcement, "... and he's only 12!".
I Feel Free: neat vocal and harmony work.
Wonderful Tonight: only on a good day and when I'm in the right mood, but I didn't really want to put this song in the category below.
Let It Grow: probably as mellow as Clapton gets.

Songs he really shouldn't have bothered with
I Shot The Sheriff: maybe as a live jam, but not necessary to release as a single.
Knockin' On Heaven's Door: ditto.
Lay Down Sally
: gives the hillbillies something to enjoy. Makes half-listeners think this is the real Eric Clapton. Bah!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Mee goreng and banana roti

Tonight, a group of us attended the Asiana Cooking School. Two of this group went to a session last year and learned how to make musaman curry with chili and coconut rice. On the menu tonight was mee goreng with banana roti. The roti dough was pre-prepared as it needed to rest for at least two hours before cooking, but everything else was made from scratch.

The recipe below makes one very large single serving. (I have enough left over for lunch tomorrow.) The chefs recommend making quantities of no more than 3-4 servings at a time; it's not something which can be made in a big pot for large groups. The result was absolutely delicious. The great thing about going with a group of friends is being able to learn alongside each other and then enjoy your meal together once you've finished. Oh, and they take away all your dishes and clean up after you!

Mee goreng

  • 200 g fresh noodles
  • 130 g chicken cut into bite sizes
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 slice of ginger
  • handful of beansprouts and cabbage
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lee Kum Kee chicken stock powder
  • 1 tablespoon Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Malaysian curry powder (for medium to hot)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  1. Finely slice the onion, garlic and ginger.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok (or pan) at a medium to low heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic. Fry until the mixture has caramelised. Add chicken and fry until chicken has changed over, then turn and fry other side.
  3. Add oyster sauce, curry powder, chili powder and chicken stock. Mix well.
  4. Pour in the water and noodles and let simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally.
  5. Toss in the beansprouts and cabbage. Toss quickly in wok to mix. Finally, add one teaspoon of soy sauce to taste and mix well.
  6. Serve immediately. Garnish with fried onion flakes or dried shallots.
Mee goreng


  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons margarine
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water (approx)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  1. Sift flour, salt and sugar in a bowl.
  2. Rub the margarine into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add water and knead into a soft dough. Gently knead for a few minutes until smooth. (Don't over work the dough.)
  3. Divide the dough into small balls and cover in oil. Place in a flat dish and leave to rest for at least two hours or more.
  4. Flatten each ball onto a flat surface. Lift one end up and in a stretching motion spread the dough as far as you can so that it is very thin. Repeat the same process with the other end of the dough. Fold into four.
    Variations: smear with garlic butter or add twelve banana slices before wrapping into four.
  5. Heat a little oil in a flat pan over medium heat. Cook roti on one side until crispy and then flip it over and cook the other side. Move the roti around the pan to avoid burning.
Garlic roti (left) and banana roti with icing sugar

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The life of an Italian child

This has been in cyberspace for quite some time and there are a few Facebook groups set up around it. I laugh out loud every time I read it! A friend sent it to me and a whole bunch of other Italians today with the comment: "not gonna post this publicly, but you'll relate to at least 3 or 4 of these!!!". 3 or 4? Who is he kidding?? Both he and I could probably round off the list between us, or at least know someone else who can!

Italiano? Si! Certamente!

