Friday, 30 November 2012

Decorating with chocolate at Martha's Pantry

I was very excited to celebrate my 5th blog birthday last night at a Decorating with chocolate at Martha's Pantry session. What a delightful evening - complete with chocolate blog birthday cake!

Hosted by Martha's baker and decorator, Maria Moran, we got to practise a range of simple yet effective chocolate decorating techniques.We began by making a piping bag out of baking paper. Luckily, Maria had taught me how to do this a few years ago when I learned cupcake decorating at Tempt so I had a slight advantage. It is a really useful skill to have; chocolate filigrees have became my emergency decorating solution when time is tight and chocolate melts are in the pantry.

A potentially dodgy gingerbread man
Next, we experimented with piping melted dark chocolate onto a gingerbread man biscuit shortbread snowflake biscuit. Here is where less is more: it doesn't matter if you still have more chocolate in your piping bag. Sometimes it's better to just stop and step away from the table, otherwise decorating disasters can happen. I had to give my gingerbread man striped pants as his buttons started to look very dodgy once I piped him a belt! ;-) Thankfully my snowflake was a lot less risqué.

Shortbread showflake
We had a go at piping white chocolate outlines onto baking paper and flooding the shapes with dark chocolate. This is something that I know works well in theory but I simply haven't developed the knack for. Maria then showed us how to dip chocolate truffles and end up with round balls instead of slightly oval slabs with the chocolate all congregating towards the bottom. Her Pandoro brownie, cranberry and nut truffles are something I'm keen to try making this Christmas.

We finished up with Maria effortlessly showing us how to cut a cake into three horizontal layers before filling and icing it with a deliciously glossy dark chocolate ganache. She made it look so simple, but I can assure you from experience that there is no way I can cut a cake into straight layers without making a terrible mess and/or breaking one or more pieces, meaning I have to glue it together again with buttercream or ganache. I look forward to my cake leveller arriving from Kiwi Cakes!

Maria expertly piping chocolate onto a biscuit
We got to take home a goodie box of treats with our names beautifully written on them. And, finally, the icing on the cake was getting to harass meet Mrs Cake on our way out the door. Her Tim Tam truffles are legendary in our household!

Many thanks to Donna from Feast and Vine for organising another great foodie event and Martha's Pantry for being such welcoming hosts.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Happy 5th birthday to Café Chick

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday dear Café Chick
Happy birthday to me

Five years old today! On 29 November 2007, Café Chick joined cyberspace and hesitantly started blogging with a few self-indulgent posts. Things grew gradually and before I knew it, blogging regularly became something I really enjoyed, especially as I got to 'virtually' know others in the blogosphere. Twitter followed a year or so later and then things really took off ... and here we are, five years on. Woo hoo!

No birthday would be complete without birthday cake, and a chocolate cake makes it even better. As you will have worked out, I love baking and have really stepped up with my baking and decorating this year. I still love coffee, reading, music and taking time out to enjoy the little things in life. Sure, I had to apologise to my poor, neglected blog a while back and promise that all is not forgotten. To steal a thought from John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." I try to live by the philosophy that life is for living and life is good. Thank you to everyone who regularly reminds me of this when I get sidetracked, either virtually or in real life. :-)

My trusty Clustr map has once again let me know where people have been visiting from during the year - more than 33,000 from 188 countries! Numbers dropped off quite a bit after Blogger changed my domain to a suffix, but that just means there is more coffee and cake to go around so everyone is welcome to have a second or third helping. I am still thrilled to see little red and yellow dots build up every day and absolutely looooooove it when people leave comments, either here or on Twitter.

So what's in store for the next year? Probably more of the same, or maybe something different ... that's what I love about blogging (and tweeting). I never know where it will take me but enjoy going along for the ride. Thank you all so much for joining me. Please help yourself to more cake.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hospice Strawberry Festival

It's the start of strawberry season and, to celebrate, I plan to indulge by eating them almost continuously until the price doubles at Christmas time. Heaven food at nature's best!

