Thursday, 31 October 2013

Word of the day: pecksniffian

Quite randomly, a colleague decided that we should have a word of the day for today and that today's chosen word would be pecksniffian. The challenge is to use the word in a sentence, preferably one that is casually thrown into conversation or, even better, used in a meeting.

Not sure what (a) pecksniffian is? She provided us with this helpful information.

adjective: Pretending to have high moral principles; sanctimonious, hypocritical.

After Seth Pecksniff, a character in Charles Dickens's novel Martin Chuzzlewit. Earliest documented use: 1844.

Charles Dickens describes Pecksniff like this: "Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there."

"Dominique was in two minds about inviting the Thingammys to the party – Horace was a dear, but Mavis was a Pecksniffian old trout."
And so the discussion begin. Who do we know that is pecksniffian? Hyacinth Bucket would qualify, surely. Many (most?) politicians would also be pecksniffian. We tried out the word of the day in as many contexts as we could imagine but think it is going to take at least a few more days to a) remember how to say it correctly and b) remember to use it.

How about a Word of Every Few Days instead?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Fashion crimes

We've been talking about fashion crimes in the office recently - not necessarily because of outfits particular people have worn but more as a general line of conversation. We asked ourselves the big question: "What is a fashion crime?" Urban Dictionary's definition of a fashion crime is simple and to the point: "wearing clothes that do not match or look altogether stupid".

The old adage of "blue and green should never be seen" seems well known but can go just as well for any colour combination, so long as the second colour is green or cream and still rhymes (white and cream?). Surely that can't be right? I distinctly remember hearing that wearing red and green makes you look like a Christmas tree, but is that true for any combination?

We brainstormed a few more: double denim (especially double blue or double black), double leathers (unless you're immediately about to hop onto a motorbike), non-matching handbag and shoes, short shorts on people who are obviously not designed to wear short shorts (most people), mixing metals when wearing jewellery (gold and silver etc), brown and black, mixed patterns and prints (checks, stripes, different florals etc), red and pink, redheads wearing red (or pink), socks or stockings with open toe shoes ... the list went on.

But apparently fashion rules are made to be broken, as these examples show. That's when our resident office clown decided to put this theory to the test. She promised to turn up to work the next Friday committing as many fashion crimes as she possibly could while wearing one outfit. Then, we'd watch people's reactions and see if anyone called the fashion police.

She arrived at work in a blue denim jacket with tight black jeans, a patterned scarf (which is actually a dress) over a horizontally striped top, black suede high heeled boots with frilly white ankle socks that left a gap between the bottom of her jeans and shoes, then finished off the ensemble with a yellow smock and a brown belt.

How did she look? Strangely, quite fabulous. It would seem that certain people can get away with committing fashion crimes while barely raising an eyebrow. We didn't even take a photo as there was simply nothing to report - she even received compliments! I guess it's back to the fashion crime drawing board. Clearly, the rules don't apply to everyone.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Coconut orange pikelets

Afternoon tea is a good excuse to whip up something delicious and my tried and true pikelet recipe is a great one to make if you're in a hurry. Yesterday, I experimented with some different ingredients that I had on hand (half a tin of coconut milk in the fridge and a ripe orange) and am delighted to have discovered a new flavour - coconut orange pikelets. I also used a duck egg in the mixture as I have several left over from this week's sponge baking session.

The coconut flavour is subtle and the aroma was most noticeable when cooking. You can add as much orange rind (or a few drops of orange juice) as you like according to taste.

Coconut orange pikelets

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • ~3/4 cup coconut milk
  • grated rind of half an orange
  1. Whisk together the egg and sugar.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Alternately add flour and milk to the egg and mix well until you have a smooth, slightly runny mixture. Grate in rind of half an orange and mix well. Add more milk if required.
  4. Cook dessertspoonfuls of mixture in a non-stick frypan over a medium-low heat. (I spray the pan first with canola spray but you could also melt a little butter.) Flip when air bubbles start to appear on top and cook the other side. Makes about 30.
Serve warm as is or spread with butter and marmalade.
Coconut orange pikelets

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Duck eggs

Swapping baking notes with a colleague recently, she mentioned that she has ducks on her lifestyle block and prefers to use their eggs for baking instead of chicken eggs. Apparently they produce light, fluffy cakes and have a richer flavour when substituted for regular chicken eggs. She commented that her eleven ducks are "laying like machine guns" at the moment - so much so that she and her husband can't keep up with eating all the eggs they find each day and they also have chooks. Would I like to try baking with some duck eggs? You bet I would!

