Monday, 15 December 2014

Solar powered

Wellington has had a pretty rocky start to summer this year. The conversation on everybody's lips goes something like this: "You call this summer?" "It's almost embarrassing how cold/wet/windy it's been!" "I hope the tourists in town stay for longer than just a few days. I'd hate for them to think it's always like this." "We had summer last Tuesday." "Remember how good the drought was two years ago?"

Wishful thinking in Wellington
But it's true that you can't beat Wellington on a good day and today was certainly one of those. I got to enjoy some time off in lieu and planned a full day of baking and catching up on things at home. What a brilliant day for it!

I don't know if it's my imagination, but I am so much more productive, inspired, creative and motivated on sunny days. Warm sunny days are a bonus. Warm sunny days without wind are the rare pot of gold for Wellingtonions (although we also happily settle for warm wind, like today). Somehow, possibilities are endless on sunny days.

The benefits of Vitamin D3 are well documented, yet Vitamin D deficiency continues to be a hot topic, especially in a country where being sun smart is an essential way of life and we quite rightly err on the side of caution. I think we are all affected by seasonal affective disorder (SADS) to some degree - I certainly am.

Today's productivity mostly involved Christmas baking, which made a huge dent in the mountain of butter and sugar I'd stocked up on. Here's what I've managed to produce so far:
  • A second mountain of chocolate truffles.
  • A double batch of Tim-Tam truffles.
  • 2 dozen spiced vanilla buttermilk cupcakes and a big batch of buttercream frosting for decorating at a work Christmas activity tomorrow.
  • A large decadent mud cake, which will be turned into a Christmas present cake for my whānau on Christmas day.
  • A batch of shortbread in the fridge, ready for rolling out and baking.
Along with that, I've taken time out for coffee on the new deck, bagged up homemade Christmas gifts for my team at work, attacked various chores in and around the house, plus read several chapters of my book in the sun.

It's confirmed, then: I must be solar powered. Bring on the summer holidays!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Saying thank you

At our staff conference last week, it was publicly acknowledged that our team has had an especially challenging year with an astronomical workload. However, we wanted to point out that there are so many people that have helped us in so many ways. We collectively thanked each team in the company and recognised that there are almost too many to thank individually - or are there?

It turns out there are never too many people to thank individually - something I feel very strongly about. I shudder to think that we should ever be too busy to thank people who have helped us. It need not be an elaborate gesture. A simple email, note, phone call or card can go such a long way.

When I think about the most memorable thank yous I've received over the years, two things stand out: they are personalised and they are sincere. And so I spent the morning writing thank you emails to a dozen colleagues who have been particularly supportive of me and my work this year. Our team agreed that we'd all do this before the end of the year (and CC in the colleagues' managers) but I think I'm the only one who's actually done it so far.

I sent my emails then went to a short meeting. Half an hour later, I returned to inbox full of "thank you for the thank you" emails. Gosh, I didn't expect that! Here's one response that particularly stood out for me:
"Thanks for taking the time to send that message – it's always nice to get feedback of how much people enjoyed themselves – normally the complaints come first."
How sad that we are collectively quick to complain but slow to thank. A thank you really is the gift that keeps on giving. I was positively buzzing as I wrote my messages and am even more thrilled that they were so well received.

How easy it is to make someone's day! Who will you thank today?

Sunday, 7 December 2014

High tea at One80°

We've come across another high tea venue in Wellington. One80° Restaurant in the Copthorne Hotel in Oriental Bay offers a range of high tea menus. On a fine day the view across Chaffers Marina would be really pretty. It's not exactly summer today so we had to settle for gazing at our beautifully prepared food with coffee and bubbles.

High tea at One80°
Once again, there were three layers of food with two sandwiches on the bottom, four tiny savouries in the middle and four sweet treats to finish. The sandwich layer was stylishly garnished with balsamic vinegar lines. The savoury selection was accompanied by tomato sauce, which we didn't feel was necessary as each piece held its flavour well, especially the mini egg quiche and salmon tarts. The sweets were the best course and included dark chocolate and nut brownie, melon and mousse tart, a raspberry macaron and - my favourite - a chocolate truffle tart with raspberry coulis. In my humble opinion, dark chocolate and raspberry is the perfect tart/sweet combination and this was beautifully done.

High tea at One80° was a lovely pre-Christmas treat on an overcast Sunday afternoon. We're enjoying doing the rounds of high tea in Wellington. If ever there is a calling for two ladies to wile away their days at lunch and afternoon tea, we know we'll be ready. :-)

Monday, 1 December 2014

Christmas watershed

Is it just me, or is the over-commercialisation of Christmas starting ridiculously earlier every year?

I'm not entirely a Christmas grinch. Christmas is just fine at Christmas time - but not before. I had to send a link to an over-zealous colleague a few weeks ago when she asked, "is it Christmas yet?" She accused me of having no Christmas spirit. I informed her it would arrive on 1 December and not before. "But there's so much to do!" she squealed. I argued that that's not what Christmas is really about. Sheesh. Some people!