  1. You have at least one relative who wore a black dress every day for an entire year after a funeral.
  2. You spent your entire childhood thinking what you ate for lunch was pronounced 'sangwich.'
  3. Your family dog understood Italian.
  4. Every Sunday afternoon of your childhood was spent visiting your grandparents and extended family.
  5. You've experienced the phenomena of 150 people fitting into 50 square feet of yard during a family cookout
  6. You were surprised to discover the FDA recommends you eat three meals a day, not seven.
  7. You thought killing the pig each year and having salami, capacollo, pancetta and prosciutto hanging out to dry from your shed ceiling was absolutely normal. [Wow, that's really Italian!]
  8. You ate pasta for dinner at least three times a week, and every Sunday, and laughed at the commercial for Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day.
  9. You thought nylons were supposed to be worn rolled to the ankles.
  10. You were afraid not to turn up to church on Sunday and take your turn as an altar boy because hell seemed like such a bad place.
  11. You thought it was normal that the first words out of your mothers mouth was to ask you what you wanted to eat.
  12. You thought that everyone understood what you were saying by your hand gestures.
  13. Your mum's (or nonna's) main hobby is cleaning.
  14. You were surprised to find out that wine was actually sold in stores.
  15. You thought that everyone made their own tomato sauce.
  16. You never ate meat on Christmas Eve or any Friday for that matter.
  17. You ate your salad after the main course.
  18. You thought Catholic was the only religion in the world.
  19. You were beaten at least once with a wooden spoon or broom.
  20. You thought every meal had to be eaten with a hunk of bread in your hand
  21. You can understand Italian but you can't speak it.
  22. You have at least one relative who came over on the boat..
  23. All of your uncles fought in a World War.
  24. You have at least six male relatives named Tony, Vince, or Johnny.
  25. You have relatives who aren't really your relatives.
  26. You have relatives you don't speak to. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!
  27. You drank wine before you were a teenager.
  28. You relate on some level, admit it, to The Godfather and The Sopranos. I maka a meata ball you can't refuse! Forrgetttabbboutit! Badda bing!
  29. You grew up in a house with a yard that didn't have one patch of dirt that didn't have a flower or a vegetable growing out of it.
  30. Your grandparent's furniture was as comfortable as sitting on plastic. Wait!!!! You were sitting on plastic.
  31. You thought that talking loud was normal.
  32. You thought sugared almonds and the tarantella were common at all weddings.
  33. You thought everyone got pinched on the cheeks and money stuffed in their pockets by their relatives.
  34. Your mother is overly protective of the males in the family no matter what their age.
  35. There was a crucifix in every room of the house.
  36. Wakes would be held in someone's living room.
  37. You couldn't date a boy without getting approval from your father. (Oh, and he had to be Italian.)
  38. You called pasta 'maccheroni'.
  39. You dreaded taking out your lunch at school.
  40. Going out for a cup of coffee usually meant going out for a cup of coffee over Zia's house.
  41. Every condition, ailment, misfortune, memory loss and accident was attributed to the fact that you didn't eat something.
  42. Those of you who get this . . . YOU KNOW who to pass it on to!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Pancakes for breakfast

My sweetie looooooves pancakes. He is a self-declared expert on all things pancake-related and holds a unanimous opinion about almost all the pancakes we eat out: they are almost never as good as the ones he makes at home. Pancakes in Paradise on the Gold Coast got the thumbs up, but apparently the quality of their maple syrup wasn't up to scratch.

Here is my sweetie's pancake recipe, which we made this morning for breakfast. Add lots of maple syrup and you're away!

Sweetie's pancakes

  • 50g butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 1/2 cups self raising flour (or 1 teaspoon of baking powder to each cup of flour)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  1. Add all ingredients together in the order listed.
  2. Beat with a whisk just until no longer lumpy (but don't over beat).
  3. Then cook in pan (easy as that!).

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Heart and Soul - Maeve Binchy

Heart and Soul is a novel published by Maeve Binchy in 2008. As a long-time Binchy fan, and someone who is currently going through a phase of gorging on Irish chick-lit, I was keen to check out her latest offering. There are many links with some of Binchy's more recent novels, with characters and events skillfully intertwined, including Whitehorn Woods, Nights of Rain and Stars, Evening Class, Scarlet Feather and, of course, Quentin's. It all makes for a comfortable and familiar read, yet does not necessarily require the reader to have read any of these titles before.