Yesterday, a tray of twelve duck eggs arrived on my desk along with some baking advice. They're a lot larger than chicken eggs, weighing around 80 grams in the shell as opposed to a standard large chicken egg weighing 59 grams. There are two options for using them: either measure out the same quantities of unshelled eggs until they weigh the same, or substitute them 1-1. Duck eggs will simply enrich and add bulk to a recipe. Although the yolk to white ratio is a little higher (and the whites are a really clear white), I've been assured that they make the lightest of meringues, which I find intriguing as I imagined more yolk would make recipes heavier.

It was time to put the theory into practice. I made hot water sponge cake today from the Gran's Sweet Pantry cookbook and substituted the eggs 1-1. The recipe certainly turned out bigger and the eggs whipped into a pale yellow colour. It rose beautifully (and evenly) in the oven and cooked and cooled perfectly ... but how did it taste?

Well, we all demolished the sponge tonight, which I had filled with lemon butter and whipped cream. I am thrilled to have had my first taste of sponge baking success and can't wait to use the other nine duck eggs when baking. I'm hoping that my duck egg supply will be ongoing ... unless we find a way to create our own duck pond in the back yard instead.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Strange encounters

A funny thing happened on the way to the theatre.

Well, not really. Unlike this classic gag, a strange thing happened on the way back from lunch today. I was walking along Lambton Quay when a guy was coming towards me carrying a bass drum. Sure, it's not something you'd expect to see in the middle of town during a work day. Next thing I know, the guy accidentally whacks the drum into my right forearm as we pass. "Oops, sorry!" he called and kept walking. Stunned, I couldn't decide whether it actually hurt or if I was just put out at being hit by something so random.

Back at the office, I can confirm that it does hurt and the pink mark on my skin agrees. "Put ice on it - now," colleagues said. But what is available in an office freezer? Ice blocks, a tub of ice cream, some frozen scones, but no ice pack - not even a proverbial pack of frozen peas. I returned my desk protesting that I couldn't find anything, when my colleague decided to search the freezer herself. "Here, use this," she said.

So here I am, back at my desk, holding a frozen Watties Meal Sensations meal for one (Teriyaki Beef, in case you're wondering) on my arm and pondering how my day came to this. My arm hurts in a couple of places, but I'm feeling bemused more than anything else.

How's your day going? Any eventful or bizarre incidents to report?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Pic's Really Good Peanut Butter

I've decided to introduce a new tag and occasionally blog about some of my favourite things. While raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens may have traditionally made it onto a list like this, my new tag will see me wax lyrical about whatever takes my fancy at any given point in time. Self-indulgent, much? Absolutely! :-)

Let's start with a foodstuff that I can't get enough of at the moment (but am careful to ration): Pic's Really Good Peanut Butter. You think you know good peanut butter, or don't see the fuss? Try Pic's and you'll change your mind.

I like to support local businesses and am impressed that there is a grand total of two ingredients in the salted peanut butter flavour (just peanuts and salt). No preservatives, chemicals or artificial ingredients to detract from the taste or quality. I'm really glad to see that Pic's is now exporting their wares overseas to a growing market.

I stocked up my supplies at The Food Show in May and am working my way through two crunchy and four smooth jars of the good stuff. To prove that I'm a occasionally a little bit generous with things that I love, I gave my dad a jar of Pic's smooth peanut butter for Fathers' Day. Now, Dad's pretty easy to please and not exactly fussy when it comes to food, but I know things are good when he asks me if I have any more of "that peanut butter" and reminds me that his birthday is coming up. It's nice to be able to share some foodie love.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

New Zealand Cheese Month

Here's something I learned yesterday: October is New Zealand Cheese Month. Seriously - a whole month dedicated to New Zealand cheese ... how did I only find out about this phenomenal event halfway through the month? Luckily there is still time to join the festivities.

