Monday, 13 January 2014

Note to self about holidays

I have made a lifelong career out of learning in all its shapes and forms. However, I have a history of not really learning (from) the most important things. My recipe for living has been hugely valuable and I followed it up with some life lessons for 2014. Now, after a couple of weeks to think about and reflect on life, I want to create myself a reminder for future breaks and holidays.

My staycation has been great, even if the weather didn't come to the party. The main thing is that it gave me time and permission to relax - something I'm not usually good at. It has left me with some points to remember next time.

Note to self about holidays:
  • Sleep for as long (and late) as you need to each day. You have a lot of sleep to catch up on from during the year.
  • Bathe yourself in as much music as you can. Turn up the sound. You don't need to listen through earbuds during the holidays.
  • Read, read, read - or repeat the step above if you don't feel like reading any more. The same applies to watching DVDs. Make the most of your Fatso subscription.
  • Make sure you have a good supply of fresh coffee beans and vanilla Shott.
  • Go for long walks whenever it is sunny. Replenish your body's level of vitamin D.
  • Socialise or don't socialise. If opportunities come up, take them but don't feel pressured to run around and organise things for everybody. You do enough of that during the year.
  • Entertain once or twice. The house is never as clean as when guests are on their way around!
  • Never work on Christmas Eve, even though you have done it in the past. Instead, allow yourself a precious day or two to relax and quietly prepare for Christmas Day. Even better, find a little person to bake gingerbread with while singing and dancing to cheesy Christmas carols. It feels fantastic!
  • Never start back at work after a break (or start a new job) on a Monday. After just a day or two, you will be hanging out for Friday ... and that's a pretty stink feeling if it's still a few days away.

Monday, 6 January 2014


It's the holidays. Long days off work, late evenings followed by sleep ins, lazy days and precious time to relax. Although not intentionally planned, I'm having a staycation this summer. Sometimes described as a "vacation for cheap-asses", I beg to differ. I have found this year's staycation long overdue and the best way to address a a combination of relaxing, healing and rejuvenation.

Like last Christmas (and before the famous drought of 2013 hit), the weather hasn't really come to the party these holidays. We have been alternately bombarded with storms then endured endless drab coffee and Kindle days. And then the clouds clear, the wind slows a bit, the rain disappears and we have beautiful days like today. That it coincided with the first day back at work for most people in this part of the world might seem just plain cruel for others, but I am sooooooo enjoying taking an extended staycation these holidays.

So, what does one do on a staycation? Well, the answer to this question can be summed up like this: anything, nothing, or something in between. Each day starts with a sleep in of sorts. It has also seen bedtime creep progressively later, but I've decided to embrace my body clock and pay the consequences once I start work again next week. The sun came out on New Year's Eve and the wind was tolerable enough for us to squeeze in a round of mini golf (because you must always play mini golf on holiday). It was also a good hammock day, the first for this summer. I have read book after book after book after book. I have even (finally) got into reading my 2012 Christmas present to myself. We are also churning through Fatso DVDs at night and starting to make a dent in our "to watch when we have time" list.

This week has become a steady stream of social engagements now that everyone has emerged from holiday hibernation. We kicked things off with a homemade pizza night for our families last weekend, which gave me an(other) excuse to bake. I am also looking forward to catching up with more family and friends over brunch, lunch, dinner, coffee and anything in between during the next wee while. It's not all lazy days, though. We're attacking a few odd jobs around the house, albeit at a slightly leisurely pace, and I've managed to squeeze in a few long walks in preparation for Round the Bays 2014 next month.

I honestly don't know why we don't take breaks to look after ourselves more often! Surely it's a better way to live than trying to keep up a ridiculously fast pace for years at a time until we eventually burn out?

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The changing culture of bakers

As I thumb through one of my newest baking acquisitions, Gran's Sweet Pantry by Natalie Oldfield, I think about how far we've come. This is a whole recipe book of family secrets! People will laugh when I tell them how excited I was to successfully make hot water sponge, the most basic of baking recipes that everyone knows how to make but I'd never made before; it's simply not been part of my baking culture and I didn't know where to begin.

I grew up in an Italian community where food was integral to every celebration and event. Sharing a meal was (and still is) an expression of caring and love. Everyone had their specialty dishes and these were largely regional. From a very young age, I knew to ask who had made what and could taste the difference in technique or when someone had varied an ingredient.

One of the potential hazards of cultures based on an oral tradition is the risk of losing taonga or things that are treasured. This includes important knowledge, traditions and recipes. Although I'd regularly bake with my nonna, her recipes were never written down and didn't have quantities. When baking something with her, I'd ask, "How much flour?" "Yes, that's enough," she'd say. "But how much did you put in?" I'd repeat. "You don't need any more. Now, butter." And that's how it went. To this day, I have no idea how to make the things I used to be an expert in as a 10-year-old. Neither does my mother.

Under no circumstances would someone ever share a recipe. If they did (5% chance), there would be a seriously incorrect quantity somewhere in the ingredients list and/or a couple of missing (or completely wrong) steps in the method. That's just how it was. My mother tells the story of the HUGE pavlova made with twelve egg whites; she should've realised she would never have been given the actual recipe, as requested of a family friend. To acquire someone's treasured recipe was an unlikely as being given a key to their house and permission to wander in any time day or night.

