Sunday, 30 December 2012

An empty jar for 2013

This note is currently doing the rounds via social media. I'm not one for new year's resolutions, but this sounds like a great idea to me. What do you think?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Baker Man's scones

I am a big fan of scones and look forward to Cheese Scone Friday each week. Although I'm not so keen on dates, sultana or cheese scones really hit the spot for me. However, it is no secret at all that I am what some friends and I refer to as 'scone challenged'. While I can bake many other things with relative ease, including some things that are fiddly or require fancy decorating, scones are my nemesis. I know I'm not alone, as I have found at least two other scone challenged bakers like me, but one of them laughed at me yesterday by saying, "I can't believe you can do all these other things but not manage a simple scone." Hmm. A challenge? Ok ...

Another friend shared this 'non-fail' recipe from someone she knows who is a professional baker. This friend is also similarly scone challenged but proclaimed success with this recipe. This morning, I looked at the ingredients in my pantry (check!) and decided to take the plunge, adding sultanas for variety. Success! Although they were not quite as golden as they could be, they weren't dry and tasted great. Maybe I've found a way to break my scone challenged streak?

The Baker Man's scones

  • 600 g plain flour
  • 60 g sugar
  • 5 g milk powder
  • 2 g salt
  • 35 g baking powder
  • 100 g butter, softened
  • 360 ml water
  1. Mix dry ingredients together. Crumb the butter with the dry ingredients. (I started out using a scone rubbing tool thingie but reverted to mixing it with my hands.) Mix in the water but be careful to not overmix (approx 1 minute).
  2. Shape into a large rectangle and cut into 10-12 pieces. Arrange on a baking paper lined tray with a small gap between each scone.
  3. Bake at 200°C for 15-18 minutes, depending on the size of your scones.
  • Add fruit like sultanas or dates for sweet scones.
  • For savoury scones, double the salt and remove the sugar. Add about 2 g black pepper for flavour.
Sultana scones straight out of the oven

Monday, 24 December 2012

Santa Claus is coming to town

Like Santa Claus, I've had a list and managed to tick most things off it. My baking platters are going out with ginger crinkle biscuits, chocolate truffles, shortbread and gingerbread decorations. I have a broken, undecorated decadent chocolate cake in the pantry that I simply ran out of time to decorate. That's ok - we'll enjoy eating the 'crumbs'. It's too hot to decorate the rest of my gingerbread men but I figure that the kids won't miss what they didn't know they were getting anyway.

Our presents have been bought and wrapped, sitting on the fireplace beneath our tiny Christmas tree. My sweetie has marinated a huge pile of chicken nibbles to bring to our various family engagements tomorrow. He also did a good job of marinading his t-shirt, the bench top and our kitchen drawers. ;-)

In a couple of hours, we have a pile of people coming around for homemade pizza and drinks. My little breadmaker has whirred away all day making a dozen pizza bases and I have chopped almost every topping imaginable, ready to assemble and cook once our guests arrive. I even managed to put together some mallowpuff Christmas puddings this morning. One guest popped in earlier with a bottle of sav for me, as he correctly figured I've had a busy day. Good man! Surprisingly, we're fully organised well before the event and the sun is shining - this is not how we usually do parties!

So now it's down to the business end of things and I'm feeling good about where we're at. My hammock seat is up and I'm about to go join it with a cold drink and a book. We're ready for Santa and the four places we need to go tomorrow. Bring it on!

If you've been nice, then keep an eye out for a visit from the fat man.
If you've been naughty ... well, I know you'll get what you deserve. Karma's great like that. :-P

Merry Christmas, everyone! Buon Natale a tutti! Meri Kirimihete!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Gingerbread men

This year's Christmas baking is going well. In addition to the Christmas sweet platters I plan to give as gifts this year, I thought it would be a nice touch for the kids to have an individually decorated and wrapped gingerbread man each. I used the gingerbread recipe from the famous Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. The recipe easily made 18 large gingerbread men with some mixture still left over, so I got out my fondant cutters and made about 50 miniature gingerbread decorations, cooking a tray of them for 6 minutes instead.

