Saturday, 30 October 2010

Three-course meal

It's no secret that I love to bake. However, I cook because we have to eat. It doesn't give me anywhere near as much pleasure as baking does and is far more of a chore for me. I've been intending to work on another one of my 101 in 1001 activities for a long time: #75 - Cook a three-course meal for someone. It required both time and inclination, neither of which has seemed to happen concurrently until recently. Last weekend, I finally had the inclination and started planning my menu. Tonight, I made it happen.

In typical Café Chick style, I decided not to do anything by halves and make everything from scratch. Make no mistake: I'm not cut out for Masterchef. For one thing, I'm a slow cook. I'm not good at working out how long it will take something to do and the guidelines given in recipes are totally random when it comes to me. I can whip up a quick basic meal at night but take little satisfaction from it. Also, I have varying levels of success when cooking something for the first time. Tonight, for my three-course meal, I tried four new recipes. What was I thinking?!

So, what was on the menu? I was keen to try making something with prawns and our entrée ended up being a version of grilled prawns marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and minced garlic. For our main course, I made gnocchi with a tomato-based sauce.They were not small and elegant like you'd expect but the taste and texture were right. As always, this is an incredibly filling dish. The ciabatta I made to go with it unfortunately ended up being grilled, rather than baked (mental note: don't cook two courses in one oven at the same time!) but luckily I had made three loaves and we managed to resurrect one enough to enjoy with dinner. (By the way, I loved using the dough hook on my lovely new Kenwood mixer for the first time - it worked perfectly!) Then, for dessert, I made chocolate banana crepes with chocolate and kahlua sauce.

Most of the recipes came courtesy of my iPod touch and I haven't found the same sites on the web so unfortunately can't link to them directly. However, they have now been saved as favourites, which I can add to my ongoing recipe book.

I'd be keen to try making each of these recipes again, but perhaps not all on the same day. Besides, I'm sure it will be easier next time ...!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Banana cake

Ever since I bought my lovely new Kenwood cake mixer, I've wanted to bake things that involve mixing - and not by hand. Over-ripe bananas meant that banana cake was the logical choice. I looked for a quick and easy recipe. The idea was to ice it with lemon icing when finished. That requires one vital, but missing, ingredient: icing sugar. Plan B: serve warm with ice cream. Yum!

Banana cake

  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 175 g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 mashed bananas
  • 2 T boiling milk
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 225 g flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 22 cm round cake tin.
  2. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and mashed bananas.
  3. Mix the boiling milk and baking soda together and then add to the mixture. Sieve flour and baking powder together and add to mixture.
  4. Pour mixture into tin and bake for 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Ice with lemon icing when cold.

    Monday, 25 October 2010

    Labour weekend

    It's been a long weekend (in the best possible way). Today is a holiday in New Zealand for Labour Day, celebrating a 40-hour working week. The irony of working through this day is long lost on me and I no longer let myself do it. This year, I took a day's leave on Friday and made it a loooooong weekend, leaving me with two short working weeks. This truly is food for the soul. Here's a quick roundup of what I've been up to lately.
    • I had a town day on Friday. Although I love my job and where I work, I sometimes miss the buzz of working in town and being able to do all the little jobs that I used to fit into my lunch break. I got my hair cut, met up with former colleagues for coffee, had lunch with a friend, and had one more thwarted attempt to spend thwarted Farmers gift vouchers I have been carrying around for more than a year now. (Thankfully, they are valid for two years.) I say 'thwarted' because, after finally choosing some clothes to buy, I got to the counter to discover that their system was down nationwide and they couldn't accept gift vouchers on Friday. Unbelievable! Murphy's law was at it again.
    • Friday night was spent enjoying drinks and dinner with some work colleagues before heading into a weekend alternating between informal socialising, casual bargain hunting, and domestic bliss.
    • I started a new blog a couple of weeks ago, focusing on work-related topics. It may or may not result in this blog becoming 'quieter', and I still aim to blog a few times each week, but at the moment I've been spending more time getting into writing in a more 'professional' style.
    • The shopping malls are still scarily busy, but not as many are as festooned with Christmas spirit (yet) as I had expected. Instead, it's all Halloween crazy, something which seems to be gaining in popularity each year.
    • We had pancakes for breakfast today. Aren't sleep ins and lazy brunches the best part of long weekends?

    Sunday, 17 October 2010

    Procrastination is ...

