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Archive for July, 2010

Chucking out cookbooks

I’ve been on a mission today, feeling a great weight of possessions on my back and already we have turned the corner and are more than half-way through our lease and moving in less than six months’ time. Pah. That again. If we have another 1 year lease, I think I’ll scream. I am sick to death of lugging my shit about the place.

So, to try to remedy this, I made a list of Things I Love And Are Worth Keeping, and a companion list of Things I Can Think Of That I Can Get Rid Of (Off The Top Of My Head). On the ‘Love’ list were Things such as teacups and saucers, my precious Agee preserving jars, this shelf and its contents, and my bicycle.

On my list of stuff I could get rid of without rummaging about, we had my drink dispenser, ‘kitchen things with no real use thus far’, maybe some clothes and Rata’s ‘Bouncinette’ which she long outgrew. What I could have added were the boxes of junk I never unpack. But that is for a day when all of my crap is in the same house. Right now, there are many boxes of things in our attic, and Louis’ mum is also host to many unregistered items and a great many awesome pieces of kitchen crockery. Let us stick to the main areas of the house, those without spiders and other things dusty and creepy.

So, to the kitchen. The drink dispenser elicited a a cry of ‘No! You can’t throw that out! It’s red! It looks awesome above the stove! Chuck it when we move out if you must!’ from Nicole, but I had to ignore her pleas. For one, the perfect opportunity to use it would have been at the party last weekend for the punch. You fill up the thermos, put the lid on, hold your cup under the spout and press down. And then three cups later you refill the thermos because it holds so little. Fair better to have a punch bowl and plenty of ice! Drink dispenser: DELETED!

Then there were the little cake tins that fit together in a long tray. I tried to throw these out last time we moved, but Louis rescued them after I bought the cream horns, reasoning, ‘You’re collecting this kind of thing, these fit that type of thing you say you want to have.’ But again, I have not used them. It has been at least two years, maybe three since they were purchased. Then there were other things, like my mum’s old cake tin with fruit on it where the lid doesn’t fit properly. Nicole rescued that as it matched one she has. The Mouli that doesn’t have a proper handle so is impossible to grind without hurting your hand. And then I spotted the cookbook pile.

Onto the pile I threw a book called ‘Cookies’, a book called ‘Cupcakes’, two books about preserves that had no decent recipes in them, and ‘The Modern Cook’ by Ray McVinnie. This last book is actually a good cookbook, but its premise of ‘basic recipe, variations on’ was an annoying structure, where you’d have to flip back to the start of the chapter then back to the recipe you wanted to make. I thought it would be a good cookbook for a ‘leaving home 18 year old’, with the basic methods of cooking fish, a roast chicken, or a nice omelet, but in those days I couldn’t actually afford any of those ingredients, and now the book has simply fallen off my radar.

The cupcake book was truly awesome, and a very exciting birthday present a few years ago from my friend Aynia when I was homesick in London and she made me nachos (bless!) but when I went to use it I found the most ridiculous instructions known to man. Such as, the yoghurt cupcakes recipe which uses the pottle your yoghurt came in to measure out the other ingredients, yet doesn’t specify how much yoghurt you are using in the first place, thus how big the pottle is. So although it has many wonderful recipes such as ‘Yeti Cupcakes’, ‘Tequila Cupcakes’ and ‘S’More Cupcakes’, I could never work out how to make the cupcakes themselves. And for me the cake has to be worth eating: I’m not in it simply for the icing. But this cookbook has been sitting on the shelf now as a weird and wonderful guide to icing, and I think it is time for us to part. Its new owner will hopefully be able to work out how to make them better than I could.

And then to the cookies book. A collection of British, Canadian and New Zealand classic recipes, but targeted I think at an American* audience, the recipes all containĀ ridiculous amounts of sugar. I feel as though my baking books are well and truly catered to by Ladies, A Plate (I bought this in a book sale about six months before Ladies came out) and if I’m pinched, my mum has a copy too! She also has a copy of The Modern Cook, so I’m ‘relaxed’ about how this will turn out.

Now I feel as though I have a very good but extremely small cookbook collection: Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book and Fruit Book, two Nigel Slaters: The Kitchen Diaries and Tender, my Ladies, A Plate duo and the best of Annabel Langbein (a tome that proved itself useful once again with its fritter recipe tonight). Plus I have a falling apart book called English Farmhouse Cooking by Mary Norwack (?) which my mum gave me and has the recipe for the apple pancake we ate many times as children, though I can’t work out which recipe it actually is – the Apple Tansy perhaps? It has all the basic recipes for jams, jellies and chutneys too, rendering those other ones obselete. I don’t have a one-stop-shop like the Joy of Cooking, but I think I’d feel funny with only one cookbook on the shelf…

But what does it mean to throw out a cookbook – worse, a gifted cookbook? I always feel bad when I discard things gifted. None of these are crap cookbooks, I threw out the duds when I moved to Paekakariki, a move of many throw-outs. These are all good cookbooks, just ones I don’t use, or ones that feel like inferior double-ups. I hope that someone out there is going to be thrilled with their (reasonably priced) TradeMe purchase and actually USE the recipes.