To get things going, the annual Hospice Strawberry Festival is on today at Midland Park. Head on down between 8 am and 3 pm to indulge in delicious strawberries and ice cream in the sun while supporting a worthy cause. The Wellington event is a fundraiser for Mary Potter Hospice. There is also entertainment around lunch time.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Shoe fetish

Apparently there is something about women and shoes that go together like peas and carrots. As I write this, I am barefoot and my shoes are discarded somewhere on the floor with no feet in them - just how I like them to be. But for some people (not just women), shoes are as coveted as diamonds or riches in almost fetish proportions.

A couple of months ago, a friend posted this message on Facebook:
It's a start... 35 shoes (depending on the style - high & low heels, sizes 7-1/2 to 8-1/2) looking for a new owner for free, some even not worn & others less than 5 times, good condition. If you're keen, let me know before next weekend or else they will go to Sally! I'm shoe size 8.
A start?? I don't own anywhere near that number of shoes, let alone have that many 'spare' to give away! We didn't realise at the time that our friend was planning to move overseas, hence 'making a start'. She is a very stylish woman and some of the shoes she was giving away were exquisite - we're not talking about $10 second hand shoes from Trade Me here. I'm not sure how many more donations it took before she had culled enough to move overseas, but she said she would still be taking "quite a few" with her.

Recently, a colleague spotted a shoe rack for sale that holds up to 30 pairs of shoes. I could see her doing a mental count in her head to check whether she would need one rack or two. She thought one might do for now. Besides, "I don't have to keep all my shoes in the same rack. Some of them, like my boots, won't fit so they'll just stay in the wardrobe." However, she was adamant that she was long overdue buying a decent shoe rack to protect her precious vessels from harm. Just look at the tragedy that struck some of Imelda Marcos' shoe collection recently. Oh, the horror!

Where do you sit on the shoe fetish scale?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Iron maiden

Ahh, Sunday. A day of rest and tackling things left undone during the week (housework, study). But not before coffee and the Sunday papers. In today's Sunday magazine, there was a story in the grooming section called Throw down your irons, a reprint of The tyranny of the iron by Seth Stevenson. With a title like that, it naturally grabbed my attention and I found myself nodding my way through this tongue-in-cheek piece that actually makes a heck of a lot of sense.

For me, ironing falls in the 'should' category. I grew up believing I 'should' iron clothes because that's what my mother spent hours doing. Clearly it wasn't an activity she enjoyed because all it took was for the dreaded ironing board to be set up in the kitchen or corner of the lounge and suddenly a dark cloud would descend over the entire household. Everything became a chore and nothing was funny while school uniforms, shirts, sheets, hankies and other items of clothing were being subjected to subversive heat (the behaviour of some even resulted in steam!), with Mum shackled to the wall by a frayed power cord that she took care to dance gingerly around. Thankfully she never ironed underwear like I've heard some people from her generation and before did, but pretty much everything else made it into the massive ironing basket, ready for regular heat torture that we all had to endure as a result. She was glad to offload some of this endless task once we were old enough to start ironing for ourselves. It was then that I decided there had to be a way around this.

While I was at secondary school and everybody was starting to take on part-time or odd jobs for pocket money, one friend would go up the road every weekend and get paid $5 an hour to iron her way through a young family's laundry basket. In those days, $5 was 'good' money and sometimes she would be ironing for three or four hours. It sounded like purgatory to me. No thanks.

Seriously, who irons these days? I openly admit that I don't actually own an iron myself and I think the last time I ironed something was about four years ago. I can't be certain of this, but do remembering ironing my ball dress once, so that makes the timing about right. I make sure I buy clothes that don't need ironing. Those that do, I take care to hang in shape on the clothes line and hang them up as soon as I can after they are dry. Business shirts? I don't wear them. It works for me.

It could be worse. A friend reported that her pre-schooler had asked her kindy teacher what this toy in the Wendy house was - she had never seen one before and didn't know how to play with it!

Do you still iron?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Philanthropist's Danse - Paul Wornham

The Philanthropist's Danse is an independently published ebook by new author Paul Wornham. It is a different kind of mystery novel that doesn't follow the whodunnit formula I expected. A seemingly random group of twelve people are assembled after the death of a wealthy philanthropist, each lured by the prospect of getting their hands on an unexpected windfall. Everyone has a connection to the deceased man; some connections are obvious while others seem rather obscure, but that's where the story gets interesting. Their coming together has been highly orchestrated by the deceased philanthropist in his very own Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death.

