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

Ingredients
  • 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
Method
  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

Spy

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?