Sunday, 29 April 2012

Clutter or keepsake?

Every now and then, I go through a purging phase. This is usually kick started by the need to find something but can sometimes end with a bin full of junk, clothing bagged up ready to give away and borrowed items returned to their owners. Last weekend, I needed to find an important document that I knew was in a 'safe place'. I haven't yet recovered said document but did manage to find some other files that I had been hunting for a few weeks ago and was amazed to discover that my safe place for these was pretty much right under my nose!

I was reading an opinion piece this morning called Is tidiness next to godliness? We all know people with bulging garages that can't fit a car in them, or have 'spare' rooms and attics packed to the rafters with various assorted treasures. Then there are people I know who subscribe to the "out of sight, out of mind" school of thought, where they insist on having clear surfaces (and judge others by theirs) but are quite happy to hide their junk in drawers or other rooms so long as it can't be easily seen.

I also read about a documentary called My Hoarder Mum and Me. Apparently compulsive hoarding is a behavioural pattern that almost warrants a medical condition. I've only ever seen such extreme behaviour once for myself, but I remember my friend's father, who was a mobile mortgage manager, telling us how he'd visited a woman who "needed" to sell her house because the one she was in was too messy. She had no money and no job so wanted a mortgage to buy a bigger house. He could barely breathe for the stench inside and discovered full rubbish bags lining the hallway (she never threw her rubbish out), 20-30 years of newspapers stacked everywhere and not a single place to sit or stand. He suggested she start by cleaning up her current house or at least just getting rid of the rubbish. "No," she replied firmly. The rubbish bags would be going with her to her new house (if she could only get a mortgage to buy one). 

Is it sentimentality? Sometimes. Fear of disparity? Not usually, but I still remember many years when I had to make very careful purchasing decisions so these particular items are some of the hardest for me to get rid of. When my grandmother died, we found cupboards and drawers full of things she had kept "for good". Instead of using the new tea towels she had bought, she'd use the worn out ones with holes in them every day and save the new tea towels "for good". The sad thing is that I don't know when or if "for good" ever arrived, but I have inherited much of her behaviour in this respect and tend to keep things "for good" or "for later" instead of enjoying them just for now.

How about you? Are you a hoarder or a purger? Is there any hope for either type or personality?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Anzac biscuits

It seems only fitting that my baking for ANZAC Day is Anzac biscuits. On 25 April each year, New Zealand and Australia have a holiday in remembrance of the first landings at Gallipoli in 1915. Anzac biscuits were often baked and put into the care packages sent to our soldiers overseas as they lasted a long time and didn't spoil easily. The recipe has changed little over the years. This one is from the Edmonds Cookery Book and is part of my great biscuit bake off.

Anzac biscuits

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup coconut
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 50 g butter
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  1. Mix together flour, sugar, coconut and rolled oats.
  2. Melt butter and golden syrup. Dissolve baking soda in the boiling water and add to butter and golden syrup.
  3. Stir butter mixture into the dry ingredients.
  4. Place tablespoonsful of mixture onto cold greased trays. Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes or until golden. Makes 20.
Anzac biscuits

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Where did the weekends go?

We all love weekends. They are our little treat for surviving the week and, if we're lucky, we get to spend them how we want to, free from the shackles of work and other nasties that consume so much of our weekdays. Or do we?

I read a story this morning called Where did the weekends go? Although it refers to the retail sector, I can't help wondering whether it's a sign of our times that few people I know actually have a 'weekend' involving the long, lazy days we look forward to. Some of them manage to grab a day (or a few hours) here or there, but no-one seems to have two days off any more. (I'm excluding parents from this observation; they never have time off!)

For almost as long as I can remember, weekends have been an opportunity for me to catch up on work or study, uninterrupted and without being harrassed at the office. Well, that's certainly how this year's weekends have been. Don't even get me started on evenings! I usually do it happily (or at least accept that this is how things are for me) but I have to wonder if it will ever be different. I try to smuggle in the occasional coffee or brunch with a friend and time with my sweetie. Sometimes I do something really radical like read a chapter of a book for pleasure, throw some baking into the oven or clean the house. This is not a tale of woe; it's simply stating a fact and I know I'm not unusual.

