Thursday, 31 July 2014

Bake Club

I work with some great foodies. We each like to bake, savour food, explore new flavour combinations and pick through each other's ideas for inspiration. We also like to share food with family and friends and are usually the initiators of office parties, morning teas and other random occasions.

Travel and other commitments during the next few weeks has meant that the Wellington On A Plate Bake Club was not going to work for me this year. Also, I prefer to share and celebrate food and cooking, rather than use it as a form of competition ... but maybe that's just me. Having said that, these bake club entries look mouth-wateringly good. I thought about what we bakers could do to enjoy all of the above.

We've decided to start our own team Bake Club. Each week, one of us will bake something either savoury or sweet to share over coffee. We will also provide the recipe for our fellow bakers, then let the rest of the office fight among themselves for leftovers - if there are any. I'll kick things off next week, probably with gingerbread loaf from Gran's Sweet Pantry. From then on, I'll look forward to enjoying a yummy treat each week and learning some new baking tricks along the way.

Watch this space for new Bake Club recipes!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Secret Lives of Dancers

The Secret Lives of Dancers is a documentary series that goes behind the scenes of the Royal New Zealand Ballet and gives us a glimpse of life as a professional dancer. Over three series, we have got to know the lives and training demands of the troupe as they prepare to make classical ballet relevant and appealing in a modern world - and it's worked. I have now seen more live ballet performances in recent years than previously, despite a lifelong love of ballet and dance. Looking out for the dancers we 'know' performing on stage makes shows even more fun. This third series began during the lead-up to a previous tour of Giselle, which unfortunately I missed on stage.

Ballet and other performing arts are essentially about storytelling. Sets, costumes and lighting can do some of the job but it's really up to the dancers themselves to pull it off. Conveying a story without words means that dancers need to be both expressive and technically accurate. The same steps can be danced in very different ways. I was totally mesmorised by Gillian Murphy's performance as Odile/Odette in Swan Lake last year. There was simply nowhere else you could look while she was on stage.

Currently screening at 7 pm Saturdays on TV3, The Secret Lives of Dancers shows the human side of ballet and the performing arts that will appeal to all ages.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Pavement dodgeball

I am a regular lunch time walker. Rain or shine, I'm out pounding pavements for half an hour or so of fresh air and back stretching-out.

There's one thing that can really put a damper on a lunch time walk, though: having to dodge all those people on the streets who are glued to their cell phone screens. I estimate that it's as many as 10% of pedestrians at any given time. So why do they try to keep walking with a drunken stagger for others to sidestep? If that phone call/txt/email/Facebook post/tweet so urgently requires your attention, then don't just grind to a stop exactly where you are. Be gracious and step aside to deal with it. The same applies to changing music: do it before you start walking and not in the middle of the footpath. Today, I had to dodge someone reading her Kindle while also sipping coffee. She's lucky not to have ended up wearing either of them!

I've often thought that dedicated walking lanes would be a good idea, much like swimming lanes that prevent slow swimmers getting in the way of water babies. There would be lanes going in each direction (keep left!), including slow lanes for window shoppers, passing lanes for striders and time out lanes for cell phone viewers. I liked this article about trialling cellphone lanes. Clearly, I'm not the first to encounter the perils of multi-tasking (that is, walking and talking). I'd love to see the idea take off.

Replace balls with cell phones
Until that happens, I'm inventing a new game: pavement dodgeball. Now, it's not strictly dodgeball as the balls are mostly replaced by hazards like umbrellas, baby buggies, shopping bags and dogs on lead, but the idea is the same. Actually, now that I think about it, the premise is the complete opposite as the object of my game will be to walk squarely into anyone coming towards me while glued to their phone or other electronic device.

I need some help with developing the scoring system. I have a few starting rules. Points will be awarded according to:
  • the level of shocked reaction received
  • the type of collision (for example, a gentle elbow brush or a full on shoulder charge)
  • whether the hit was front on or from behind
  • whether the target moves to get out of your way
  • the knock-on effect (for example, if they move and someone else hits them instead).
Bonus points if they drop their phone!

What points or rules am I missing?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Hokey pokey chocolate chip biscuits

Visitors (and visiting) this weekend means I got to try out my new recipe book. Sweet treats to share is a compilation from several different recipes books published by New Zealand bakers.

These hokey pokey chocolate chip biscuits are based on a recipe by Alexa Johnston, whose contributions come from her Ladies, A Plate recipe book series. I've added a couple more steps to this recipe to stop the biscuits from spreading too much while baking. The biscuits don't long to make or require any special ingredients and taste absolutely delicious. Half of them will come visiting with us this afternoon and the others may end up in our cookie jar for treats during the week - if they last that long.

