Friday, 27 July 2012

Tulip Sunday - Laura Ranger

Today is National Poetry Day and a range of poetry related activities have been planned all around the country. I thought about which poem I'd like to share ... then remembered the poem that came to mind was already my pick for National Poetry Day in 2009. It's still my favourite, but got me thinking about the appeal of particular poems and led to my selection for this year.

Tulip Sunday was written by a local poet, Laura Ranger, when she was just 6 years old. Her poetry collection, Laura's Poems, was published when I first started teaching and I loved using her writing as models for teaching poetic language - beautiful examples that children could relate to, especially as they were written by another child the same age and Tulip Sunday is a local event marking the start of spring each year. The final two lines of Tulip Sunday have stayed in my mind and remain a wonderful use of child-like personification.

Tulip Sunday by Laura Ranger, age 6

In the Botanical Gardens
bright tulips
spread out
like a yellow tablecloth
on a table with thousands of legs.

Some tulips
have red lips
and dark black eyes.
They bow and curtsy
in the wind.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Wellington Regional Sugarcraft Competition

As an amateur baker and aspiring cake decorator, I have always held a fascination for edible art of the sugary kind. I've had a go myself at some small scale decorating and have built up an arsenal of barely used decorating equipment that I always intend to put into action ... some day. This weekend, the Wellington Regional Sugarcraft Competition and Exhibition is on at The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt. If ever I needed inspiration to sort out my baking boxes, this exhibition has come at the right time!

There were some truly amazing edible creations across a whole range of categories. The attention to detail, particularly in the miniature cake categories, is incredible. It would be a shame to eat objects of such great beauty ...

Here are some of my favourites from the exhibition. If you are looking for some cake decorating inspiration and are in the area tomorrow, I'd certainly recommend checking it out.

My favourite floral display

The winning floral display

A very clever 'cheese' cake

Picnic basket - my pick of the competition

Pigs' feast, created by a 9 year old

Wise owls made by a creative 8 year old

Exquisite detail on a miniature dragon and castle

A beautiful teapot

Basket of flowers


Monday, 16 July 2012

Sh*t My Dad Says - Justin Halpern

Quite some time ago, I began following @shitmydadsays on Twitter. The account was created by Justin Halpern who tweeted one liners his father would come out with on almost any subject in the world, whether his opinion was solicited or not. Common themes and language emerged and more than 3 million others jumped on board; clearly, Justin's dad was hilarious and quickly became a hit. Naturally, a book called Sh*t My Dad Says (2010) followed and captured some of Dad's best one liners while elaborating on others, ending up as a collection of laugh out loud stories. Some contained great advice:
"Listen, and don't ignore what you hear."
 Others were tales of warning:
"My parents had irrational fears of Mexico and assumed that once you crossed the border, drug runners made you swallow a heroin belloon and then within the hour you were in a bathtub full of ice and they were harvesting your kidneys."
All were straight-shooting:
"Hot damn! You're a smart kid - I don't care what people say about you! ... I'm kidding, nobody says you're not smart. They say other stuff, but not that."
The world laughed along with Justin and his dad and they made it to the top of the The New York Times Bestseller List. And that's where this good thing should have ended.

Following the success of the book, a tv series unfortunately followed. $#*! My Dad Says, or simply Sh!t (as we called it), was dreadful. Having not previously read the book, my interest sparked from the Twitter feed. What a disappointment. The first episode was lame, but we figured it must get better. It didn't. Plastic characters with actors who only knew one technique: shouting. The clever one (or two) liners from the book were stretched beyond recognition and consequently got lost in the muddle. Somewhere along the way, Justin's mother disappeared (along with Dad's sincerity) and he gained an annoying brother and sister-in-law in place of his two actual brothers. Artistic license is one thing but stupidity is another. Even William Shatner, the one shining light on the show, couldn't save this one. Thankfully it is no longer on our screens.

My advice is to forget the tv series ever existed (I'm sure I'm not the only one to say this) and enjoy the humour from the book. It's an entertaining read and really did make me laugh out loud.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Shortbread shapes

I quite like shortbread and was reading something about the secret to 'short' shortbread. Apparently it comes from using lots of cornflour, so today's biscuit bakeoff recipe is for shortbread. This recipe is very basic and similar to surprise shortbread. I used the paddle attachment on my Kenwood mixer and creamed the butter and sugar until it was a pale yellow. I considered halving the ingredients and making a smaller batch but decided that I'd rather enjoy a full batch of shortbread with coffee on a cold wintery day than regret not making more!

