Friday, 16 January 2015

Routines

It was back to work for me on Wednesday after a break of nearly four weeks. The time flew by and the long, lazy summer days quickly disappeared. Thankfully my first two weeks back at work are short weeks. Great planning, huh?

I am amazed how I instantly slipped into The Routine this week: getting up (to an alarm!), feeding the cat, making lunch, shower/dressed and racing out the door before seeing the same people at the bus stop, the same driver who dropped me off at the same stop in town ... you get the picture. It was great to see my workmates and catch up on holiday happenings over coffee - which kicked off another routine. We went to our usual café for coffee at the usual time and didn't even have to give our orders; the barista knows what we all drink and remembered from last year! (Actually, that's kind of nice.)

My work routine settled after just a couple of hours and it didn't take long for the holiday feeling to slip away entirely. Surely this isn't what my year is going to look like, every single work day??

I love this quote by Paulo Coelho:


Now, that's not entirely true as routines are often necessary and even positive. Kids thrive on routines and they provide us with a sense of comfort. But apparently most people run through life on autopilot. That's probably a relief for some. I find it scary, even though I do it myself. Time slips away and the days become a blur when running on autopilot.

How about this instead?


I have a friend who is desperate to be socially spontaneous, so long as she has enough time to plan it first. Short notice "let's do coffee/lunch" messages are met with "Oh, I'd love to but I'd better not because [insert reason here] - but definitely next time". Maybe this is the year we get her out for a random mid-week coffee or drink after work?

I'm looking forward to more spontaneity and less autopilot this year. Let me just figure out how to do that before being sucked back into The Routine.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Mini cocotte

I'm an average cook. I can rustle together a healthy meal reasonably quickly and it will taste fine, but cooking is not my passion. Somehow, I'm better at feeding an army than cooking for just myself or the two of us. This often sees me making a large portion of something simple and having it for two or three meals, but I've always admired cooks who can serve up a gourmet meal for one.

Enter mini cocotte, the cutest little cooking vessel ever and a Christmas present from my family in 2014. I was given a pair (purple ones, naturally) along with an accompanying recipe book. I was hesitant at first; sweet cooking and baking is my forte, but what meals can you possibly make that are this small? It turns out: almost anything!

If you like eggs for breakfast or brunch, here are four simple recipes to get you going.



I began by making coddled eggs with leftover Christmas ham, just like in the video. I added a sprinkle of cracked pepper and mixed herbs on top. Success!

Coddled eggs
Next up, a smaller version of this hearty ham casserole with more leftover Christmas ham, corn and potato. This would work with almost any combination of vegetables and meat.

Hearty ham casserole
And, of course, there's dessert. This mini apple crisp was delicious and I have also made volcano chocolate cakes.

Apple crisp
I have now started a Pinterest board of mini cocotte recipes. You can use any recipe that can be cooked in a ramekin, which I find is a helpful rule of thumb until I work out how to reduce recipes to fit into the mini cocottes. I am quickly becoming an expert at halving and quartering quantities of ingredients. For our appetites, mini cocotte cooking is perfect for breakfast or brunch, lunch and desserts, but we find them more suitable as a side dish for main meals.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Serial

We have been listening to Serial these holidays. Serial is a weekly podcast series that unpacks the 1999 murder of Baltimore student Hae Min Lee. Lee's ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, has been convicted of her murder and is serving a life sentence, despite pleading his innocence.

The series is presented by Sarah Koenig, an investigative journalist who has examined the case from various angles and presented them to listeners. The series builds each week and draws on audio footage from police interviews and other conversations Koenig has had, including weekly prison phone calls with Adnan Syed.

I only heard about Serial as the series was drawing to a close. I downloaded the first episode, started listening and was instantly hooked. The rest of the series followed soon after and listening to episodes has become part of our daily holidays ritual. We've listened to seven episodes so far and will likely finish the series in the next few days.

So, did he do it? I don't think so but you can judge for yourself. There are compelling arguments for and against Adnan's case and many questions about how it has been handled. Some of the evidence, or lack thereof, is subjective and can be construed towards either side. In the end, it's up to the listener to decide whether the jury got it right all those years ago.

I'm looking forward to series 2, which will follow a new case and is due out later in 2015.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Recipe book waltz

Christmas this year has netted me two new recipe books, one I had asked for and the other a nice surprise. I've thumbed through both and eyed up several tempting recipes, but am pretty sure that both books are destined for my recipe bookshelf where they will sit for months or possibly years before they next see the light of day in my kitchen.

I haven't gone crazy with recipe books in a food porn kind of way, but I really like the titles I've collected and I love to browse. I'm realistic about my cooking ability and motivation levels. If recipes call for too many steps or ingredients lists requiring quarter teaspoons of exotic things that I'd rarely buy, then I'll pass them by. Even though I have amassed a reasonable collection, particularly of baking books, I find myself rotating through a few favourite titles or recipes over and over. Perhaps this a common thing among cooks?

When an occasion calls for baking, I find myself Googling ingredients I have on hand and finding recipes that combine them. For example, we had a small party the other night and I had lots of leftover strawberries. I have a bookshelf of recipe books that could probably have put those strawberries to good use, yet I sifted through about eight recipes online and came up with this one for strawberry tarts. It worked well and I now have another new loose leaf recipe for my collection, but will I use it again? Possibly.

I've decided to spend some time during the holidays waltzing through my recipe books and marking my dance card of recipes to try with a packet of Post-It notes. Then, when divine inspiration or a special occasion presents itself, I'll have a place to start.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Project Elf

Like many bakers, I've been baking almost continuously for the past couple of weeks and loving every minute of it. Gingerbread, shortbread, truffles, Christmas mud cake and cupcakes of various descriptions - my baking list is quite extensive this year with more still to come. I love thinking about what to bake for an occasion and the pleasure of giving away baking as treats.

Project Elf is a volunteer project that bakes and delivers cupcakes to those in need of baking at Christmas time. Now, a lot of people may present a perfectly valid case for needing baking at Christmas or any other time of the year, but no-one can argue about the recipients of Project Elf's cause. Organisations such as CanTeen, Child Cancer Foundation, Ronald McDonald House and Wellington Children's Hospital will have cupcakes delivered, as well as the children's families and the staff who support them.

Organised and led by Becs from Stiletto Studio, an army of volunteers is currently baking and decorating more than 800 cupcakes to give away during the next few days, including a special Christmas Day delivery. The call was put out for donations of cupcake toppers, so I got to work making two dozen Christmas wreath fondant toppers for the project. When I dropped them off yesterday, I found Becs and her elves hard at work pouring batter into cupcake cases and the smell of freshly baked cupcakes was wafting through the studio. Yum!

Christmas wreath cupcake toppers
I'm really glad that I could make a (very tiny) contribution to this worthwhile project and look forward to being part of it again next year.

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!