The official sources explain that this inaugural event "... is about celebrating our country's delicious and diverse range of cheeses, trying new cheese, using cheese in recipes and discovering new cheese and beverage pairings." That sounds like something I can do well!

It doesn't look like there are any official events planned for Wellington, but we in the office are keen to get on board. There have been suggestions of everyone bringing a New Zealand cheese to share at work tomorrow. I don't think I could convince anyone to try cheese rolling and already know I don't have the patience for cheese making, so we might need to stick with what we do best: eat lots of cheese. As for cheese and beverage pairings, I thought Cheese Scone Friday with a coffee sounded pretty good but have been trumped by my colleagues who think wine 'tasting' with a wide selection of cheese is even better. They could be right.

Are you 'celebrating' New Zealand Cheese Month?

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Laser tag

We had a childhood flashback yesterday when a group of 15 technically grownup adults played laser tag for a friend's birthday party. Laser Force, Laser Tag, Laser Strike - call it what you will. There is something hugely appealing about having juvenile fun running walking madly (no running allowed - you'll be warned then deactivated!) around a 400 m² maze shooting coloured targets. Add flashy lights, loud music and kick-ass names like Gravity, Infinity, Enigma and Predator and you've suddenly got the makings of a winner-takes-all competition where friends become foes in an instant. So much fun!

Each 10 minute round flies by and before you know it everybody's back outside, puffing a bit and asking big questions such as, "Who's Gladiator at the top?" and "How did Rogue get me so many times?" as the scoreboard is dutifully checked. Then it's back in to home base to start all over again.

Just in case you're worried about the retro-geeky images laser tag conjures up, just remember that if it is cool enough for Barney Stintson then it's cool enough for us all. But a word of advice: skip the Timeout section while you're waiting. It's little more than a crammed collection of poorly maintained arcade games that swallow game tokens, accompanied by a single-sided air hockey table and some random shoot-em-ups with poor graphics ... but trust me when I say that laser tag is still as awesome as it was when we were kids.

Why don't we do this every weekend, or at least for every birthday?

Monday, 7 October 2013

Digital declutter

Every so often, I go through a decluttering phase that sees me attempt to purge some of the stuff I have accumulated. It usually happens after I reach a tipping point of sorts - something that is hard to define but I always know once I'm there. I feel like I'm currently at a digital tipping point. Something has to happen.

Much like cleaning up your home, there are lots of tips available for digital decluttering. However, I think they pretty much involve the same strategy: do it slowly but surely - and be firm.

A couple of years ago I unsubscribed to a whole pile of daily deal sites and it felt great! However, they have slowly but surely crept up again and the daily assault on my junk mail inbox was starting to spiral out of control. 17 emails with unmissable deals by lunch time, most of which I instantly delete? No thanks! So, during the past week or so I've started unsubscribing and removing myself from mailing lists all over the place. A few are precariously hanging in there until I make a final decision about whether or not they can stay. Some are proving harder to remove than others; they send me "are you sure?" messages then confirmations that they have received my confirmation. Enough, already!

My Feedly blogroll has also been included in this digital declutter. Sorry to all those who haven't updated their blogs in more than a year, but you're most likely off my list now! I am less brutal than I'd like to be with Twitter and Facebook, though. Every attempt at unfollowing or defriending usually nets just a few casualties at a time, coupled with more guilty pangs than any grown up should realistically be feeling. Digital zen is harder to achieve than it looks.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Black Forest gâteau

If there's one cake memory I have from growing up in the 1980s, it's Black Forest gâteau. This decadent cake represented the height of indulgence with its layers of dark chocolate cake, whipped cream, cherries and ganache. What's the difference between gâteau and cake, you ask? Basically, nothing - although it largely depends on which country you're from. As I see it, gâteau is a much more exotic name for layered cake and particularly fitting for this recipe.