So, two boxes of Things I Do Not Love. Hello (I hope) small sums of TradeMe money to purchase other Things, though probably just Things For Rata. Sigh.

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I am a one woman eating-machine. All that remains of the party food are several off-cuts from the piwakawaka cake, un-iced. I didn’t feel like icing them, and I could see that they were getting a bit stale. So I thought (having never eaten it before) what about a bread-and-butter pudding made with the chocolate cake? Spread with crabapple jelly instead of butter? And using up the leftover cream?

Well, it was delicious. I layered the cake in the dish, beat together two eggs and a cup of milk, poured it over and decided it needed more liquid, and poured over about a cup of cream (maybe less). I let it stand for an hour or so, cooked it at 180C/350F for 30 minutes, and ate it with natural yoghurt.

So delicious. I am now jotting this recipe next to the cake recipe, for the next time I bake an extravagant birthday cake and have off-cuts. I’m on a roll.

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I am thoroughly baked-out. I made Rata some cheese muffins yesterday, which illustrated to me just how little I want to mix flour with other things right now. But after the party on Saturday, Cat gave me some cherry guavas from her tree, so I made some jelly on Sunday.

The jars are a bit messy as I heated them too hot in the oven: when I poured in the jelly, it boiled over the top of the one on the right. But on the other hand, if it hadn’t boiled over (in the pan and in the jar) I would have had to make an awkward small jar of the remaining liquid. Better to say ‘hey look it fit perfectly into these two jars’ and leave it at that. Louis and I have resolved to eat less cottage cheese and buy crumpets again. Our food habits usually swing between these two grocery items. Sticky, sticky jelly on crumpets, drippy drippy. Yum.

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Cakesome!

Let’s be honest: I have been waiting to make this cake all year. At least. Maybe I even thought of the idea before Rata was born. Whatever the case, today I baked two doubled recipes of my standard chocolate cake, cut them into shapes, fitted it together and iced it. Twice. It took all day.

A piwakawaka (fantail) (yes, I am training myself to think of it that way around, breaking the habit of a lifetime in calling the bird a fantail) is native to New Zealand, flits about from shop to shop just like a butterfly, eats insects from your ceiling cobwebs and chirps in a squeaky kind of a way. I can imitate the noise, but I can’t really write about it. It rarely stays still for a millisecond, and that is why there are no decent photos of fantails, I mean piwakawaka, on the internets. But there are some nice drawings. And some really ugly ones. Search ‘fantail’ on TradeMe and you’ll see what I mean.

The cake recipe was very well suited to cutting into shapes – firm and able to hold its shape, not too crumbly so it could be iced, but moist and spongy as a cake should be. I was also stoked that the doubled quantities fit perfectly into the roasting dish. I am making a note of this in my recipe book as we speak.

Astute icing archaeologists at Rata’s birthday party will note that there are two layers of icing, suggesting *gasp* TWO attempts at decorating the cake. I did what is known in some circles as a ‘crumb layer’ with chocolate icing, but then tried to ice over this with a lighter tone for the detail, even though the thin crumb layer had dried a bit. For my next attempt I had both colours ready, and iced them at the same time: the body first and then the fan. I didn’t bother doing another layer on icing down the sides as that was fiddly enough the first time. Then I got my new icing pen (which has somehow broken already) and did the rata flowers for the piwakawaka’s perch.

Here is the first attempt at icing:

Here is the second:

The cake looks a little disoriented, perched on a rata branch in the middle of a Queensland pineapple plantation (the tea towel beneath). I used my entire quota of cling film for the year, covering the cake in the hope that no ant will dare sniff it out. Those ants seemed to be hungry on Friday. And manic. They swarmed the cleaned icing bowl on the dish rack. I hate ants. I hate their purpose. They are so selfish. I wish I could kill them all. You may also care to note the token health food in the corner there. This spread looks rather sweet-heavy, but I farmed out savoury duties to my mum and step-mother and they had not arrived at this point to cram the table with delicious salty alternatives (asparagua rolls, feta tartlets, filo triangles, sausage rolls and bread and dips).

One guest described the cake as ‘the most awesome cake I’ve ever seen’ (I think I have more or less captured what he said without this being an exact quote). It also tasted freakin’ amazing. I’m taking orders now for your next special occasion. Yes. Yes I am.

