Sunday, 28 July 2013

Something good in every day

I've been unwell this week. The days have languished in a tangle of coughing, spluttering, broken sleep and meds only to intensify during the night in preparation for a repeat performance the next day. Sometimes it's been hard working out what day it is (or which way is up) but I came across this quote and thought about how true it is. Once again, it's the little things (and Irish Moss) that make life good every day.

Things I'm loving right now:
  • Pic's Really Good Peanut Butter. I'd always known it was good. Thanks to The Food Show, I'll be reminded just how really really good it is for the foreseeable future.
  • Wentworth. Prisons fascinate and horrify me in equal measure. This series dishes up dramas that feed both reactions each week. 
  • On Song by Simon Sweetman. I finally got into reading my Christmas present and kicked it off by listening to Don't Dream It's Over four times in a row.
  • Baking with all things caramel. Traditionally not my favourite flavour, caramel is quickly ascending the popularity ranks largely due to baking with super-ingredient caramel condensed milk.
  • Stray Cats. This would have been such a fun band to play in back in the day.
  • Vanilla Shott in coffee and hot chocolate. Vanilla is no longer the code word for 'plain' or 'no flavour'.
  • Taties - relive 80s nostalgia with at a Bin Inn near you.
What's good in your day?

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Swan Lake

The  Royal New Zealand Ballet is celebrating 60 years in 2013 and on Thursday night we saw the company perform Swan Lake, accompanied by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Tchaikovsky's masterpiece is a fitting celebration for the ballet, who are in very fine form.

Reviews are favourable and thoroughly deserved. The set is exquisite, conveying elegance, depth and mystique around the lake, which contrasts with the opulence of the palace. The costumes are a work of art themselves and work well with the highly technical choreography. (Count those jumps on pointes!)

Gillian Murphy playing the dual roles of Odette and Odile was beyond outstanding, if that's possible. It's hard to look anywhere else when Murphy takes the stage; her performance as the vulnerable Odette contrasted with the brash, self-assured Odile is truly mesmerising. Karel Cruz's legs go on forever, making every movement seem silky smooth. Rory Fairweather-Neylan delivered a strong, energetic performance as the jester and Sir Jon Trimmer appeared for a delightful cameo.

This production deviated from the traditional ending, which was a surprise but doesn't take away from the resplendent performance. Swan Lake by the Royal New Zealand Ballet really is a must see.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Blueberry caramel muffins

The thing I love about muffins is their versatility. A basic muffin recipe can be adapted according to almost any ingredients you have available and sometimes these result in my favourite flavour combinations. Having defrosted blueberries on hand, thanks to a dead freezer, and half a tin of caramel condensed milk in the fridge left over from some recent baking led to blueberry caramel muffins today.

Although I have become a huge cupcake (and cake) fan in recent years, muffins are my (generally) foolproof baking staple that I can quickly throw together with very little fuss. They don't need to be iced and you can have them ready to eat, including cooking time, in just half an hour.

I don't usually line muffins but did this time because I find that berries sometimes stain baking tins and I'm wanting to protect the nice new muffin trays that I bought recently for cupcake making.

Blueberry caramel muffins

  • 30 g butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 cups self-raising flour
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup caramel condensed milk
  1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease or line a 12-hole muffin tray.
  2. Combine melted butter and sugar in a bowl. Add eggs then milk and mix well.
  3. Gently fold in flour and stir until just combined. Do not overmix as this will make your muffins tough.
  4. Use a teaspoon to spoon mixture into the muffin tin. Drop 2-3 blueberries onto each muffin then spoon 1/2 teaspoon of caramel condensed milk in the centre. (Too much caramel will overflow when baking, even though it's tempting to add more!) Spoon the rest of the mixture onto each muffin and add 2-3 more blueberries on top.
  5. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a light golden colour. Leave to cool in the tray for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Blueberry caramel muffins

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The flavours of life

Someone once told me that every new food you try adds ten minutes to your life. Now, I'm not sure about the science behind this statement, but I'd agree that there is much pleasure to be gained from trying new things, and surely that's got to be good for you. There is a cute infographic here that adds time to your life for drinking one glass of alcohol and 2-3 cups of coffee each day, while another adds and subtracts microlives for different types of activity.

I got to thinking about some of the 'new' flavours I have tried or taken a liking to in recent months. Food markets are a great way of experimenting with flavours and we are lucky to have several good ones in Wellington. This city really is a foodie's haven.

I was treated to homemade melktert for the second time this week. This milk tart is a South African dessert with a baked biscuit crumb crust and a milky filling that is reminiscent of Italian crema, but not quite as sweet. The only thing better than a slice of milktert for morning tea is an even bigger slab of melktert for afternoon tea. Believe me, it's good.
✔ 10 minutes.

Speaking of South African delights, I have also learned about the joys of biltong, or cured meat. On Trays in Petone has a range of fresh biltong available that you can sample. I recently bought a bag of Nelson biltong, which has a full, gamey flavour and is all too easy to demolish.
✔ Another ten minutes.