We quickly come to see that most (but not all) of the characters share the same primal motivation: greed, coupled with an almost vulgar entitlement mentality. While some try to hide their greed behind masks of caring and concern, most of the time their eyes are on the prize. However, we learn that everyone in the Danse has a secret they thought they had kept deeply hidden and that their promised riches will come with a cost attached.

With every twist and turn of the plot, The Philanthropist's Danse becomes a study of human character, or lack thereof, as the prospect of serious wealth comes tantalisingly close - never mind that it is expected and not necessarily 'earned'. The mystery and intrigue increases as the clocks ticks while this ugly human trait bares its teeth, bringing out the worst in almost everybody. Just when you think things are about to be resolved, another complication is added to the mix and events flare up again.

The Philanthropist's Danse is a really enjoyable, character-driven light read and a bargain for your Kindle.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


It is three months until Round the Bays hits Wellington and I am putting a team of walkers and runners together to enter this event. As a walker, I really enjoy the scenery around our coastline and look forward to three months of summer walks, so long as the weather behaves!

I have been playing around with MapMyWalk and went for my first walk with it today. MapMyWalk is a free multi-platform mobile app that uses a GPS tracker to stalk you while you are out walking. In return, it provides you with statistics about your workout, including the distance travelled, your speed, how long you have been walking, minutes per kilometre, as well as records of other stuff like food and nutrition, calories burned etc. Your stats are recorded within the app and you can also access them online, keeping a cumulative record of each workout or editing them to build up a picture over time. You can link your account to automatically brag about your workouts on Facebook or Twitter (I haven't) and even create a walking club to compete with your friends, if you are that way inclined. (I'm not.)

Although this morning's walk was not particularly remarkable, I enjoyed keeping track of my walking distance and statistics as the blue line tracked me down the road and back home again. Let's see what my account looks like in three months' time!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Flower making at Stiletto Studio

Following on from a great cake decorating class at Stiletto Studio a couple of weeks ago, a friend and I spent Wednesday night learning how to make pretty flowers out of gum paste and fondant. I have got back into making decorations for cakes and cupcakes since going to a session on gum paste flower making a few months ago. I have a box full of silicone moulds, gel colours, plastic palettes and various tools for decorating that all need using. Just as well Becs came along with her awesome cake decorating classes to get me inspired!

Frangipani (before applying yellow lustre)
We started out by making one of my favourite flowers: frangipani. For me, the beauty in these tropical flowers come from their simplicity - plain white with a smattering of yellow (or pink) and they positively radiate sunshine. Frangipani will definitely become part of my flower making repertoire. *happy sigh as I reminisce about my trip to Samoa several years ago*

An evil looking chrysanthemum 
Next, we used a daisy cutter to create endless layers that would form a chrysanthemum bud. These flowers are too 'busy' for my liking, but it was good having a go at creating them. This one needs several more layers and I imagined it coloured in deep orange and burnt red tones ... but I am seriously reminded of Little Shop of Horrors when I see flower petals folding in on themselves like this one. Don't you think it looks a tad evil? ;-)

A beautiful, elaborate rose in egg yellow
By far the fiddliest flower to make was an elaborate rose. It involved building up three layers (and a few extra petals) around a bud attached to a wire and ruffling the edges of each layer with a ball tool. The finished product is simply beautiful but this will take a lot more practice for me to master - very much a 'special occasion' decoration.

Much simpler to make, but just as effective, is the anemone. I don't know if they come in this shade of blue but I was feeling bold and loved how the colour looked on such a big piece. We finished off by learning a much simpler technique for making roses out of seven little balls of gum paste. Although mine looked like a set of rolled up towels (maybe the white colour didn't help?), I think this is a rose I can master in time.
Flower collection.
From the top: blue anemone,
chrysanthemum, fancy rose, easier rose
Once again, Becs was in fine form as our teacher - endlessly patient and great company during a four hour hands-on session. She has really helped me unravel much of the mystique around cake decorating and I have come away with lots of ideas to try, given my very limited skills and creativity. I have most definitely got the cake decorating bug and had yellow and blue hands the next morning to prove it!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Three little words

A while ago, a colleague met me in town for a working lunch. As we walked back to her car, we continued chatting in the street as people hurried by on a cold day. Suddenly, mid-conversation, my colleague called out to one particular woman. "Excuse me ..." The woman turned around and then my colleague uttered three little words: "You look gorgeous."  And she did. Naturally, being from Wellington, she was dressed all in black but she did look stunning. I hadn't noticed her at all but my colleague, herself quite a stylish dresser, did and took her observation one step further.