Although my piping skills are not yet expert, I was pretty pleased with how my collection of gingerbread men looked. Being a warm and humid evening, the chocolate dried up pretty quickly so I only managed to make a few at a time. Next year I might even substitute the piped chocolate with royal icing!

Gingerbread men

  • 400 g plain flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 180 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125 g brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 125 g treacle
  1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment on a slow speed until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer up to medium speed and beat in the egg and treacle, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  3. Turn the mixer back down to slow speed and slowly add the flour mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time, stopping often to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl. Once an even dough has formed, take it out of the mixer, divide into three balls and wrap each piece in clingfilm. Leave to rest overnight in the fridge.
  4. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 170°C. Take the dough out of the fridge and leave to soften for about 10 minutes. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the dough to about 4 mm thick.
  5. Cut out shapes with the biscuit cutters. Arrange the cookies on a lined baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Leave the cookies to cool slightly on oven trays before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Decorate by piping melted chocolate or royal icing.
Gingerbread people

Friday, 21 December 2012

Wine o'clock

It's that time of the year. I'm clearing out my bulging inbox and waiting for wine o'clock to arrive, along with the end of the world. Cheers!!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

It's been a while since I've read a 5 star book that has completely enthralled me from first word to last. Yesterday, I finished reading The Help (2009) by Kathryn Stockett. What an absolute delight! This quote came to mind:
"You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend."
~ Paul Sweeney
That's exactly how I felt about The Help. I simply couldn't put it down and wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen next. Some mornings, I was so engrossed in the story while reading it on the bus that I nearly missed my stop. At the same time, I didn’t want it to end, meaning I'd have to say goodbye to Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. And what about Celia Foote - would she sort herself out? How about Mae Mobley? Would she be alright? Does Hilly Holbrook get what she deserves?

Set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help is the story of African-American maids working in white households. Told from three perspectives, it begins in a character-driven narrative style that gives way to a gripping plot. Relationships are established and, in some cases, forbidden. The drama inevitably unfolds in a manner resembling a train wreck; you know and fear what's going to happen but pray that something (someone?) will intervene and stop it. As a reader, you are truly drawn into the character's lives and situations, something that Stockett creates beautifully.

We have the movie of the same name on DVD ready for us to watch at home. I'm hoping it will capture the charm of these Southern women and do the story justice.

If you are looking for an excellent book to read during the holidays, make it The Help.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Irish coffee

Thought for the day:

The CFO has instructed that we stock up the ingredients for Irish coffee in bulk.

Make mine a double!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


It's 12:12 on 12/12/12. I think that is pretty cool - almost as cool as 11:11 on 11/11/11.

Have a great day!

Monday, 10 December 2012

The best friendships

Received from a friend:

Sounds perfect to me!

Saturday, 8 December 2012


*steps up onto soapbox*

Ask and you shall receive, or so the saying goes. It kind of makes sense. After all, how do you know what someone wants if they don't tell you (and you're not a mind reader)?

I learned a new word from a friend recently: chugging (charity mugging). Carried out by chuggers, they are what we would politely refer to as street fundraisers. Street fundraisers are mostly in town on a Friday, but chuggers seem to be everywhere all of the time.

Here's a true story:
Scene: Me waiting to cross the road at the traffic lights, iPhone plugged in and watching the traffic (as you do).
Random chugger: "Have you signed the petition to save the Arctic?"
Me: "Pardon?"
Random chugger: "You can save the Arctic."
Me: "Really? How?"
Random chugger: "Just sign this."
Me: "No, thanks."
Random chugger (shakes head, looks downhearted): "That's all it would have taken."
Let me get this straight. All you need is my signature on your piece of paper and the Arctic will be saved? Heck, why bother asking anyone else! If I sign it, will you go home and leave everybody else alone, safe in the knowledge that I have just saved a significant part of the planet and they don't need to worry about it any more? No, didn't think so. I also find it hard to believe that you weren't going to ask for money next, either.