Shortbread shapes

  • 250 g butter, softened
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 cup cornflour
  • 2 cups flour
  1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Sift cornflour and flour together. Mix sifted ingredients into creamed mixture. Knead well.
  3. On a lightly floured board, roll out to 0.5 cm thickness*. Shape into a circle or cut into pieces.
  4. Place on a greased oven tray. Prick with a fork. Bake at 130°C for 30 minutes or until pale golden. Makes about 40.
Shortbread shapes
* I will take this opportunity to officially declare my non-stick rolling pin to be nothing more than a smooth ornament - there is certainly nothing 'non-stick' about it, as proven when taking almost as long to roll out enough dough to fill a tray of biscuits as it does to cook them. I'm considering replacing it with a piece of PVC pipe, which I hear on good authority works just as well (or, in my case) better and costs less. Watch this space.

    Saturday, 14 July 2012

    Today is your lucky day

    I have had a wonderful run of good luck lately – almost unbelievably so. With each exciting turn of events, I feel both delighted and grateful. Life is, indeed, good.

    Imagine my surprise one morning this week when I received a txt message announcing the best news of all. It arrived at 6:07 am and was all in capital letters, so I knew it must be important. Rather than paraphrase my good news, I thought I’d share it all word for word:
    Gosh, what a clever little mobile phone I have! I had no idea my phone even played cricket, let alone was good enough to receive such a grandiose award. What do they say about dark horses (or old red mobile phones)?

    Have you been as fortunate as me recently? Or are you still sitting ready and waiting with your bank details for when your Nigerian scam email arrives?

    Monday, 9 July 2012

    Cat burglar

    When our cat was still a kitten, she had a cute but unfortunate aversion to her cat flap. As we tried to teach her that this hole in the wall was her ticket to come and go as she pleased, she would hold on the wall with all four paws and resist her head being poked against a flap that her body was supposed to crawl through. She also needed to get used to wearing a collar, as a magnet was required to activate the flap - something she was also less than impressed about and spent hours frantically trying to chew through. After meowing miserably outside the door for several days, we decided to make it easier for her and leave the flap unlocked so she didn't have to worry about lining up the magnet. Yes, I know; we are pushovers.

    As she grew, we noticed just how much she was eating each day. To be precise, she seemed to be eating copious amounts at night, yet loudly proclaimed her hunger each morning. Given that she usually spends most of the night asleep on one of us, we had our suspicions that we were instead feeding a neighbourhood cat. This was confirmed one evening while watching television with our pussy cat spread out on my partner's lap, yet we  clearly heard her food being eaten loudly in the kitchen. A quick chase and the offending feline shot out the cat flap, but stopped to rudely peer through the back door window at us in protest at having their snack interrupted. So, unfortunately it was back to wearing a collar for our little princess. We also monitored just how much food we were giving her each day and left her with just a handful of pellets at night. Thankfully, she eventually conquered the magnetic cat flap and stopped chewing on her collar, meaning that her food was her own again. Until recently.

    Last night, I had a case of the midnight munchies. After trying to distract myself for an hour or so, I finally succumbed at around 12:30 am. I quietly crept out of bed and into the lounge to discover our cat fast asleep on the couch ... and then I heard the cat flap unmistakably slamming shut! A small quantity of cat pellets remaining confirms that we now have a more sophisticated cat burglar who can open a magnetic flap either by stealth or using some other mysterious feline superpower. I am equally shocked, annnoyed and impressed!

    Apart from a very expensive cat flap activated by our cat's microchip, what other strategies are there to prevent the cat burglar from striking again? We're reluctant to remove all her food each night (as we are sure she will loudly inform us of her hunger in the wee small hours), but neither are we happy to be hosting regular midnight feasts.

    Saturday, 7 July 2012

    High tea at Soi

    Apparently high tea has its origins as a 19th century working class meal where lunch leftovers were used up as a mid-afternoon snack. This type of afternoon tea is a far cry from what has become synonymous with high tea as we know it today, which immediately conjures up delightfully dainty and civilised images.

