Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Merino clothing

I've always been one to feel the cold. Growing up, I was the one dressed in so many layers that I'd practically bounce if I had the misfortune to fall over - and still be cold. I learned from a young age to wear layers of clothing. Lots of them. I looked like I was ready to hit the slopes, even though I wouldn't even see snow for another couple of decades. I'd look at friends going out in the middle of winter with just a thin shirt under their school uniform and maybe their school jersey if they were forced to by their parents, whereas I had to wear several layers under my uniform and keep my legs warm with thick tights. How did they not freeze?

Things are a little better now that I'm older but I still feel the cold. My wardrobe still features endless layers of clothing that can be mixed and matched - with one main difference. Merino clothing is now my layering material of choice. It is thin, light, breathable and can be doubled or tripled up without me ending up looking like an overstuffed snowman. It doesn't need to be expensive either. I've stocked up on several basic pieces from Glassons and The Warehouse at a cost of around $20-25 each and am wearing them continuously lately. I wish I'd started doing it years ago! Without a doubt, Merino clothing is absolutely one of #myfavouritethings this winter.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Lemon delicious pudding

Winter is the perfect time of year to bake hearty puddings for dessert. In New Zealand, we traditionally eat Christmas pudding in summer but it makes much more sense to enjoy it as a winter warmer when then weather is cold.

This recipe for lemon delicious pudding originated from the Australian Women's Weekly Baking Recipes and Secrets from the Test Kitchen cookbook. I increased the quantities by one third to fit my 2 litre Pyrex dish. I also played around with some of the ingredients and steps. For example, I have a stand mixer but no electric hand beaters, so whisked the egg whites first and set them aside, then used the same mixing bowl for the next few steps. (As long as you don't contaminate the egg whites, you don't need to clean the bowl in between.)

The method is also different to how I'd usually make a self-saucing pudding, as my first attempt turned out extremely runny. Now, I like self-saucing puddings but the amount of liquid swimming in the bottom of the bowl was ridiculous, so I increased the amount of flour slightly and baked it in a roasting dish half-filled with boiling water. I also refrigerated the mixture in the dish for a few hours before baking and it turned out perfectly - really handy if you want to prepare the pudding in advance.

Lemon delicious pudding

  • 105 g butter, softened
  • 4 t lemon rind
  • 145 g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 50 g self-raising flour
  • 500 ml milk
  • 110 ml lemon juice
  • 3 t icing sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 2 litre (8 cup) oven proof dish and place inside a roasting dish.
  2. Whisk egg whites until firm peaks form. Set aside.
  3. Using a K-paddle attachment, beat butter, lemon rind and sugar until pale. Beat in egg yolks one at a time until thick, scraping down the side of the bowl with a spatula in between each addition.
  4. Change back to the whisk attachment. Whisk in the flour, milk and juice until well combined.
  5. Gently fold the egg whites into the lemon mixture, in two batches. Pour mixture into the dish. Pour boiling water into the roasting dish until it comes to about halfway up the baking dish.
  6. Bake pudding for 35 minutes or until golden and just firm to the touch. (It will be still quite wobbly underneath.) Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately. Serves 8.
Lemon delicious pudding

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

American Sniper - Chris Kyle

I have recently finished reading bestselling autobiography American Sniper about US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, purportedly the most lethal sniper in US history. (It says so on the cover.) I was interested in what was described as the most accurate picture of what actually happens on the ground in a war zone. My brother handed over the book, saying to me, "Tell me when you get to the bit with the beach balls whether you think any of it's true."

I started reading with an open mind. I love biographies. A good biography enables the reader to explore the world from within the subject's point of view. After about a hundred pages, I began to question Kyle's motives. His thirst for killing and general disregard for the value of human life didn't sit well with my values, but I pursued. About halfway in, the beach ball scene arrived and any credibility for the rest of the book went entirely out the window for me.