Special mention should also be made of Clementine and Alexandra, without whom the cake extravaganza would have been a flop: by helping entertain Rata, I was able to bake up a storm. They also did the dishes and licked the bowl. But not in that order…

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Wee-hee! Sugar High!

Rata’s first birthday party was a raging success. Here is some token food porn to make you feel like you really missed out.

Punch bowl set-up (pre-punch). Recipe: One pint each cold tea, dry lemonade, ginger ale, grapefruit juice, two pints ‘apple and orange’ juice, 1/4 cup lime cordial, mint leaves, sliced citrus, some ice cubes. Spike with your choice of alcohol.

Cupcakes, speculaas, Rata spice biscuits, stray cookie cutter.

Nicole’s Key Lime Squares (delicious).

Nicole’s Nanaimo Bars (also delicious). Commonly known in this country as ‘Nainoma Bars’, but as I’d never had them before, I am easily converted to saying their name correctly.

Close up of the cupcakes to show the handmade flags I made for them. The little triangles were off-cuts from making bunting. They are bits of maps and stuff.

AND….

…the Brandy Snaps that were able to be filled. They look a little lewd. I didn’t actually get to eat one. I didn’t see anybody eat one either.

Post on the cake soon-ish. Nicole has some of the photos.

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The tea cosy of awesome

Finally, I have a photo worth sharing of the tea cosy I made my mum for her birthday.

The inspiration came from a photo in the front of Rosemary McLeod’s book Thrift to Fantasy, a highly recommended book if you have time on your hands to then try making half of what you have viewed within its covers. There wasn’t any detail given on this tea cosy I saw, as it wasn’t within the text, and mum and I had spent a few minutes speculating on its construction one day. Here is a crappy photo of the page in the book!

Mum’s theory was that it the scraps of fabric had been hooked through hessian. But later in the book I saw a quilt made of Suffolk puffs, googled them, and came across this tutorial for a brooch. Circles of fabric are folded in half, stitched along their raw edge and gathered. Suddenly my brain switched on and I reasoned the method would work for making a tea cosy.

Thus I gathered my materials. In the bottom row, there are several fabrics which mum gave to me back in the day to make something pretty for her (when I had proven my sewing prowess – I thought I’d hit the jackpot – but took eight years to do anything with them). The brown on the far left, the orange stripes and the four fabrics from the right were all scraps from awesome outfits she had made in the 70s. The fabrics on the right also have the distinction of being Liberty reprints of Art Nouveau fabrics. In the top row, the brown on black print and the bright blue (top right) were trousers mum made in the 90s for herself. I remember her ironing the black ones and how the print would darken with the heat. The boldly coloured check is from a pair of awesome trousers mum made me for my 10th birthday. They later became shorts as at that age I was still kneeling on the floor playing with Lego. Yes. Yes I was. The rest of the fabrics are just my own scraps, including the fabled scissor fabric from Geoff’s Emporium.

I hate to think how many hours this tea cosy took me. It is certainly not something I would ever undertake for commercial purposes. It took a day (with the usual interruptions) to cut out all the circles, but I only needed to cut out a few later on when I ran out of the yellows. I strung the circles into workable lengths in batches, then started at the top of the wool base and worked my way around it with the sewing machine. If the original tea cosy had been made in this way, it would have been hand sewn, which would explain how it came to be so neat. My sewing machine method occasionally pushed the gathered fabric in the wrong direction, or I sewed things down too far from the last row. This part of the work didn’t take much time to take shape though, and by the time I was doing straight rows between the spout and handle openings, things went pretty smoothly.

The cosy is lined with the spotty fabric, and edged with some drill Imy made a skirt from for me earlier this year (yet to be photographed and blogged about, but it’s a little on the large side, and hangs too low on my hips). The edging seemed to be the neatest way to contain all the loose ends, and I stitched it on by hand. I then spent a few hours with nylon thread, slipstitching behind all the puffs so that they didn’t sag to reveal all their fraying edges.

Mum was freaking stoked. And on an aside, the son of a friend of hers and his wife had a baby on her birthday. And they named her… Lotte! So the Lotte’s of the world have certainly aligned in birthday awesomeness this year.

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Cheese Muffins

Their bottoms are shiny, their tops are cheesy, their insides light and delicious. Never making scones again.

Rata has been feverish and un-hungry, so I’m trying to coax her back to the land of food with tasty cheesy things. Yesterday she devoured a savoury muffin from Pandora Bakery. These don’t pack quite so much punch flavour-wise, but hell, I like them better. Excuse me while I just go an eat three in a row without taking a breath.

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