Set in a newly established heart clinic in Dublin, Heart and Soul starts out with a more modern feel to her previous novels. However, it's not long before the warmth of her characters is firmly established and events are portrayed from each one's perspective, starting off with Declan, who is the first typically 'old school' Binchy-style character to appear. The events which unfold are, naturally, both heartfelt and character driven in true Binchy fashion.

No spoilers from me today. Heart and Soul is simply a warm, enjoyable read.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Simon & Garfunkel - Old Friends concert

"Hello Darkness, my old friend ..."

You know those quizzes which ask, "if you could have five guests to dinner, dead or alive, who would you choose? ..." or something like that? Well, mine would be musical dinner. I haven't finalised the guest list, but it's guaranteed that Paul Simon would be there; I consider him to be one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived. Therefore, I was most excited to hear that Simon & Garfunkel would kick off their Old Friends tour with a concert at Vector Arena in Auckland.

First introduced to Simon & Garfunkel when I was 7 by an enthusiastic teacher, I grew up listening to their music and admiring their vocal harmonies. Studying their music in greater depth as a teenager, and remaining a fan throughout my musical adulthood, there was no question about whether or not I'd make the trip to Auckland to see them in concert. I figure that it's unlikely Paul Simon will ever do another solo tour; this concert was all or nothing for me.

The concert started with a video montage of their younger years, with America as the accompanying soundtrack. Then, a simple spotlight lit the front of the stage while they played Old Friends, just two voices and one guitar. Perfect. A Hazy Shade of Winter gave a rocking start to the concert and introduced a seven piece band, followed by a rearranged version of I Am A Rock and then America. Finally, some words from the duo: "I am Artie Garfunkel and this is my old friend Paul Simon." It pretty much summed it all up.

Garfunkel explains how the duo met as eleven-year-olds in a 6th grade school production of Alice in Wonderland. He played the Cheshire Cat to Simon's White Rabbit. They started playing music together and aspired to be like the Everly Brothers. Their first song, as Tom & Jerry, was Hey Schoolgirl in the Second Row, a complete ripoff of Wake Up Little Suzie, and it was great to see them poking fun at themselves about it all these years later.

It was immediately obvious that Garfunkel's voice is not what it used to be. Husky and often breathless, I wonder if he'll make it through the whole tour. Simon, on the other hand, sounds just like he always did; amazing. Scarborough Fair was spectacular and one of the guitarists magically turned into a cellist to play the Canticle part. Homeward Bound, ironically played at the start of their tour, included an extended jam, then came The Sound of Silence. I was surprised; I'd imagined they would either start or finish with Sound.

Another video montage followed, this time accompanied by The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy) and including footage of The Graduate (1967). Of course, this led to Mrs Robinson, with a cute version of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away thrown into the middle of it.

I heard Simon strum a single chord on the guitar and wondered (hoped) if it was Slip Sliding Away; it was, and he introduced it as a number which might have been a S&G song if they hadn't split. Next was El Condor Pasa, and this time the multi-talented guitarist pulled out a recorder. Garfunkel had four songs of his own next. He proclaimed that he had never really been a songwriter ... until recently. Cue a non-descript and unnecessary original; very brave of him considering he was standing on stage with one of the greatest songwriters of all time. As cheesy as it may sound, Bright Eyes was beautiful and would have done the trick for this set.

Then it was Simon's turn. I'd hoped he would play some of his solo material and was thrilled to hear Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, The Boy in the Bubble, and Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes; pure magic. I wish he could have gone on for another ten minutes and play Call Me Al, Kocachrome, and Late in the Evening, too.

Of course, Bridge Over Troubled Water could be expected as a finale. What was unexpected, though, was a dreadful power malfunction, leaving an acoustic performance for the second verse and an obliging audience picking up the lyrics where Simon's mic left off; an embarrassing look for Vector Arena. The power came back on in time for the third verse and Garfunkel's voice, which was pretty much shot by now, managed to give one last burst for a spectacular finish and all was forgiven. More than a tear or two fell and the staid crowd finally came alive just in time for the end of the show.

