Thursday, 28 June 2012

Gum paste decorations

Last night, a friend and I attended Ice Nice Baby with the lovely Tanya Hugyecz from Decorada. This was a practical workshop where we got to try out making gum paste decorations amid the beautiful setting of the Small Acorns store. A glass of wine on arrival and a goodie bag at the end, along with decorated cupcakes to take home and eat, made it a very civilised and creative way to spend a winter's evening.

I've done a little bit of cupcake decorating before, attended a few workshops and accumulated far too many decorating tools in proportion to those that I have used more than once. The reality of time pressures has seen me become quite good at piping chocolate filigree decorations, as they are quick and easy to add to the top of a decorated cupcake at the last minute. Despite the best of intentions to have sessions where I sit and make a collection of gum paste decorations in advance for later use, they rarely happen. Last night was a great opportunity to practise some of the skills I had previously learned while inspiring me to sort through my arsenal of equipment and give decoration making another go. I'm determined to perfect the art of making gum paste roses!

Tanya's iced decorations
Thank you to Amanda and the team at Small Acorns for hosting a delightful evening. We're already looking forward to the next one!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The caffeine curve

As I was waiting for my coffee order one morning, a colleague and I got chatting about our workloads and pondered how we could possibly manage to get everything done between now and home time before repeating it all again the next day. She commented that it was definitely a 'five cup' day for her; she simply wouldn't make it otherwise. Five cups? Of coffee?? Wow! (We're talking real coffee here - instant doesn't even enter our vocabularies.)

Now, it's no secret that I love coffee (and everything associated with it), but apart from serious all night study sessions, my days of five cups of coffee are long gone. I told her that this was to be my one and only cup to savour and it would help me get through the day. She looked at me somewhat suspiciously, questioning my ability to survive with just one shot of caffeine and introduced me to the caffeine curve. She couldn't wait to bring me a copy once we had returned to our offices. We closely examined the graph and plotted ourselves on it. It was then that I clearly understood how she could transform into Superwoman so effortlessly each day.

Whereabouts on the caffeine curve are you?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The trouble with socks

I have come to realise something: socks are evil, manipulative time thieves that exist simply to taunt us at washing time. Harsh words, I know, but hear me out. Sure, they look innocent enough and appear charming at first glance, offering to keep our extremeties warm and cosy and protect our cold, tired feet from the elements and shoes. But think about your actions next time you do a load of washing and you might come to agree with me.

I am convinced that I spend a disproportionate amount of housework time finding, hanging, matching and balling socks compared to any other laundry task. Most other items of clothing are more considerate than the humble sock in that they are presented as a self-contained unit. Think about trousers, t-shirts, or even pantyhose and stockings; they don't rely on a companion to be useful. Dresses are particularly amiable ensembles, containing all the essentials for the top AND bottom part of an outfit. I probably makes things more difficult for myself by only wearing black socks that I wash inside out, but I swear that washing machines the world over find it hilarious to eat one sock per load and/or swap it for another that looks similar but is not quite the same. Or perhaps they just share fetishes for black socks?

I'm not the first person to blog about sock dramas; I shudder when I imagine the ongoing nightmare that would ensue if required to keep socks for a whole family in check! It would be enough to turn odd socks into a fashion statement, something which someone from my student days used to insist on doing. She was miffed when someone accused her of wearing a matching pair one day and huffily pointed out that they were in fact dark blue and dark purple respectively!

I remember seeing a Dragons' Den-type show years ago where someone proposed commercially developing little sock clips that would keep pairs together in the wash and then hang straight on the line. No-one took it up, which shocked me as I thought it was the most practical, ingenious invention presented that day. Mind you, most of the dragons were men ...

I also knew someone years ago whose household would regularly hold a sock amnesty, whereby everyone living there would deposit their odd socks in the middle of the floor and pairs were matched, returned or retrieved. Actually, her flatmates would hold these; she was an Order Muppet and declared that none of her socks were missing or mismatched.

Do you have sock dramas, or have you found a sock solution that prevents sock stress?