I know it's been creeping up for years but I sometimes wonder when we reached the tipping point of consumer (and other) demand that now requires so much more of us. I love the way everything completely shuts down for a couple of days at Easter but I know it's a hassle for many consumers. Maybe some industries feel the pressure more than others; maybe there are those who are totally immune to weekend snatching?

Here's my question for you: are your weekends 'real' weekends or are they just a chance for you to catch up (or get a head start) on weekdays?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Richter City Roller Derby

I was coerced into trying something new last night. A friend had sneakily asked if I was free on Saturday night before explaining what she had in mind. After she confirmed I was free, she said we were going to Richter City Roller Derby. Hmm. Now, I understand that roller derby is all the rage at the moment - just log in to Twitter on a Saturday night and see how many times the #RCRD hashtag appears. I have a couple of friends who took up skating because of this movie. I'd heard that one of them was even becoming very good but it really wasn't my thing. I said no and was appropriately chastised.

I told my sweetie what I'd done; he was even less impressed than my friend! Then we discovered that one of our friends was due to make her big roller derby debut that night. Surely we had to go along and support the fabulous Tart N Skates? And so it was all on: Comic Slams vs last year's champions, Smash Malice.

As with most spectator sports, I've been to one bout now so can consider myself an expert in it. (You see? I even called it a bout, not a match or game.) I know that each bout has two 30 minute halves and they are made up of a series of 2-minute jams. I know what a jammer is, a pivot (although I still haven't quite worked out what this one does) and blockers. You can tell them apart because a jammer wears a star on her helmet whereas a pivot has a stripe. See, I've learned so much! And then they move - fast! We eventually caught on to the point scoring but the sheer speed of some of the jammers made it really challenging to keep up. Don't ask me about penalties; it was all too fast for us to keep track of!

I sat through the bout wondering what my roller derby name would be. The girls all have such kick-ass, theatrical names with costumes to match: Scary Maclary, Venom de Plume, Gin & Toxic, Jem Molition and Suffer Jet. Who could I be? Possibly Caffeinator or Psycho Baker? I found a roller derby name generator that anointed me as Apocalypso BigBlocker. You heard it here first.

And so I am a roller derby virgin no more! Who else has been bitten by the roller derby bug? What's your roller derby name?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Pleasant surprises

Last year, my then three-year-old nephew and his mother visited family in Europe. Upon their return, they had brought gifts for us all including some yummy goodies from a particular chocolate factory. On the day that I was to receive my chocolates, my nephew was excitedly looking out the window for signs of my car arriving. Apparently he commented to my father (with chocolates in hand) that, "Wouldn't it be a nice surprise if they opened the chocolates right now?"

Ah, yes. Often there are a multitude of pleasant surprises to be had simply by looking at things from a different angle. Either way, it's amazing how full of pleasant surprises life can be once you clear away the cr@p. This long weekend has been full of pleasant surprises. Here are a few that have made me smile:
  • UK made Cadbury Creme Eggs are not as bad or sickly sweet as the first ones I tried shortly after they replaced the New Zealand made product (although it's still not quite the same). Believe me - I've 'tested' a few this weekend!
  • The upset tummy and sleepless nights that have been plaguing me these past few months miraculously disappeared after a couple of days away from work. In fact, I've been more productive than ever with study this weekend while away from the watchful eye of micromanagement!
  • Impulse buying is not necessarily bad. Eventually, it can even feel good.
  • Apricot buttermilk scones don't have to look good to taste great. Whew!
  • Little boys' tummies all make the same noise when you blow raspberries on them and it sounds like incessant giggling.
  • A triple espresso made with Dr Mojo's Medicine goes extremely well with chocolate or just on its own.
  • Life is so much more enjoyable when not measured in 15 minute time slots.
  • Hot cross buns are not as hard to make as I feared. 
  • If you ever need a new way to laugh at yourself and those around you, give Scottish country dancing a try.
What pleasant surprises have you discovered recently?

    Monday, 9 April 2012

    Honey oat biscuits

    Time to resume the biscuit bake off. These honey oat biscuits use rolled oats, giving them a crunchy texture. I'm getting infinitely better at "rolling tablespoonsful of mixture" and "flattening with a (floured) fork". Once again, simplicity is the key to this recipe and the biscuits smelled amazing as they were baking.