    I'd been meaning to write a blog post about procrastination for quite some time, but just never got around to it.

    (That's not entirely true, but I thought it would make a good opening.)

    Actually, I started this post a few weeks ago, made some notes, wrote a few sentences, saved the draft, published a few other posts, and have only just come back to it now. There's a theory that procrastination and perfectionism are closely linked; I'm a little like that.

    Edward Young, an English poet, said that "procrastination is the thief of time". That may be true sometimes. However, I've had several occasions lately where procrastination has actually saved me a lot of money. On all three occasions, I have made considerable savings on items I was planning to purchase anyway.

    I have been looking around for a cupcake carousel for quite a while. When I bake large batches of cupcakes to take to parties, it can be challenging finding enough containers that are suitable for carrying 24 cupcakes at a time. I found one on a cake supply website for $80. It looked great but there's no way I could justify spending $80 to carry cupcakes around. I found a similar model at a gift shop for $60. I decided to splurge. However, on the day I was due to go shopping, the weather packed in and I decided to stay at home where it was warm and cosy. Just as well, because the very next day the shop had a half-price sale and I got my carousel for just $30. They have now sold out completely, but not before a couple of workmates also went out and bought discounted stock. I saved $50 just by staying at home!

    Then there was my laptop. I've needed to buy one for a while and eventually started shopping around for a basic model at a good price. I chose one, a clearance model that was reduced from around $1100 to $777, but put off the moment of purchase. (I'm a terrible shopper and useless at spending money.) Just as well; my laptop went down the next day a further $32, costing just $745 all up. Once again, procrastination saved me some money.

    At Zumba the other week, I noticed they had started offering 10-trip concession cards for $40, bringing the cost of each session down from $5 to $4. I thought it would be a good idea to buy one but didn't have enough cash on me; never mind, I could get one another time. This morning,  today's 1-dayout deal was 10 Zumba sessions at the same place that I go to for just $25 - half price! Once again, procrastination saved me some cash.

    Has procrastination ever paid off for you?

    Friday, 15 October 2010

    Tis the season

    ... or is it? Christmas seems to be creeping up earlier and earlier each year. I hadn't given it any thought until I heard a radio announcer say this morning that he was at a shopping mall which was already playing Christmas carols and peddling Christmas merchandise. I was momentarily taken aback but quickly pushed this scary concept out of my mind; it's not Christmas for ages.

    Upon arriving at work, I was horrified to see a box next to a colleague's desk. It was filled with Christmas decorations. What?!? It's only mid-October, for goodness sake! But it didn't stop there. She eagerly showed me a photo of her Christmas tree from last year, immaculately decorated; it’s already set as her laptop wallpaper. She's desperate to start decorating the office as, apparently, her husband won't let her start at home for a long time yet. (He sounds very wise.) Someone heard Snoopy's Christmas on the radio this morning. And it's only just beginning.

    When I first started at my current workplace, one of my new colleagues mentioned how much she loved Christmas and couldn't wait to decorate the office this year. I asked her when she planned to do this. She correctly replied, "December". Whew! However, in light of what I saw this morning, I'm now worried that these two will get together and spur each other on to create a super sparkly Christmas before anyone else has time to object!

    Now, don't get me wrong: although I live with The Grinch, I own a Christmas CD or two. I'm not entirely averse to Christmas decorations. I've accepted an invitation for our ukulele orchestra to play at the staff Christmas lunch. I might start thinking about annual leave. I'll do some obligatory Christmas shopping, but I'll do it in December, the month that we celebrate Christmas. Not October. Not even November. There is a website which answers the question, "is it Christmas?" perfectly. Check it out.

    Although I suppose it's commercialism gone mad or a sign of the times, I accept that I'm probably alone in my crusade to hold off the Christmas madness until the season is at least genuinely approaching. I figure there's another couple more months before it can legitimately start. So, until then, "bah, humbug!".

    Sunday, 10 October 2010

    New toys

    I have bought a couple of new toys lately. The first is the laptop that I'm writing this post on. It's a Compaq Presario CQ60-212, a cute little notebook to tide me over until I can afford and justify the expense of a gorgeous MacBook Pro. It's basic and functional; we're bonding slowly.

    My second toy purchase excites me more. I am now the proud owner of my very first 'real' cake mixer - a Kenwood KM270W Patisser (sounds impressive, doesn't it?)! After much research, and despite lusting over a purple KitchenAid, this is the model I settled on. People tell me that they bought a Kenwood years and years ago and it's still going strong; I'm hoping this will last me a lifetime of baking. It makes me feel very grown up!