Despite its promises, the scrappy narrative heavily peppered with jargon never really painted a coherent picture for the lay man of what wartime action actually involves. Kyle's descriptions of clearing whole cities reminded me of a shoot-em-up video game, where insurgents would pop out behind random innocent children left behind in deserted homes. Shooting (and killing) them from distances of up to 200 metres away would earn the sniper more (and better) weapons to use in the next level. I'm sure that wasn't intended but it's certainly how it came across to this reader.

There are few autobiographies I have read and ended up disliking the subject even more than when I started. (The only other one I vividly remember is Scar Tissue by Red Hot Chili Peppers front brat Anthony Kiedis. Ergh.) I think that is what surprised me most about this autobiography. I could only feel empathy for Kyle's poor wife and family, who are presumably living with the fallout from his tall tales. There may be elements of truth to some of the scenarios that could even resemble how he remembered them, but the events as they are described are a stretch of the imagination at best. One has already led to a retraction after a lawsuit. I imagine there will be others.

There were moments of humanity provided in the form of interludes written by Kyle's wife, Taya. They were sprinkled throughout and some urged me to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I think what disturbed me most were the repeated comments about "an infestation of insurgents" and others along the lines of "I couldn't wait to get out there are start killing again." I don't doubt that Kyle sincerely believed in the cause he was engaged in. His patriotism, passion and commitment to his beliefs can't be doubted. But his view of humanity really disturbed me.

Much fuss has been made about the movie of the same name, probably due to its star studded cast and director as much as its patriotic themes that will strike a chord with certain viewers. I'm interested to to see whether Kyle is portrayed with the redeeming qualities his wife insists he had.

Unfortunately, this book has stayed in my mind for all the wrong reasons.

Sunday, 21 June 2015


I think everyone dreamed at some stage in their childhood of being an undercover spy who performs death-defying stunts in pursuit of a bad guy (or girl) and saves the world. Roles models like James Bond make it all look so glamorous and easy. Who wouldn't want some of that action?

Spy (2015) is a new action comedy about a desk-bound CIA agent who spends most of her days providing intelligence and strategy for spies in the field. She has her eye on one particular spy she supports, played by heartthrob  Jude Law, but is an invisible to him as she is to her superiors. When a mission arises requiring an unknown spy, she tries to get herself considered for the role. After all, even they don't know who she is. What ensues is an undercover jaunt around Europe and a real comedy of errors.

Melissa McCarthy is hilarious. She throws herself into each of her new identities, despite them not living up to the images she had in mind. Unfortunately, Miranda Hart is as glib as ever; not much acting required for her role (or maybe it was designed with her acting skills in mind?). The supporting cast are as beautiful as the scenery and the world is heroically saved. Of course.

Switch your brain off and laugh out loud.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Pretty in Pink high tea

Pink Ribbon Breakfast fundraising events have been happening all around town in recent weeks. The primary aim of these events is to raise money for research into effective breast cancer treatment to improve survival. Yesterday afternoon, a group of friends hosted two Pretty in Pink high tea sessions with the goal of raising $1000 for the cause. The suggested donation was $25 for high tea or $30 including a glass of bubbly. There were also little bags of homemade treats to purchase and take home.

We donned pink clothes for the occasion and arrived to find every tiny detail thought of: linen tablecloths, pretty vases of winter flowers, elegant tiered platters (some homemade and available for purchase via a silent auction), beautiful china tea settings and Pink Ribbon Breakfast napkins. The food was every bit amazing as the various high teas we have experienced at hotels, restaurants and specialist cafés.

On the menu were three varieties perfect little club sandwiches, mushroom savoury tarts, haloumi and zucchini fritters, scones with jam and cream, chewy berry meringues, decadently rich raspberry chocolate brownies, Russian fudge and peanut brittle, topped off with pink and white coconut ice.