Monday, 11 June 2012

Which type of Muppet are you?

I don't think people appreciate just what a die-hard Muppets fan I am. I'm not talking about Muppet movies and the annoyingly cutesy pie Elmo here, but the original Muppet Show. This is my mobile phone ringtone and this is my txt message tone. The Muppet Show Album from Season 1 is always on my iPod, even when space is at a premium. To me, being called a Muppet is actually a compliment, not an insult. As musicians, Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem truly rock. Get it?

When surfing the net today, I came across an opinion piece likening everyone's personality to one of two Muppet types. Muppet Theory - cool! Apparently we are all either a Chaos Muppet or an Order Muppet. Think about it: the fuzzy blue Chaos Muppets are busy rushing around being creative and impestuously chasing cookies (chocolate/coffee/cheese) while the Order Muppets are neurotically perplexed by keeping the show going. As in any kind of relationship or workplace, a healthy balance of chaos and order Muppets is essential.

I took a bunch of Which Muppet are you? quizzes and, interestingly enough, every single result was different, ranging from Bunsen Honeydew to Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog to (shock, horror) Sam the Eagle. Maybe being a bit of both actually makes me a Faux Chaos Muppet? It certainly sounds appealing.

Which type of Muppet do you think you are? And which type would you family and friends think you are?

Friday, 8 June 2012

The Dalai Lama teaches us how to live

A friend posted this on Facebook the other day. In among his usual guff and low brow jokes, there was this absolute gem.

Having spent years teetering on the cusps of stages 1-2 and 3-4, I'm determined there's no way I'm going to let stages 5-6 take me down.

Read it. Read it again. Live today. Such good advice.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Sticky chocolate cake

Family dinners are a(nother) good reason to bake. A friend sent me a range of recipes to try this long weekend. Naturally I gravitated towards the chocolate one. This recipe for sticky chocolate cake came from an old edition of Next magazine. As fresh berries are not in season at the start of winter, I topped the cake with even more chocolate. You can't have too much of a good thing, right?

Sticky chocolate cake

  • 50 g butter
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup self-raising flour
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
White chocolate frosting
  • 100 g white chocolate, chopping
  • 50 g butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 2-4 T boiling water
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a 27 x 17 cm tin (I used a 20 x 20 cm silicone tin and it was fine) with baking paper, leaving an overhang on all sides.
  2. Melt butter and golden syrup in a saucepan or place in a bowl and microwave to melt. Stir in sugar, milk and beaten egg.
  3. Sift cocoa, flours and baking soda onto the wet mixture and whisk to combine.
  4. Pour mixture into prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove to cool then spread with icing and top with berries.
  5. To make frosting, melt white chocolate and butter in a bowl. Beat in vanilla and icing sugar. Beat in just enough boiling water to form a smooth and thick mixture.
Sticky chocolate cake

Sunday, 3 June 2012

French pastry making

Handmade 2012 is on in Wellington this long weekend. It is an annual festival that boasts a feast of events for creative folk. Yesterday, a friend and I tried our hands at French pastry making. The same recipe can be used to bake croissants, pain au chocolat and other French treats dear to our hearts. I knew that the process involved layering butter and dough but little else.

The delightful Sebastien Lambert was our tutor and prefaced his two-hour session with a disclaimer that the process of croissant pastry making usually takes 6 or more hours. He also told us not to be disappointed with our first batch as it took him 4 months of practising every day to get to a high standard. I heeded his warning; this is what they were supposed to look like.

I can see why we buy croissants (and why they cost so much) instead of making them ourselves; this is quite a process. However, pounding butter with a rolling pin into a similar texture to the dough looks remarkably therapeutic and is something I will look forward to doing when I try making croissants again. ;-) In the meantime, I have just taken six pain au chocolate and an assortment of croissant-shaped pastries out of the oven, all at pancake height. I'm not brave enough to post my own pics but take comfort in the knowledge that (thankfully) they smell good and taste ok! It's now back to the kitchen for more practice ...