I've made this cake for a couple of birthdays recently, starting with this BBC Food recipe as a base and adapting it slightly (of course). It takes a long time for the cake to cook and cool so I bake the cake one day in advance and assemble it a few hours before serving.

For today's cake, I replaced the cherries with chopped Black Doris plums and used reduced plum syrup instead of cherries and kirsch. Plums are (marginally) cheaper and have a slightly more tart flavour than cherries. Be warned: this is a very rich, dense cake and not for the faint hearted.

Black Forest gâteau

  • 340 g butter, softened
  • 340 g sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 240 g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
  • 80 g cocoa, sifted
  • 850 g tin Black Doris plums, drained and coarsely chopped (remove stones)
  • 500 ml cream
  • 200 g quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
  1. Preheat oven to 170°C.
  2. Lightly grease and line a 20 cm (8") loose bottomed cake tin.
  3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then fold in the sifted flour, baking powder and cocoa.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Smooth the surface with a knife and bake for approx 1 hour 30 mins until firm and springy and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan for five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Leave to cool completely.
  6. Drain the plums (or cherries), leaving 200 ml of the syrup. Boil syrup in a small pot until reduced by half (approx 10 minutes). Set aside to cool.
  7. Slice cooled cake horizontally into three layers. Place each layer onto a chopping board and spoon the plum syrup evenly over each disc, leaving it to soak in.
  8. To make the ganache, place 200 g of the cream (yes, weigh the cream) in a medium-sized pot and heat to scalding point. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, stirring gently until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside to cool and thicken slightly.
  9. Whip the remaining cream until thick. Spread one of the cake layers with half the cream then cover with half the coarsely chopped plums. Place the second layer of cake over this and repeat, finishing with the third layer on top. Gently press the whole cake together with the palms of your hands.
  10. Use a palette knife to spread chocolate ganache over the top or top and sides of the cake, starting with the top layer.
  11. Leave the cake to set in a cool place (not necessarily in the fridge) and cut into large wedges to serve.

Black Forest gâteau

Friday, 4 October 2013

Coffee for a good cause

A short while ago, @LocalsTrade started following me on Twitter. A few clicks later and I had learned about a great project that had me intrigued.

Basically, Locals involves donating a can of food (or several) in exchange for coffee, with the proceeds going to charity. I thought/tweeted about how good it would be if Locals set up in Wellington. It seems like @lafarre read my mind, or at least my tweet, and now Wellington Locals is ready to kick off with Wellington City Mission benefitting from the canned food donations.

I've been really impressed with Caffe L'Affare's anti-surcharge on public holidays this year, where patrons are not charged a surcharge and instead the cafe donates 15% of the day's proceeds go to a local charity. They seem like a natural partner for the Locals project and I'm really glad to see them supporting the local community in such a practical way.

Wellington Locals launches at Caffe L’affare, 27 College Street, Wellington, this morning from 9-11 am, then every Monday and Tuesday 9-11 am until 22 October. I'm hoping to make it up to that part of town with a can or two to support this worthy project and encourage other coffee lovers to do the same. Spread the word!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Cool Runnings

How time flies. Mashable informed me today that one of my favourite feelgood movies, Cool Runnings (1993), was released 20 years ago on Tuesday. Nostalgia aside, this time frame seems extremely unlikely given that it feels like only a few years ago. Surely can't have been so long? Apparently so.

I loved Cool Runnings. It is loosely based on the true story the impoverished Jamaican bobsled team's debut in the 1988 Winter Olympics after a supposed foiled attempt by three runners to qualify as sprinters for the summer games. The characters are colourful, lively and resourceful. How else would a random group of guys from a tropical country be able to enter a winter event when they've neither seen snow nor a bobsleigh before?

The upbeat pseudo-reggae soundtrack helped the movie achieve slightly longer lasting fame. My first band formed in 1993 so naturally Jimmy Cliff's version of I Can See Clearly Now was part of our set list. It was lots of fun to play and really popular with audiences of all ages. Good times, great memories.

I love this list of 14 ways Cool Runnings is still relevant to your life made up of snippets from the film. The message is clear: anything is possible if you're prepared to work for it - even if you only have a bathtub to practise in.