Back in the 80s, our primary school decided to put together a collaborative recipe book as a fundraising activity. With a culture so steeped in good food, they wondered why there were so few contributions from this usually forthcoming community. That's because we were all under strict instructions to not give away any family recipes! The recipes we kids were allowed to contribute were pretty generic; you could probably find them anywhere and they mean very little all these years later.

In this digital age, it's not only easier to find others' recipes but also to contribute to the wider baking and foodie communities. There are whole websites dedicated to sharing recipes, not to mention blogs, YouTubePinterest, hashtags on Twitter, Tumblr and online communities. Bakeries publish the very recipes they make and sell to customers. Some even hold classes teaching the public their tricks of the trade. While they may risk losing sales, they're actually increasing their overall profile and building up an appreciation of their product. Like making croissants and macarons, there are some things I'd rather leave to the experts (and pay good money for) now that I know just what is involved in the process. However, I have learned so much from others and my baking has improved in ways that wouldn't have been possible without people so generously sharing their knowledge.

I'm really glad that the culture of bakers is changing. This continuous process of evolution and sharing can only benefit the future of foodies and those we cook for. However, to have the recipe is one thing; to master it is another ... but that's where practice makes it all so much fun.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Introducing Caffeinated Weka

It's a new year. New challenges. New excitement. New adventures ... and maybe time for a change. Today, Café Chick becomes Caffeinated Weka.

It's a name I've been mulling over for a few months now, trying it on for size and thinking about whether or not I'd make the move. I wondered on Café Chick's 6th birthday whether it was time to grow up a bit; it's harder to kid myself and others that I still lead the life that someone with the name of Café Chick would. Then, today, it was all on; suddenly I was looking for new blog templates, Twitter headers and themes, lining up some of my favourite things for a mugshot and the transformation was happening! *gulp*

Don't get me wrong: I have thoroughly enjoyed being Café Chick and I'm still her underneath. I won't be changing this blog's URL (too complicated!) and will probably keep the Twitter account name, even though I have a new handle and look now. I don't want to 'lose' anyone I've met and got to know online - and it's still just me here, after all. But I expect there will be a transition time as I gradually update all my online accounts.

So why Caffeinated Weka? The caffeinated part is (probably) obvious. I like good coffee and it's always been part of my family's way of life. Coffee is my one little indulgence that I look forward to and enjoy on most days. In times gone past, good coffee has got me through years of working ridiculous hours, late night study sessions, juggling several jobs, as well as endless good times and heartaches with family and friends (theirs and mine).

The weka part may not be so apparent. This bird is native to a part of the world where my father's family comes from. They are cheeky, inquisitive and don't stop in their quest to acquire the finer things in life. My first weka encounter came as a seven-year-old. I was fascinated to watch one sneak inside my grandparents' house and steal half a bar of Sunlight soap. Many years later, we now have photos of a weka wandering into my cousin's house while my sister-in-law was getting ready to marry my brother. We were a bit late to the wedding as she and my nephew were captivated by this cheeky bird ducking out from underneath the trampoline to pop in and out of the house, just like she lived there herself!

Doing a quick search to see if there are any other "Caffeinated Weka" out in the big wide online world, I discovered that someone had taken a photo of a weka eyeing up a cup of coffee - and that's when I knew that this is who I'd become ... except I needed a new picture of things that this caffeinated weka loves to indulge in.

Some of this Caffeinated Weka's indulgences
So, this transformation is a work in progress; the look will no doubt evolve in the next wee while. I look forward to sharing my adventures as a Caffeinated Weka in Wellington.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Life lessons for 2014

Isn't this an exciting time? Resolutions and promises to do more (or less) of everything are flying around the internet left and right today. Somehow, everything feels so much more promising and full of hope on 1 January, even though it's actually no different to any other day of the year. Shhh, I won't tell anyone if you don't!

A couple of New Years Days ago I created my very own recipe for living. I'm more than a little smug to announce that, two years on, I have perfected this recipe and it works really well - so long as you faithfully stick to all of the components. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's fail-safe. Ooh, yeah!

I have found that end of year/new year is a good time to do some reflecting, though. What really matters? What do I want to achieve? What do I know now that I wish I'd known years ago? Eleanor Roosevelt summed it up beautifully:
"Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself."
- Eleanor Roosevelt
I've thought about a few life lessons that I've experienced and will share them to save you having to learn them for yourself. They're not necessarily mistakes but hopefully I can save you some time and angst by sharing them. You're welcome.
  • Adding kahlua to the milk frother results in a complete non-event. The alcohol stops the milk from frothing at all, so don't bother. I imagine Baileys will achieve the same (non) result. Still, someone had to try it at least once, right?
  • Salmon is truly a food of the gods. If it's not, it should be.
  • Eating too many strawberries won't turn you into one, so I guess it's not true that you are what you eat. Whew!
  • Nothing you say or do will make your pussy cat believe that it's better to drink the clean water from her bowl than the rain water that has formed into a dirty puddle by the garage.
  • Cutting your tongue on the lid of a tin of caramel condensed milk will only hurt for a little while. It won't kill you.
  • When in doubt, smother it in chocolate ganache.
Happy New Year, everyone!