Two encores followed: a muddy-sounding Cecelia and The brilliant Boxer, confirming that there was no need for an idiot to yell out "play The Boxer!" throughout most of the concert. (Although, if I was going to yell out anything, it would have been "play Keep the Customers Satisfied!" - I would have loved it.) I was disappointed not to hear the whole extended ending of The Boxer but thrilled with what we got. The second encore gave us Leaves That Are Green and an impromptu-sounding 59th Street Bridge Song, complete with full house lights. (Tut tut, Vector Arena.)

So there is my long-winded take on a spectacular evening, very similar to the musical post mortem Dad and I did once I got home. Opening night nerves and rusty performance jitters aside, this was a once in a lifetime musical experience for me. I imagine there will be some tweaking of the set list as the tour progresses, and more fine tuning of the details. It's been 25 years since they've toured but it looks like Simon & Garfunkel are prepared to put their differences (conflicts) aside for now to come together once more and go out on a high. Media and other reviewers tell their stories, including this one by Jeremy Redmore and also Simon Sweetman. I'm also interested to hear what other musicians thought of the show.

Guess what's playing almost continuously on my iPod right now?

Concert photo: Reuters. Used without permission

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Celebration cupcakes

My parents commemorated their 40th wedding anniversary on Sunday. To celebrate, we had elevenses for about 70 family and friends. My sister-in-law and I did all of the catering and I had a baking binge last week to help us along. We also had two sessions making gumpaste flowers.

Among other things, I made cupcakes. This is the first time I had attempted to mass-produce cupcakes and also the first time I'd tried the recipes from my cupcake decorating course earlier this year. On Saturday morning, I baked 60 cupcakes, half each vanilla and chocolate. We piped milk and dark chocolate shapes for the chocolate cupcakes and had pre-made gumpaste flowers to decorate the vanilla cupcakes. On Sunday morning, extremely tired from having flown to Auckland overnight for the Simon & Garfunkel concert, I made one batch each of chocolate buttercream frosting and vanilla frosting, tinted a slight ivory colour. Then, I assembled the flowers and decorations into the finished products below.

I was thrilled to see the reaction from our guests, many of whom thought I'd ordered professionally made cupcakes. :-) Needless to say, they all disappeared quickly!

Vanilla cupcakes iced with buttercream frosting, tinted slightly ivory in colour and decorated with gumpaste flowers (hand made).
More vanilla cupcakes, with chocolate cupcakes in the background. Iced with chocolate buttercream frosting and finished with decorations piped from milk and dark chocolate.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Hello, Mr Butterfly

As I approach one year in the 101 goals in 1001 days project, I realise that I've mostly been working on ongoing goals lately, ie goals which require multiple activities to complete. I have plans to achieve various other goals, and will update my progress once I reach the one year mark, but there is one goal which is almost completely spontaneous and would have been difficult to plan. I achieved it this morning! Goal #78 - Take a photo of a butterfly.

As I was out walking along the south coast of Wellington today, a butterfly flew in front of me and landed on a signpost, spreading his wings out in the sun. I stopped to admired it, then realised just what was in front of me; I carefully got out my phone camera, all the while hoping that this little creature would stick around long enough for me to line up a shot. He obliged, and I managed to take just one precious pic before a family with young children and a dog came trundling past and he was off to find his next resting place, or do whatever it is that butterflies do during the day. I don't even know what type of butterfly he is, but he has certainly made my day. :-)

Friday, 12 June 2009

Peppermint brownie slice

The third slice I've tried baking this week is my sister-in-law's choice. She's a sucker for anything chocolate or mint, so when I asked her to choose three slice recipes for our upcoming family celebration, she came back with just one. I wasn't surprised. It turned out to be a very good choice.

