Monday, 27 October 2014


Prisons fascinate and terrify me in equal measure. I can't explain this fascination; it's not as though I've had first hand experience of prisons, nor anyone close to me. Yet somehow prison psychology draws me in every time. I watched Songs from the Inside on Māori Television earlier this year. It is one of most compelling documentary series I have ever seen.

Wentworth is an Australian drama series that is billed as a contemporary reimagining of Prisoner from the early 1980s. I was too young to watch the first series but can see from the bios how series 1 of Wentworth provides a kind of back story to Prisoner without entirely replicating it.

Set at the Wentworth Correctional Facility for Women, this is a dark, gritty and often violent drama series. The writing is sharp and the well-played characters' back stories are revealed along the way with just the right combination of suspense. They cleverly show that everyone has a history that influences how they act and behave here and now, without allowing too much compassion to sneak in. The intense balance of power that underpins prison life constantly seesaws and none of the inmates or staff are immune.

Wentworth is absolutely compelling viewing. Series 2 is currently screening on Mondays at 8.30 pm on TV2.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know is a series of podcasts that branches from The podcasts are co-hosted by Chuck and Josh, two senior editors at HowStuffWorks. They are a great way to learn about new things or find out more about stuff you may have heard of but not known about in much detail.

There are podcasts about almost every topic you can imagine, from viruses and animal domestication to socialism and trickle-down economics. Their podcast about How Ebola works is so far the most informative piece I have seen or heard about the topic. The podcasts largely stick to facts from a range of sources that are presented in a conversational manner, making them accessible and enjoyable for listeners without getting too heavy.

Each podcast takes a fair while to warm up. There is lengthy banter at the start that is amiable but lasts the first few minutes as well as a couple of minute-long message breaks in the middle before a mailbag wrap-up at the end. But once they get going, the podcasts are really interesting and I have learned so much about ... well, check out the list of available podcasts to find out exactly what.

I subscribe to Stuff You Should Know podcasts via iTunes. There are a couple of new episodes each week. I usually listen to a few each weekend or on the bus when I'm too tired to read.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

National Nut Day

Apparently it's National Nut Day today. Surely that's something to make you smile! Actually, I think it might an overseas event that we are jumping on board with a day early but I'm happy to celebrate it in our own little patch of the world.

Ahh, nuts. Yummmm! So much natural goodness. I buy raw mixed nuts each week and we enjoy them as a healthy protein-filled snack. Make no mistake: they're not cheap but the health benefits are numerous. 30 grams (literally just a handful) provides a huge number of healthy cholesterol-lowering fats, antioxidants, Omega-3 and fibre - and they taste great.

I can take or leave peanuts and don't care much for raw hazelnuts but have a bag of them on hand ready to be roasted and converted into this delicious chocolate and hazelnut cake when the right occasion presents itself. Cashew nuts are an easy entry on my heaven food list and Brazil nuts and almonds have always been favourites of mine, either raw or coated in delicious chocolate. I frequently bake with walnuts; they are a cheaper alternative to pecans and taste very similar and pistachios make fun party snacks. I'm making myself hungry!

I really feel for those who have nut allergies or develop an intolerance of nuts during their lifetime. I can't imagine how scary it much be to react so severely to something you might not even know is in the vicinity.

Join me in going nuts on National Nut Day today. (Chocolate coating optional.) ;-)

Monday, 6 October 2014

Sparkling high tea

The only thing more indulgent than high tea on a Sunday afternoon is high tea with bubbles. This weekend, we were guests of the Amora Hotel for sparkling high tea. Our quest to become ladies continues!

The menu was divided into two categories, rather than three, but featured many of the staples you'd expect from a traditional high tea. Coffee arrived and the bubbly was poured while each item was introduced by the pastry chef. He suggested starting at the top with scones and friands, then working down the tiers through sandwiches and savouries before finishing with sweet treats at the bottom - almost the total opposite to how we've become accustomed to taking high tea. Although it was tempting to start with something sweeter, we reverted to what we knew about being ladies and began with sandwiches after all.

Sparkling high tea
The sandwiches were beautifully fresh and oh so delicate. The lamb and rosemary sausage rolls were a novel addition to the menu. I enjoyed the mini meringue with hazelnut truffle and the marmalade sweetened Devonshire scones served with cream. The standout item for me was the chocolate and cherry tartlet made with delicious chocolate marquis. Yum!

Sparkling high tea is fun way to wile away a Sunday afternoon with friends. Thanks to the Amora Hotel for this lovely prize.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Pear and chocolate brioche

I am fascinated by brioche. Not quite bread, not quite cake, and it is eaten either at breakfast or for dessert. The French have once again got their food right!

My first attempt at baking brioche was under the careful supervision of a live-in French pâtissier. As I no longer have this luxury, I needed to find a recipe I could make by myself. Once again, The New Zealand Bread Book by Simon and Alison Holst had an excellent recipe that could be made either in a breadmaker (then cooked in the oven) or by hand. I used my breadmaker to mix the dough, then shaped the brioche by hand before proofing and baking it in the oven.

The shaping part of the recipe can be fiddly but is getting easier with practice. The pear and chocolate combination is my favourite (and most successful) flavour so far. I have tried making bobble-top brioche a couple of times but prefer the consistency of the three ball method outlined below. It produces a lighter, fluffier finish that you can pull apart while eating. The recipe makes approximately 10 x 90 gram pieces with a bit left over to make a smaller sample one.

Pear and chocolate brioche

  • 3 t Surebake yeast
  • 420 g standard plain flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 75 g butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 70 g pear pieces, finely diced
Egg glaze
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 t sugar
  1. Place first seven ingredients into bread maker in the order listed. Put chocolate chips in the fruit dispenser. Set on the DOUGH RAISIN cycle (2 hours 20 minutes). Check the dough after about 3 minutes of mixing. It should be soft, but if it looks too wet and sticky add 2 T of extra flour.
  2. When the dough cycle is complete, remove dough from the machine and transfer to a well-oiled bow. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into four or five even pieces, Break off pieces and roll into small balls weighing approximately 30 grams each. This video demonstrates the technique really well.
  4. Place three balls together in a well-oiled muffin pan. Lightly press the diced pear pieces around the edges and in between the dough balls.
    Dough balls with pear pieces - before proofing
  5. Cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise in a warm draught-free place for about 1 hour or until the dough is approximately double in size. (I use the proof dough setting on my oven.)
  6. Preheat oven to 180°C. Make the egg glaze by shaking an egg, water and sugar together in a tightly closed jar or whisking with a fork. Brush over the dough using a pastry brush.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown on all surfaces. Makes 10-11 brioche.
Pear and chocolate brioche