    So, I needed to test my brand new Kenwood. Yesterday, I made black forest cake for my brother's birthday. It was the first time I'd tried making one and I looked around for recipes and variations. I settled on baking a normal chocolate cake and filling it with layers of chopped black doris plums and whipped cream. I diluted the syrup mix by boiling the plum juice with a splash of brandy. I topped it with whipped cream and grated dark chocolate over the top. The coloured lettering on top of white chocolate melts didn't exactly look classy but was another experiment. Anyway, it was the taste that mattered.
    Black Forest birthday cake
    I have just taken a yummy banana loaf out of the oven. I plan to give my new mixer plenty of practice!

    Thursday, 7 October 2010

    Blogger or Wordpress?

    I have been blogging in Blogger for several years now, with this blog, my Project 365 blog, and another early professional blog which I stopped updating a few years ago. I've decided to kick-start professional blogging once again, as it complements my new job perfectly and is something I've been itching to get back into. Given my history with Blogger, I'm tempted to just start another one here and get going within the hour. However, I thought I'd explore Wordpress and experience blogging on another platform.

    It hasn't been easy. I'm fairly web 2.0 savvy but am almost at the stage of giving up and going back to what I'm familiar with. I have spent far too long trying to upload a new template (apparently you could do this on in the past, but this option seems to be disabled now, unless you upgrade and pay for the service). I've become incredibly frustrated just trying to do basic stuff, even with a lot of planning and preparation done beforehand.

    Bear in mind that I am talking about here - not, which involves private hosting. I want to use the free service but be able to upload and personalise a different template, as well as host some third party widgets.

    So, blogosphere, I need your help. Have you blogged with How doees it compare with Blogger (if you've blogged with both)? What are the biggest advantages and drawbacks? I still need convincing ...

    Monday, 4 October 2010

    Queen of the ivories

    When my father asked if I wanted see Jan Preston's Life and Music of Winifred Atwell with him this weekend, I wasn't sure how to answer. The ticket would be free; all we had to do was turn up. Ok, it sounded simple enough.

    Jan Preston is a classically-trained pianist with a love for boogie woogie – and she’s good at it. Right from the first number, her enthusiasm and vibrant energy for playing was obvious. Jan and her backing bass player and drummer started out with some crowd-pleasers, including the Harry Lime theme and Baby Elephant Walk. It's obvious that she loves what she does. Although we had great seats (we were in the front row) and I could see Jan's hands flying up and down the piano, we were on the wrong side and I couldn't see a single key of the keyboard - a shame, as I love watching good pianists in action.

    Jan introduced us to Winifred Atwell, a renowned 1950s boogie woogie pianist originally from Trinidad. During her career, she became Queen of the Ivories and performed all around the world, especially in the UK and Australia, to packed audiences. She also wrote a number of boogie and ragtime-style pieces, resulting in eleven Top 10 hits. Jan's presentation was made up of dozens of photos from Winnie's career and accompanied by a running piano commentary in ragtime, boogie woogie and honky tonk style.

    This type of music is not for everyone and the age range of the audience reflected this. At one stage, I asked Dad if I could lean across the aisle and slap the old biddies across from me who talked incessantly for most of the show. Dad's hearing has paid the price of a lifetime as a musician so I couldn't tell if he genuinely couldn't hear me or was just ignoring me; probably a bit of both. Instead, I focused my best teacher stare on the offenders, but they were so wrapped up in their conversation that they didn't even notice. The most embarrassing part was that we were sitting in the front row and the performers would have been able to hear every word. How rude!

    There were a few singalong numbers which were painfully embarrassing. I was not impressed when the concert threatened to finish with the dreadful Goodnight, Irene. Thankfully, the band redeemed themselves and ended with Bumble Boogie in true boogie style. A classic Sunday matinee show.

    Friday, 1 October 2010

    Overheard in a café

    Her: How are you?
    Him: Oh, not feeling too good. Got a headcold.
    Her: You had one last week, too.
    Him: Yeah, it's the same one. Still trying to get rid of it.
    Her: Have you taken anything for it?
    Him: Nah, I'm too hard for that.
    *Café Chick shakes head in disbelief at typical Kiwi male*
    What funny things have you overheard lately?