Peppermint brownie slice

  • 125 g butter
  • 180 g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup sultanas
  • Icing
  • 90 g dark chocolate, melted
  • 2 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint essence
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm square cake or slice tin.
  2. Melt butter and chocolate together in a double saucepan. (I melted them in the microwave.) Remove from heat. Blend in sugar, eggs and vanilla essence.
  3. Stir in flour and sultanas. Pour into tin.
  4. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and dry when tested. Cool in tin.
  5. To prepare icing, blend all ingredients together. Spread over brownies. Refrigerate until set. Cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 24 pieces.

Peppermint brownie slice

Fast bars

Ok, so they're not all that fast, but this is a no-cook slice which you make and leave to set in the fridge. It's a rich combination of fruit and vanilla; the final result is actually quite heavy!

Fast bars

  • 80 g butter
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 250 g plain sweet (wine) biscuits, crushed
  • 2 cups mixed fruit/sultanas
  • Vanilla icing
  • 1 1/4 cups icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 tablespoon boiling water
  1. Melt butter and brown sugar together. Mix in egg and add to crushed biscuits.
  2. Stir in fruit and press firmly into a bar/slice tin. Refrigerate.
  3. To make icing, combine all ingredients. (I found that I needed to use 1 1/2 times the icing mixture to cover the whole slice.) Cover slice with icing and cut into pieces to serve.
Makes 24 pieces.
Fast bars

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Sultana slice

"Let the baking binge begin!"

I am catering for a family function this weekend so I get to indulge in a baking binge this week. I am trying three new slice recipes and, of course, baking lots of cupcakes. The slices are all from a recipe book called Easy Slices. Here's hoping the book lives up to its name! The sultana slice I made tonight originally used 1/2 cup each of dates and raisins, but I decided to vary it (of course) and use sultanas instead.

Sultana slice

  • 90 g butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1 cup sultanas
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a lamington tin (or slice tin).
  2. Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg. Beat well. Lightly fold in flour, followed by sultanas.
  3. Lightly press mixture into tin using floured fingertips. [Oops - does a spoon count?]
  4. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in tin. Cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 24 pieces.
Sultana slice

Dancing in the station

I saw this video on Tony Ryan's blog, Ripple Effects, this morning. Tony explains:
Antwerp Central Railway Station in Belgium on 23 March 2009. A recording of "Do Re Mi", sung by Julie Andrews, suddenly began playing over the public address system, and 200 people streamed out of the crowd and began dancing. They had practised twice. Pretty good effort for two rehearsals.
The Sound of Music (1959) is one of my all-time favourite musicals and movies (1965). I know every line and every musical piece, both from watching the movie repeatedly in my teens and also being in our school production of the musical. Somehow, for me, its appeal never dates. This dance is something I'd love to try but doubt I'll ever manage to do. The song wouldn't necessarily need to be something from The Sound of Music, so long as it was a well-known musical piece and, preferably, one which is capable of conjuring up nostalgia within the masses. A few ideas are popping into my head as I write this ...

Watch out Wellington!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Gumpaste flowers

Next week, I am throwing a party for 60-80 people for a family celebration. Somehow I thought it would be a great idea to make cupcakes instead of a celebration cakes. I'm going to bake two big batches, one each of chocolate and vanilla, and pipe them with buttercream frosting. Then, to finish them off, I'd make a range of little gumpaste flowers and use them as decorations. Voila!

So, I went shopping online and bought all the bits and pieces I'd need to get me going. Turns out it's quite a lot, even in addition to tools I've collected so far. Never mind - I'll be able to use all this stuff for years.

This afternoon, my sister-in-law came around and we tried to make sense of all the bits and pieces. Our aim was to have all the flowers made in advance so that on the big day we'd only need to pipe the buttercream frosting and insert the finished decorations. Easy peasy. It's been a couple of months since I completed my cupcake decorating course, but I've been practising and experimenting ever since and am still excited about how creative baking can be.

Between us, we managed to output a grand total of six large daisies (sans centres), six smaller daisies, six blue pansies (again, sans centres), about twenty stamped blue forget-me-nots, and a very wonky hand-crafted rose each. And that's it!