    Honey oat biscuits

    • 125 g butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 tablespoons honey
    • 1 cup flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
    1. Cream butter, sugar and honey together until pale.
    2. Sift flour, baking powder and cinnamon together. Add sifted ingredients and rolled oats to creamed mixture, stirring well.
    3. Roll tablespoonsful of mixture into balls. Place on a greased oven tray. Flatten with a floured fork and bake at 180°C for 15 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes 30.
    Honey oat biscuits

      Sunday, 8 April 2012

      Hot cross buns at Easter

      It's no secret that I love hot cross buns. They easily make it on to my list of heaven foods. Even as a child, I couldn't get enough of them. Although my birthday is not until August, my mother would save the last pack of hot cross buns from Easter for me so I could enjoy them for breakfast on my birthday. Somehow they survived those cold, dark months in the freezer without being eaten before then, something that is highly unlikely to happen in my own freezer these days.

      I decided to add making hot cross buns to my Easter baking binge this weekend. I'd never successfully made them before and wanted to try out my breadmaker's dough setting. I say 'successfully' because I did have a go several years ago. My attempt produced buns resembling rocks that refused to rise despite hours in the sun and didn't taste much better. A closer inspection of my ingredients revealed high grade flour past its use by date - a mistake that is easily remedied but one that left me feeling more than a tad nervous about attempting the recipe again.

      Yesterday, the weather conditions were perfect and I proudly made hot cross bun dough in my breadmaker, leaving them in the sun to rise for a few hours then baking them in the oven. Oh, they smelled (and tasted) so good! I don't know why I left it so long between my first failed attempt and trying again.
      Baker's dozen
      We tucked into the first few then brought the rest around to my parents' place for lunch today. I was immensely pleased when Dad asked, "Where did you buy these from?" Woo hoo - they looked just like bought ones!! I then read a story in a Sunday magazine about a baker who bakes 90 kg of hot cross bun dough a day in the weeks leading up to Easter. While I love hot cross buns and baking, a standing order like this would probably put me off both these things for life and that would be a shame.

      Have you ever baked your own hot cross buns? How did they turn out?

      Saturday, 7 April 2012

      Easter guilty pleasures

      Everyone has a guilty pleasure or three. Whether it is food, boy bands, rom coms or trashy magazines, there is always something that those around you secretly love but are hesitantly to openly admit - and the guilty pleasures often don't appear to 'match' the person hiding the secret.

      Apart from chocolate, hot cross buns and other goodies, I have a couple of musical guilty pleasures that I only indulge at Easter. There are two albums in my music collection that otherwise never see daylight at any other time of the year and I listen to them both in their entirety over the Easter weekend. Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance is currently blasting while my breadmaker is kneading dough for hot cross buns and the New Zealand cast version of Jesus Christ Superstar will have its turn while I bake cupcakes this afternoon. So very 1990s. So very good just once a year!

      So, what guilty pleasures do you confess to? You can remain anonymous if you're not brave enough to come clean publicly ... ;-)

      Friday, 6 April 2012

      It's a good Good Friday

      How I love long weekends. This one is long overdue but, after getting off to a slightly shaky start, is finally here. I've stocked up on Easter eggs and even bought a few extra treats for ourselves, having been caught out in previous years staring at a pile of goodies to give away and none earmarked for us ... this year, I wasn't prepared to tempt fate again and I know now that our gifts will safely make it through to Sunday.

      While I know that having buttermilk pancakes two Good Fridays in row doesn't exactly make it a tradition, it was a great way to start the long weekend. They went down really well with a mountain of maple syrup and an espresso made from Dr Mojo's Medicine coffee

      It wouldn't be a long weekend without baking binge or two. I haven't made cupcakes in months and, given that it is practically compulsory to overload on chocolate this weekend, it makes sense to whip up some chocolate treats. I also want to try making hot cross buns using my breadmaker and am keen to give these maple syrup pikelets a go. Nom!

      Although I plan to once again hit the books in a serious way this weekend, I do so in the knowledge that this weekend is entirely my own and that in itself is a very liberating thought. Heck, I might even do something really radical like read a book for pleasure!

      Happy Easter, everyone. What are your plans for the long weekend?