Pretty in Pink high tea
I love the idea of Pink Ribbon Breakfasts and bringing people together in the name of a good cause. My friends have shown that a successful event doesn't necessarily need to be at breakfast time. I'm tempted to host a similar event myself next year.

Friday, 5 June 2015

First date food

A cold winter's evening has followed a meh kind of day. Motivation to do anything outside the confines of my comfy recliner is low. Dinner time has come and gone. On rare occasions such as these, cheap and cheerful comfort food of the takeaway variety is acceptable. Kebabs were ordered and a quick "you drive by while I run in and pick up dinner" plan was executed before returning back to our trusty heater.

I do like doner kebabs, but they're incredibly messy to eat, especially once they start falling apart after a few bites and get even messier towards the end when all the sauce drips out, usually on clothing or your face or both.

"This is not first date food," we agree each time, as I get up to eat the last of my kebab over the kitchen sink. The thing is, we can safely eat kebabs in front of each other; it's been years now. But it's not usually the best way to make a good impression on someone.

Years ago after returning from a trip to Italy, someone wanted to help me recreate the magic by taking me to a local Italian restaurant. He liked the look of the spaghetti and meatballs on the menu but was too scared to order and eat it in front of an Italiana. Schema!

There are lists, of course. Some good places to start are 16 messy foods that will make you look like a slob no matter whatten foods too messy for public consumption and foods that no-one can eat gracefully (although some of these are incredibly yummy and lots of fun). Still, nothing quite beats first hand experience with messy food.

Here's my list of non-first date food:
  • Kebabs
  • Ribs of any description, especially when covered in sticky sauce
  • Wings (see above)
  • Small chicken drumsticks
  • Pork crackling
  • Corn on the cob dripping with melted butter
  • Chocolate eclairs, raspberry buns or cream donuts overfilled with cream
  • Seafood that requires shucking to get the good bits out
  • Anything requiring the use of chopsticks unless you have this skill mastered.
What would you add to the non-first date food list?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

High tea at Le Cordon Bleu

Four times a year, the students of Le Cordon Bleu Patisserie open their doors and host high tea for members of the public. We celebrated the long weekend with an afternoon high tea. The sessions usually book out well in advance so it pays to get in early.

A selection of T leaf teas or Flight French press coffee were on offer with other beverages available for purchase. We shared a plunger of coffee and had our water glasses refilled by nervous students several times during our afternoon tea.

This high tea was divided into two main sections: savoury and sweet. We began with the savoury offerings that were presented on a separate plate. Each dish had a suitably long, extravagant name and a description to match. Basically put, the canapés included elegant club sandwiches, one with with toasted bread and the other with egg mimosa filling. There was also a spoonful of something resembling beetroot jelly. All went down well.

We were really there for our favourite part: sweets. Described as "a selection of beautiful hand-made delicacies, presented on the classical three-tier bone china tea set", we were impressed with how beautiful each tiny treat looked and tasted. There was a crunchy mini mille-fueille, scones with raspberry jam, whipped cream and whipped butter, a red fruit and basil profiterole, savarin orange with vanilla chantilly, and a petits fours style pistachio financier. I'd definitely saved the best for last: a beautiful coffee jelly and chocolate mousse verrine in a tiny glass.

High tea at Le Cordon Bleu
If this is the standard of future high teas in Wellington, then we'll be in good hands for years to come.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Winter tapas with Ruth Pretty

Handmade has wrapped up for another year. Held at Queen's Birthday weekend around various venues in Wellington, this event for crafty people now features more than 200 workshops to choose from and is becoming better organised each year.

Ruth Pretty played a big part in this event with several sessions on offer. We opted for her winter tapas demonstration. Tapas, hors d'oeuves, sharing plates or good old appetisers have been en vogue for a while. They are great for entertaining guests and a refreshing change to catering for dinner parties.

Ruth's sessions are always a feast of good storytelling and food. I love her willingness to share, her enthusiasm for food and the genuine affection she shows staff. Ruth's secret to tapas is that they must be extremely simple but also extremely tasty. Perusing the recipe booklet we were given, the menu certainly met this description.