Hokey pokey chocolate chip biscuits

  • 115 g butter, softened
  • 115 g sugar
  • 1 T milk
  • 2 t golden syrup
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t vanilla essence
  • 170 g plain flour
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  1. Line two baking trays with baking paper and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until just combined. Don't overmix as this will cause the biscuits to spread.
  3. In a small saucepan, bring the milk and golden syrup to the boil over a medium heat until combined. Add the baking soda and stir quickly with a wooden spoon. When the mixture froths up, pour it onto butter and sugar and mix together.
  4. Add the vanilla essence, sifted flour and chocolate chips. Stir until combined.
  5. Roll teaspoonsful of mixture into a ball and place on prepared baking trays, allowing room between for spreading. Flatten lightly by gently pressing with a fork. Refrigerate trays for 15 minutes while preheating oven to 180°C. (This helps prevent the biscuits from spreading too much while cooking.)
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 24.

Hokey pokey chocolate chip biscuits

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Shameless (US)

Winter bites. Colds and flu during short, cold days and stormy weekends can be somewhat tamed by wrapping up warm, drinking fresh coffee and making endless pots of vegetable soup. Thanks to Fatso, we are also working our way through various tv series marathon-style and our weekends are starting to resemble those of content, hibernating bears.

We have become hooked on the US version of Shameless this year. I understand that the original UK version is excellent, too. We are now halfway through series 3 and hanging out for the next DVD to arrive.

So what is Shameless about? It's hard to describe; 'dysfunctional family' doesn't really cut it as this family of six, held together by older sister and reluctant matriarch Fiona, is doing its best to survive the constant fallout of having an alcoholic father and largely absent bipolar mother. The Gallaghers live in a working class suburb of Chicago's South Side and range in age from Fiona to their toddler brother. Each day is an adventure - or more likely a series of mishaps to navigate.

The characters and their relationships are really well developed, each with their quirks and vulnerabilities but somehow all fitting together in the show. There's nothing cheesy about this big family living together but there are plenty of dodgy goings-on and eyebrow-raising moments to keep you interested. Joan Cussack's portrayal of agoraphobic Sheila is a particularly standout performance that provides much entertainment.

There are few jaw-dropping moments in tv these days but plenty to be had towards the end of series 2. Shameless is excellent entertainment.

Monday, 7 July 2014

International Chocolate Day

It's International Chocolate Day. Oh my! Think about it: a whole day dedicated to the world's most perfect food in all its forms. What's not to like?

I'm a little late coming to the party today, only learning about this important international celebration mid-afternoon when 3.30-itis was about to strike and the only offerings at my desk consisted of spearmint Eclipse mints and a mandarin. They did nothing to stop my sudden chocolate cravings, so I spread the news among my colleagues and we collectively started drooling at the thought of International Chocolate Day. Mmmmm.

So, what can be done to celebrate this occasion at the last minute? Well, I topped up my supplies of baking chocolate at the supermarket this evening but can't see myself eating any of it tonight. Hmm, that sounds pretty lame. I might have to settle for making a real hot chocolate with the Bohemein dark chocolate trick hidden in my pantry. Ahhhhh.

How are you celebrating International Chocolate Day?

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Pear, walnut and banana loaf

Sunday afternoon just because baking is one of my guilty pleasures, but one that I don't indulge in nearly enough. It is most often brought about by whatever is sitting in my pantry or fridge and then googling the ingredients to see what they could make. This week, I looked for what to do with half a tin of pears and yet more overripe bananas. I came across Healthy Food Guide's recipe for pear and walnut loaf from a couple of years ago and modified it to suit what I have available, secretly chuffed that I found something really easy to make (it doesn't require a mixer) that I can bake without guilt because it's actually healthy. Right? ;-)

Pear, walnut and banana loaf

  • 3/4 cup self-raising flour
  • 3/4 cup wholemeal flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 medium bananas, mashed
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 pear, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup fine chopped walnuts or pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 190°C. Line a 21 cm x 8 cm loaf tin with baking paper.
  2. Combine flours, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine bananas, egg, oil and milk. Fold into flour mixture until combined then gently fold in pear.
  3. Spoon into prepared tin. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts and sprinkle over mixture.
  4. Bake for 1 hour or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Stand for 5 minutes in tin before turning out on a wire rack to cool.
Pear, walnut and cinnamon loaf