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

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Classic bookshelf

I've always loved books. Reading is one of my favourite pastimes, albeit a brief one that usually only occurs on the bus to and from work each day but it's still a pleasure. My TBR list has grown and shrunk over the years and now lives in the form of a spreadsheet on my phone that I can add to any time I see an appealing title. It's also always on hand when I'm at the library or faced with a pile of books I can select from.

As a reader, I've always had romantic notions of thumbing through my own well read collection of books housed in a dedicated room (a personal library, of course), pulling out a classic title or two to reread on a rainy Sunday afternoon. But, to be honest, I'm not really a book buyer and I haven't read many of the so-called classics at all, let alone had time to reread them. Apart from a few that were sadly ruined when I was made to endure them at school, reading classic novels and literature is a relatively recent goal for me.

Initially with the Classics app on my phone and now with my Kindle, I'm like readers all around the world that now have quick access to all the copyright-free classics at my fingertips. This has certainly encouraged me to intersperse more more classic novels into my reading. (I'm generally talking about books 100+ years old, although there are many titles I would consider to be modern classics.) I wonder how much influence it has had on reviving classic books for other readers?

There are some classic titles that I have really enjoyed delving into. They show me life in a society that existed a whole different age, for better or for worse. It hasn't all been happy nostalgic reading, though. There are some titles that I have barely managed to force myself through and others that I have tried and failed to finish several times; I'm reading one of them right now. Still, I know that I'm barely scratching the surface of the world of classic literature and I'm keen to dive in further.

Here's a quick snapshot of my classic bookshelf.

Classics I've enjoyed
Classics I've endured
Classics I want to knock off one day
Classics that have beaten me
  • Madame Bovary (almost). It remains to be seen whether I make it past 30% of the way through. So far, I'm enjoying the Wikipedia summary more than the novel which is simply painful.
  • Great Expectations - on many occasions. Fact.
  • Wuthering Heights. I still can't get past the 2/3 mark.
Are you a classic novel reader? What do you recommend for me?

Monday, 3 November 2014

Bill Bailey - Limboland

The first time we saw Bill Bailey on stage was in 2012 when he was peddling qualms. Last night, he was in Limboland.

Limboland is described as "the gap between how we imagine our lives to be and how they really are". Don't we all know that feeling! As always, Bailey is in fine form. His musings are clever and sharp. No swearing, vulgarity or excessive shouting. Why can't all comedians be this clever?

The 2.5 hour show (including intermission) unfolded and took us on a winding comedic journey. One Direction were the easy target for many gags. I suppose they make it too tempting for a seasoned musician and performer to simply leave alone without having some fun along the way. We got a blow by blow breakdown of the perils of Bailey's extended family trip on dog sleds to see the Northern Lights in Norway and listened him share some pearls of wisdom from the Practical Indonesian Phrasebook, which wasn't so practical after all.

Then there were the musical interludes, which I really enjoy. This time, it included a Jamaican remix of Downton Abbey, Abba reinvented in Rammstein style and the Holy Bible played with a distinct country slide twang.

Having done the rounds in Australia, Limboland now sets off around New Zealand and various other locales. Give your comedy buds a tickle. It's "not too bad, all things considered". (Oops, belated spoiler alert.)

Sunday, 2 November 2014


We were out for dinner with a group last night. As one of the first two couples to arrive, we decided to open our bottles of wine and pour some pre-dinner drinks while we waited for the others. We chinked glasses with each other and said cheers, everybody!

The next couple arrived. They poured a glass of wine each and we repeated the ritual. Cheers! And then for the next, even though they ordered drinks from the bar. Cheers! Finally, the last couple joined us and we went in for one last round of chinking. Cheers!

A short while later, I noticed another large group behind us go through pretty much what we'd just done, but it was all at once and the glass chinking happened for a good 30 seconds as guests stretched across the table to touch glasses. It was then that I wondered: why on earth do we do that??

It seems I'm not the first person to ask the question. My searching on glass chinking led me to an etiquette guide on how to make a toast. (Yes, really.) I've found that toasting is a ritual in which a drink is taken as an expression of honor or goodwill. There are theories that the chinking of glasses to cause some of your drink to spill into another person's glass and vice versa could negate attempts to poison each other. Snopes has, naturally, debunked this myth and you can read the article if you are that interested.

So, without being any the wiser for my searching and drawing some very thin conclusions, I am simply going to put the custom of glass chinking down to one of life's social oddities.

Cheers, everybody! Cin cin! Sláinte!

Monday, 27 October 2014


Prisons fascinate and terrify me in equal measure. I can't explain this fascination; it's not as though I've had first hand experience of prisons, nor anyone close to me. Yet somehow prison psychology draws me in every time. I watched Songs from the Inside on Māori Television earlier this year. It is one of most compelling documentary series I have ever seen.

Wentworth is an Australian drama series that is billed as a contemporary reimagining of Prisoner from the early 1980s. I was too young to watch the first series but can see from the bios how series 1 of Wentworth provides a kind of back story to Prisoner without entirely replicating it.

Set at the Wentworth Correctional Facility for Women, this is a dark, gritty and often violent drama series. The writing is sharp and the well-played characters' back stories are revealed along the way with just the right combination of suspense. They cleverly show that everyone has a history that influences how they act and behave here and now, without allowing too much compassion to sneak in. The intense balance of power that underpins prison life constantly seesaws and none of the inmates or staff are immune.

Wentworth is absolutely compelling viewing. Series 2 is currently screening on Mondays at 8.30 pm on TV2.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know is a series of podcasts that branches from The podcasts are co-hosted by Chuck and Josh, two senior editors at HowStuffWorks. They are a great way to learn about new things or find out more about stuff you may have heard of but not known about in much detail.

There are podcasts about almost every topic you can imagine, from viruses and animal domestication to socialism and trickle-down economics. Their podcast about How Ebola works is so far the most informative piece I have seen or heard about the topic. The podcasts largely stick to facts from a range of sources that are presented in a conversational manner, making them accessible and enjoyable for listeners without getting too heavy.

Each podcast takes a fair while to warm up. There is lengthy banter at the start that is amiable but lasts the first few minutes as well as a couple of minute-long message breaks in the middle before a mailbag wrap-up at the end. But once they get going, the podcasts are really interesting and I have learned so much about ... well, check out the list of available podcasts to find out exactly what.

I subscribe to Stuff You Should Know podcasts via iTunes. There are a couple of new episodes each week. I usually listen to a few each weekend or on the bus when I'm too tired to read.