There are particular brands of chuggers that are exponentially worse than others. I'm looking at you. And you. And definitely you. They are the ones that step in your path on a busy street so you have to walk around them, or wave in front of your face, ready with a great conversation opener like, "It looks like you're enjoying listening to some music." What gave it away - the iPhone, earbuds and glazed look on my face? I managed to escape that one unscathed and crossed the road. I walked about three steps ... there's another from the same charity standing in front of me and waving me down. Seriously. *sigh*

Now, I'm all for charity collections and have spent many a rainy day over the years (it always rains on the days I volunteer) rattling a collection box on a street corner before branding donors with a sticker or badge, letting them off the hook for another week. But I think chuggers take things a step too far. In fact, they turn me off those charities completely. I have no doubt that their charity work is (probably) very worthwhile. I just think there must be a better way to fundraise and gather support than annoying people as they go about their business every day of the week.

*steps off soapbox*

Friday, 7 December 2012

RIP Dave Brubeck

It was with nostalgic sadness that I learned about the death of jazz legend DaveBrubeck yesterday. Not only was Dave Brubeck an amazing musician, but he was a pianist – and it's rare for a keyboard player to headline a band in almost any genre. As a keyboard player, I know this!

Let me paint a little musical picture. I took School Certificate Music in fifth form when most 'bright' girls had long given up the subject. My school let me take performance music in sixth form, but then asked, "haven't you taken this music thing far enough?" when I wanted to take Bursary music. To this day, I am glad my mother took on the school principal by saying, "I don't think you understand: my family are musicians." It worked. Music went on to become a degree subject, a career and a lifelong passion.

'Classical' music was pretty new to me at school. A tiny part of the School Cert prescription (yes, they were prescriptions in those days) was about jazz music and the set piece was none other than the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s legendary Take Five. I didn't know much about jazz music either at the time, other than it was something my rock and pop music family were generally wary of. I remember listening to the crackly record player in the music room and was instantly caught out by the 5/4 rhythm. That was different. Challenging, almost.

Take Five became a suite of musical works whose every note is engrained into my memory all these years later. We had to listen repeatedly to the music we studied and analyse musical scores in great detail, but I don’t remember there being a score for Take Five. That's because it was made up of this thing called improvisation. I knew about jamming, but this took things to a whole new level. How can you improvise on a theme in 5/4 timing, playing 'freely' while concentrating so intently on such an unconventional time signature?

A few years later, I remember hearing Pink Floyd’s "Money" for the first time on the radio while driving home one night. I had to pull over and listen to the rest of the song at the side of the road. How can you drive to a song with 7/4 timing interspersed with 4/4? It took me right back to Take Five all over again.

RIP Dave Brubeck. You leave behind a lengthy back catalogue and an impressive contribution to music. I can't begin to thank you enough for introducing me to my love of jazz music and the world of polyrhythm.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The taste of summer

We had summer on Monday. (Ha ha - this is an in-joke in Wellington, where all four seasons are known to be temperamental and likely to keep you guessing.) Although we got off to a stormy start can look forward to a wet and windy week, we have been promised a warm, dry summer. Bring it on!

With each season comes seasonal food or tastes that just seems to match perfectly. I'm not really one for Pimm's, but there is something about a cool Pimm's cocktail in a tall glass that conjures up images of summer garden parties. In fact, almost any drink in a tall glass goes well in summer, much like roast dinners being synonymous with cold, wintery weekends.

Here are some of the tastes I'm enjoying (and looking forward to) this summer.
  • Strawberries. It goes without saying that I will be gorging myself on these at every opportunity. Raspberries are also good, as is summer fruit in general.
  • Cherries. Delicious, dark red cherries with flesh that falls off the pit.
  • Cider, especially if it's Isaac's pear cider or Old Mout feijoa. So crisp and refreshing.
  • Scallops. I'd forgotten how good these are. More fleshy than oysters and far more tender and tasty than paua, I think scallops are becoming my seafood of choice.
  • Watermelon. Long hot days were made for cool, juicy watermelon. Vodka optional.
  • Gelato. Although this is a year-round treat in reality, Bon Bon Rocher gelato from Kaffee Eis is always a winner.
What's on your summer tasting list that I should add to mine?