And what about new drinks? I'd say they are easily good for another ten minutes each. At a conference today, we were served Optimism cocktails, named for the sponsoring company. Made from tequila, triple sec, strawberry crush and freshly squeezed lemon juice in a salt-rimmed Martini glass, they went down well on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in winter, even for this non-tequila drinker.
✔ Ten minutes. (We won't worry about deducting any minutes that I am convinced tequila shortens your life by. Ahem.)

Optimism cocktail
How many minutes have you added to your life recently? Any suggestions for food and drink that I should try next to add even more?

Monday, 15 July 2013

Conversation starters

Some people are gifted in the art of conversation. No topic is too big or small with them and it doesn't matter whether they know the person they're talking to; a conversation started by a few keen questions is never too far away.

Some of us are a bit shy. However, I have discovered that I possess a sure-fire conversation starter: my Kindle. Rather than becoming the solo pursuit it appears to be, my Kindle has been the subject of fascination by so many people, old and young, who are curious to know all about it.

The conversation usually goes something like this: "Is that a Kindle? Wow, it looks really light. Can I hold it/see how heavy it is? Oh, even in a case this is really light and easy to hold! That's such a cute case! Where did you get it from? How much did it cost? Do you like reading off it? Does the light go brighter? Wow, that's really clear! How do you turn the page? ..." And so on.

A while ago, there was an elderly couple sitting next to me on the plane. The gentleman noticed my Kindle and proudly declared, "I know what that is. I email my grandson." A quick look around my Kindle bookshelf helped clarify things. I followed it up with a demo on how you can make the font bigger and saw his eyes light up. You see, he and his wife have been making the trip from Gisborne to Christchurch for several months while he had cochlear implants surgically inserted then repeatedly adjusted. His hearing loss has meant that reading is one of the pleasures he can still enjoy until the implants are full functioning. The three of us chatted all the way through our flight. What a lovely couple they were.

Then there was the woman sitting next to me while we were waiting to be called for jury service. You see, she has arthritis and struggles to comfortably hold the novels she loves to read. Isn't it amazing how lightweight a Kindle is? And you can turn the page just by tapping on it? She went home and ordered one from Amazon that night.

I finally realised the power of the Kindle as a conversation started on a flight this evening. The person sitting next to me was reading from her iPad. We had the usual Kindle conversation and she admitted that she hasn't quite worked out the settings on her iPad to stop the power saver from kicking in, dulling the screen or turning off unless she moves something (or skips a page). We got talking and she told me she is really excited about to be beginning a journey of two years' postgraduate study ... we traded some war stories about the benefits and perils of study and other things. She said she realised she wouldn't have much time to read for pleasure any more, then showed me what she was currently trying to finish before her study began: a huge tome called Les Misérables. I showed her that I had Les Mis on my Kindle, ready to read (for free!). And so we talked about musicals, theatre, production, study, writing, publishing ... I didn't even notice that we'd landed. As we left to go our separate ways at the airport, she assured me she was going home to look up Kindle deliveries before leaving for overseas. Seriously, Amazon should pay me a commission as I’m sure I’ve ‘sold’ several Kindles this year alone.

For those book snobs who accuse me of selling out: get over it. I've heard it all: "It's not the same. I like the feel of a real book/curling up with a book in bed/the smell of paper blah blah." I can assure you from personal experience that you can curl up just as easily with a Kindle as any other book. Then there's the cost factor. Buying a best seller for ~$37 or ~$10? I know what I'd rather pay, and there are so many free or really cheap books that are instantly available. They're especially practical when you're travelling or commuting. And why carry one book with you to read when you can have 1000 in your bag all the time?

Are you an ebook convert? Or do you still prefer tree books? I should point out that I still regularly borrow books from the library and love browsing through bookshops, but am totally, unashamedly in love with my Kindle. And its super powers as a conversation starter are a bonus.

Saturday, 6 July 2013


I have made a lot of bread lately. The pizza dough setting on my breadmaker makes it all so easy and, along with ciabatta, focaccia is becoming my party piece. Use fresh herbs if you have them available. Otherwise, dried herbs work just as well - you'll only need about a teaspoon each of basil, rosemary and thyme.


  • 3 teaspoons Surebake yeast
  • 450 grams high-grade flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon milk powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 g) butter
  • 300 ml water
  1. Place ingredients in the pan of the breadmaker in the above order. Select the pizza cycle (for Panasonic machines) and start. This is a 45 minute cycle.
  2. Place dough on a lightly floured board or bench. Cover with a large bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes. [Sometimes I'm lazy and just leave it in the breadmaker for a bit longer once the cycle has finished. It seems to work.]
  3. Shape into a flat circle and place on a baking tray. [I line my tray with baking paper, which makes it easier to clean up.] Make holes with the end of a wooden spoon 5 cm apart all over the surface of the dough.
  4. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place (30-35°C) for 20-30 minutes or until almost doubled in size. [I use the proof dough setting on my oven, which keeps the temperature at a consistent 30°C.]
  5. Brush surface with olive oil and sprinkle with crushed sea salt, basil, rosemary and thyme.
  6. Bake in a preheated oven at 210°C for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Focaccia fresh out of the oven

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Other people's problems

Someone once told me that other people's problems are just that.

The problem is, some people don't have a problem with making their problems yours!

I wonder if this t-shirt is for real? I'm sure it would be a bestseller!