Unfortunately for me, with my aversion to all things capsicum, we were greeted with the aroma of sweet peppers cooking. This wasn't entirely unexpected given the subject matter of the workshop but the approving ahhs from all around the room told me that the first dish of Spanish-style peppers with garlic and sherry vinegar was a hit. The porcini mushroom arancini with aioli were more my style. They may also justify my partner using his new deep fryer sometime.

Chorizo stuff Medjool dates wrapped in streaky bacon and served on piquillo pepper and tomato sauce were a great step up from party favourites devils on horseback. The pepper ratio in the sauce wasn't too unpleasant for me, but I'd look for another variation if I were to make this myself at home.

Chorizo stuffed Medjool dates with piquillo pepper and tomato sauce
Also on the menu were prawns in spicy batter with almond dipping sauce (another deep fried wonder). I managed to sample the last of these on the way out the door and will definitely add this recipe to my To Make list. Grilled lamb cutlets with and iceberg lettuce salad (featuring a healthy dose of Spanish vinaigrette) were sampled by a selected few but looked and smelled delicious.

Our session was topped off by sipping a pleasantly smooth glass of 2013 Mount Edward Riesling. With just the right balance of sweetness and acidity, this is another one for my 'yes' wine list.

Thank you to Ruth and her team for another delightful foodie afternoon. I was delighted to win a voucher for coffee and cake for two at Ruth's kitchen shop in Springfield. This will make a lovely winter weekend treat to look forward to.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Moana Park wine tasting

Last week's wine tasting was by Moana Park of Hawkes Bay. Moana Park has been growing grapes in Puketapu (at the back of Taradale, Napier) for 40 years but only operating as a winery for the past 11 years. James the winemaker was our host and told us about the natural processes Moana Park uses to produce their wines. Their sprays are organic, as is every product they use apart from their weedkillers. Heard it all before? Here's a new fact that surprised me: Moana Park is the only commercial vegetarian winery in the southern hemisphere as they don't use animal byproducts in any part of the fermentation and wine making process. Who knew wines aren't vegetarian by default? I do now.

Onto the wine tasting. We got to sample generous servings of seven varietals and even added a couple to our 'yes' wine list.

Viognier 2014. Viognier (vee-on-yay) is a new varietal for me. Bottled just one month ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to drink. I enjoyed the spicy, stone fruit notes and didn't mind its light lees oaking. The best New Zealand viogniers come from Gisborne and Hawkes Bay, which is something I'll watch out for in future. A 'yes' from me.

Chardonnay 2014. Not being a fan of heavily oaked chardonnays, I was once again surprised at how easily this wine went down. James says this is because they aim for oak balance, not oak dominance. It works. Sweet smelling while tasting rich and fruity, this chardonnay was only bottled two weeks ago and should cellar well, if it lasts that long. Another yes for me.

Syrah 2014. Onto the syrahs. Naturally fermented without yeast and unfiltered, the aroma of this syrah was promising but not one for me.

Merlot Malbec 2014. Predominantly merlot, this wine was far too heavy for me and I couldn't finish my sample.

Gimblett Road Syrah 2013. This syrah is a single vineyard reserve from their Gimblett Road vineyard. As with the first Estate Series syrah, the smell was good but the overall product was too heavy for me.

Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. I'd been looking forward to this sample, which is usually my favourite red wine blend. At 80% merlot, 15% cabernet and the balance of sauvignon, each varietal is fermented and barrelled separately, aged for 16 months and then blended towards the end of the process. I just couldn't get past the predominant oak. Another no for me.

Late Harvest Pinot Gris 2010. We finished the evening with a late harvest dessert wine. Not too sticky, and with 90 g of residual sugar per litre, there was more of a balance between sweetness and acidity than other stickies, but it was still too sweet for me.