I live in a permanent state of Christmas denial and avoidance before the season, sometimes as early as mid-October. It's easy at first and becomes progressively more difficult throughout November. I do this by staying away from Christmas shops or even malls with beautiful decorations and Christmas shopping competitions trying to lure unsuspecting punters inside and trap them there. That leaves hardly anywhere I can go later in the month, but I won't cave in. It's madness, I say! It's enough to make even non-drinkers start dreaming of a white Christmas.

1 December is a firm Christmas watershed for me. Up until this date, I will not tolerate any Christmas-based activity in any form. However, I concede that from this date, it's all on - but not a moment before. No way. Never. Apart from registering for @NZSecretSanta, because I would have missed out. The same goes for the Christmas ham I ordered a couple of months ago. But that's it.

Ok, I've cheated slightly this year. Because I had some time and space available yesterday, I got a head start on my Christmas baking by freezing a batch of gingerbread dough and a container of chocolate truffles. And maybe dusting off my Christmas playlist ready to sync with my phone today. And a little spot of Christmas present planning. Well, it was really about seeing what is already in the present cupboard and making a mental list about who I still need to buy for. But that was it. Honestly. Oh, I forgot about updating this year's 12 days of Christmas calendar email for work last Friday (and planning my activity), but that's only because I have another really busy week coming up and ... well, it saved me some time this morning.

So apart from all that, the buildup to Christmas is once again very low key for me, even if I was really excited about this year's Wellington Advent Calendar beginning today. Ooh, I must find my Nutcracker CD.

I'm not sounding very convincing, am I?

Do you avoid or embrace the season?

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Now we are seven

Seven years ago today I began blogging about everything and nothing. Seven years after that slightly impulsive idea, I've amassed nearly 1000 posts about the things I like: food, recipes, musicbooks, events, places I've been, a few tales and some random thoughts.

It's a quiet blog birthday this year but a milestone none-the-less. At the start of this year, Café Chick transformed into a slightly more demure Caffeinated Weka. While my online persona has evolved a bit, I'm pretty much the same character underneath, albeit a little more sedate these days.

My job involves a lot of writing lately. A LOT. Although I have a reasonably good capacity to write, I've wondered aloud that I seem to have a word writing limit each week and sometimes I reach it by Thursday afternoon. Sometimes, even before then. That doesn't bode well for the 17 posts I have sitting in my draft folder. (It will be 16 once I eventually post this.) The reality is, though, that after a full day of words, there aren't as many left for blogging during evenings and weekends.

I have come to enjoy writing more and more over the years and have explored writing in various styles for different purposes. This blog is unashamedly self-indulgent but elements of how I write professionally have inevitably shaped my personal writing style. I realised I must be overdoing it at work when reading a classic novel this week and mentally trying to rewrite it in plain English!

So, back to the blogging birthday rituals. I always take a screen shot of my pretty red dotted Clustr map and this year is no exception. The dots represent nearly 160,000 visitors from 193 countries during the past seven years. That's a lot of coffee and cake! The map will be archived around 3 December and all the little red dots will disappear. I look forward to seeing them pop up again in the coming months.

I wonder whether there's as much place for blogs and blogging in the world of social media world as it stands today. I've asked myself this same question before, too. Where this blog used to be my shop window, Twitter has become my dashboard, my go-to for news and information. It's also where most of my online interaction takes place. My own blogroll, which used to be teeming with posts to read, only just ticks along these days. Views are down and comments on this platform are few. I guess it's a sign of the times, even if I'm not exactly sure what it is signalling.

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by and, even better, stuck around for another year on this blog. Let's see what the next year brings. Cheers!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Apple and sultana spice cake

My 100th recipe on this blog! Let's celebrate with cake for afternoon tea.

This recipe for rustic-style apple and sultana spice cake comes from Sophie Gray's new baking book, Fill the Tins. It's easy to make and doesn't require a cake mixer. It's very versatile and can be served warm or cold either with or without cream or ice cream. Next time, I'd sprinkle cinnamon mixed with raw sugar crystals on top before baking for an extra sweet finish.

I weigh my ingredients so this is the original recipe with metric measurements included.

Apple and sultana spice cake

  • 125 g butter, melted
  • 70 g sultanas
  • 210 g plain flour
  • 220 g sugar
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t ground allspice
  • 2 cups apple, peeled and chopped (approx 2 medium apples)
  • 60 g walnuts, chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line the base of a 20 cm loose-bottom or spring form tin.
  2. Melt the butter, then add the sultanas so they can soften slightly. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices. Add the chopped apple and walnuts and toss them in the flour mixture.
  4. Add the beaten egg along with the cooled butter mix and milk to the dry ingredients. Fold the mixture together to form a thick batter and pour into the prepared tin. Smooth the mixture over with a spatula, forming a slight mound in the middle.
  5. Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes or until springy and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove the baking paper and continue cooling on a rack.
Apple and sultana spice cake