Pansies and daisies propped up in egg cartons so they dry curved
Minature daisies, forget-me-nots and pansies
Plan B is to only decorate the vanilla buttercream cupcakes with flowers and make chocolate piped decorations for the chocolate batch. I know I can produce them a lot faster than the flowers! We also need to have another flower-making early next week, otherwise we'll be on to Plan C.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle (2005) is a memoir written by writer and journalist Jeannette Walls. For years, Walls hid the 'secret' that was her childhood; she was ashamed and afraid that if anyone found out who she 'really' was that she would lose all that she had worked for in life.

Starting off with living in 'the desert', Walls chronicles the many ups and downs that constituted her family life with parents who were both creative and intelligent, yet endless drifters, always ready to do the "skedaddle" at a moment's notice. This involved packing up their four kids and worldly possessions into whichever clapped-out old vehicle they happened to own at the time and heading to the next place, often to escape circumstances or the authorities that were chasing them. Somehow, they made it all seem like an adventure, when the reality was the complete opposite.

After moving to Welch, West Virginia, things continue to get worse. The children dream of escaping to New York City, which they manage to achieve one at a time after supporting each other for several years. It's only when their parents eventually follow them to live on the streets as homeless people that the children realise things will never change.

The Glass Castle is a fine example of determination and overcoming obstacles which can stand in your way. The tale is made even more bittersweet upon the realisation that those people who you should be able to rely on most (family) can sometimes be the biggest cause of one's problems. Yet, the narrative is never downbeat or dismal. It is a story of hope, dreams, and ambition, punctuated by Walls mother's insufferable, yet completely misguided, optimism.

Here is an interview with author Jeannette Walls, which outlines the first chapter of The Glass Castle and sets the scene for her memoir. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

When the news happens to you

Yesterday, I went out to photograph someone who I thought was a brave, yet foolhardy, windsurfer. Part of me admired his thrill-seeking spirit, while the rest of me was just plain freezing cold. At the same time at Lyall Bay, a surfing beach across town, a surfer died after colliding with another surfer out on the water.

The surfer was my childhood neighbour. He is six weeks younger than me (33) and has a wife and two young daughters, with a third baby on the way in January. A lifelong surfer, he would have seen our recent stormy weather as an adventure-seeking opportunity, quite the opposite to me, who is more than happy to cuddle up with a book and a cup of coffee. Along with our neighbours on the other side of my parents' home, we all grew up together; we still call each others' mothers "Aunty" and fathers "Uncle", even though we're not technically related like that. Our parents' families also grew up in the same local community and originated from the same small village in Italy, Stromboli. Our roots go far beyond merely living in the same neighbourhood.

How is it possible to feel shocked, devastated, numb, and disbelieving all at the same time? So far, this morning has dragged on for an eternity, yet it has only been about an hour and a half since I heard the news. I don't know what to do with myself; any actions will somehow mean that I have to confirm the news in one way or another, either inside of my own mind or in relation to the rest of the world. Like everyone, my family awaits further details. How can the news be something that has happened to us?

Words simply cannot describe the emotions I feel right now.

RIP Tony.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Project 365 has begun

I have now officially started Project 365. For the next year, I will endeavour to take one photograph a day and post it online.

I've got to say that the stormy weather we had today (again) almost put me off; there wasn't much that was exciting enough to capture within the four walls we've been confined to for most of the past week or so. However, I was proud of myself as I trudged down the street to the beach, where I'd seen some windsurfers struggling against the choppy sea a few minutes earlier. I felt like a professional photographer in the line of duty as the sand whipped up against my face and I raced out, battling the elements, to capture my subject while the light was still good ...

By the time I got Petone beach, the conditions were worse than before, the sky had already started to darken, but there was a lone windsurfer still braving out the tide. I could just make out Wellington city in the background, and even he was hard to track for this photo. I thought the sky looked incredible, though, so snapped away.

You can follow my Project 365 here - Cafe Chick's Project 365.