    The beautiful setting of Soi Restaurant by Evans Bay wharf is offering high tea on weekends. A friend and I thought we'd be ladies today and have the 'champagne' high tea, which was served with a glass of Grandin Méthode Traditionelle Brut. With neither of us being tea drinkers, we forewent the selection of 11 teas on offer in favour of coffee (which cost extra). Our table was right next to the floor to ceiling windows and we spent a leisurely couple of hours watching watched the boats go by while enjoying about a dozen tiny treats. The food was average but the view is spectacular!
    High tea at Soi
    The savoury layer included salmon and chicken club sandwiches, mushroom and salmon mini-savouries, and plain and date scones with cream and berry compote. Moving on to the top, sweet layer, we enjoyed chocolate and strawberry lamingtons with cream, a crème brûlée tart, mini chocolate pavlova and gluten free chocolate cake. Thankfully we also got to pack up over leftovers in doggy boxes to enjoy at home later.

    High tea at Soi is a lovely way to spend a winter's afternoon with friends.

    Thursday, 5 July 2012

    Navigation - Joy Cowley

    Great news: I've found where my reading mojo has been hiding! After a long period of endless distractions and limited concentration, I've rediscovered my love of reading and am thrilled to have actually finished a book!

    Of course, I shouldn't be surprised that my first successful reattempt at reading came from the pen of New Zealand's most prolific children's author, Joy Cowley. Navigation (2010) is a delightful collection of memoirs from Joy's life and we get to know this amazing woman through what she does best: story telling. Warm, welcoming and humorous, we learn about Joy's childhood growing up in Foxton (when she herself struggled to learn to read), her journey through motherhood and the colourful life experiences that led to some of New Zealand's finest children's books and generations of readers. She shares with us anecdotes about how Greedy Cat came to exist as well as other characters such as Mrs Wishy-Washy. It's no wonder that children all over the world have fallen in love with reading and story telling because of Joy's writing.

    Joy also has plenty to offer adult readers and her reflections on life are often quite philosophical. I particularly loved this passage about growth:
    "Growth means movement, rupture, division, leaving something behind to come to a new place of development, and that is usually accompanied by some kind of discomfort. Whatever our close view of such transitions, when we look back at them from a distance, we see that they were exactly right." p 78
    Now that my mojo has returned, I look forward to gleefully attacking the pile of books that has accumulated by my bed this year and, perhaps even more excitedly, becoming attached to my new toy.

    What are you reading at the moment?

    Wednesday, 4 July 2012

    Preparing for The Big One

    Arriving home from dinner last night, I looked up and saw a beautiful full moon in a partially cloudy sky. The air was cool and calm. "Earthquake weather," I thought to myself. The phenomenon known as earthquake weather is nothing more than folklore; earthquakes occur in all kinds of weather, as Cantabrians experiencing quakes almost continuously for the past two years will be able to tell you. It's just that a windless night is particularly noticeable in Wellington.

    We did have an earthquake last night - a big one. A magnitude 7.0 quake is huge, even though this one was 230 km deep and 170 km north of Wellington. It certainly was the biggest earthquake I have ever felt and went for a long time, and that's saying something considering that I grew up in Wellington waiting for The Big One that is apparently more than 100 years overdue. I went to school on a faultline which means that my first instinct at a rattle is to dive under a desk or head for the nearest door frame. Memories of earthquakes during school exams 20 years ago instantly came flooding back and my Facebook timeline was quickly filled with similar stories from school mates. Not to mention Twitter going for it!

    Today is a good time to reflect on how things went last night. Geonet was struggling to keep up as everyone raced to the check out the drums and recent quakes sections. Our internet was temporarily down but all other services kept working. Still, I was tempted to go to bed dressed and ready for action in case there were further quakes and did a mental check of our survival kit. We are certainly better prepared than we were during our powerless evening last August. We have bought a first aid kid in a backpack and have smaller first aid kits in our cars along with a number of shake torches scattered within reach. We have plenty of 3 litre water bottles filled and stored along with our sleeping bags and medical supplies. We need to do a better job of assembling batteries to charge phones and power radios etc. We'll hopefully be fine so long as we can stay at home after a major earthquake but still need to sort out getaway kits. There was a little aftershock that we also felt, but otherwise everything was ok. Still, you never know if this was the precusor to something bigger or the actual event itself.

    Have you got your emergency and getaway kits sorted? How prepared would you be in a disaster?