The woman seemed really surprised. "Thank you!" she gasped, clearly shocked and thrilled all at once. She walked away with a straighter stride and a huge grin - and all it took was three little words from a stranger.

My colleague also noticed the look on my face. "Well, she did look gorgeous," she repeated to me. I agreed but realised that I didn't think I'd ever performed the simple act that clearly made this woman's day: complimenting a stranger. It seems so easy, so why don't we do it more often? Is it because we get so caught up in our own worlds that we don't notice those around us? Or do you think it could be because we kiwis tend to stick to ourselves and our inherent reservedness stops us from vocalising some of the things we should?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sour cream lemon tart

A rapid succession of events with family and friends has meant plenty more baking this week - yay! I found this sour cream lemon tart recipe in the newspaper a few weeks ago and thought I'd wait for a special occasion to try it out. Created by Alison and Simon Holst, it is really easy to make with a food processor and kitchen mixer.

Sour cream lemon tart

  • 250 g sweet short pastry (1 sheet pre-rolled or see recipe below to make your own)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • thinly peeled or grated ring of 1/2 lemon (see below)
  • 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup (250 g) sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons custard powder or cornflour
  • 3 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Spray a 20 cm pie or flan dish (with a removable base and fluted sides) with non-stick spray. Gently press the sheet of pastry into the pan and trim any excess.
  2. Measure the sugar into a food processor.
  3. Using a potato peeler, thinly peel the rind from the lemon or grate it finely. Vary the quantity according to taste.
  4. Add the rind to the sugar then process until the rind is cut finely through the sugar.
  5. Mix the lemon juice with the custard powder (or cornflour).
  6. Add the sour cream and lemon juice mixture to the sugar then process until smooth and the sugar has dissolved.
  7. Add the eggs one at a time with the processor running.
  8. Pour the filling mixture into the pastry base. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown around the edges. (The middle may still jiggle a bit, but this is ok.)
  9. Remove tart from the oven and allow to cool. (The middle will probably sink a little and become firmer.) Cut into wedges to serve.

Sweet short pastry

  • 100 g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  1. Soften (but do not melt) butter. Add the sugar and egg then beat until well combined. [I used a dough hook but probably didn't need to - the paddle attachment would have been fine.]
  2. Add the unsifted flours and mix well to form a dough. If too dry, add a little milk (teaspoon by teaspoon). If too soft to work with, refrigerate rather than adding more flour.
  3. Roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured board before trimming to a round 3-4 cm larger than the baking tin.
Note: this will make more pastry than is required. The extra can be frozen or refrigerated for later use.

Serve with lightly whipped cream or creme fraiche. We had it cold with ice cream but it would probably taste great warm, too.
Sour cream lemon tart

Monday, 5 November 2012

How to Meet Girls from a Distance

Some people are shy. Others are quiet and reserved. That can make it really hard to meet dating prospects, something most people could probably sympathise with. So how does someone overcome this? Well, the simple solution would be to find out a little bit about your object of affection before making an approach, but where does background research end and stalking begin? This fine thick line is the subject of a locally made film, How to Meet Girls from a Distance, which we got to see at a special preview screening last week thanks to

Made on a tiny budget, How to Meet Girls from a Distance was the winner of this year's Make My Movie competition. It was great to be able to spot well known locations and scenery from in and around Wellington, as well as some extras in the cast, and this made the anachronisms easier to overlook. Genuinely funny and cringe worthy all at once, there were many moments when I wanted to yell "noooooo!" at the main character or just take him aside for a 'quiet talk'.

How to Meet Girls from a Distance is on now in selected cinemas. It makes for a hilarious night out as well as providing practical tips on what not to do when stalking getting to know a romantic interest.