Wednesday, 31 December 2014


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!

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

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.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

National Nut Day

Apparently it's National Nut Day today. Surely that's something to make you smile! Actually, I think it might an overseas event that we are jumping on board with a day early but I'm happy to celebrate it in our own little patch of the world.

Ahh, nuts. Yummmm! So much natural goodness. I buy raw mixed nuts each week and we enjoy them as a healthy protein-filled snack. Make no mistake: they're not cheap but the health benefits are numerous. 30 grams (literally just a handful) provides a huge number of healthy cholesterol-lowering fats, antioxidants, Omega-3 and fibre - and they taste great.

I can take or leave peanuts and don't care much for raw hazelnuts but have a bag of them on hand ready to be roasted and converted into this delicious chocolate and hazelnut cake when the right occasion presents itself. Cashew nuts are an easy entry on my heaven food list and Brazil nuts and almonds have always been favourites of mine, either raw or coated in delicious chocolate. I frequently bake with walnuts; they are a cheaper alternative to pecans and taste very similar and pistachios make fun party snacks. I'm making myself hungry!

I really feel for those who have nut allergies or develop an intolerance of nuts during their lifetime. I can't imagine how scary it much be to react so severely to something you might not even know is in the vicinity.

Join me in going nuts on National Nut Day today. (Chocolate coating optional.) ;-)

Monday, 6 October 2014

Sparkling high tea

The only thing more indulgent than high tea on a Sunday afternoon is high tea with bubbles. This weekend, we were guests of the Amora Hotel for sparkling high tea. Our quest to become ladies continues!

The menu was divided into two categories, rather than three, but featured many of the staples you'd expect from a traditional high tea. Coffee arrived and the bubbly was poured while each item was introduced by the pastry chef. He suggested starting at the top with scones and friands, then working down the tiers through sandwiches and savouries before finishing with sweet treats at the bottom - almost the total opposite to how we've become accustomed to taking high tea. Although it was tempting to start with something sweeter, we reverted to what we knew about being ladies and began with sandwiches after all.

Sparkling high tea
The sandwiches were beautifully fresh and oh so delicate. The lamb and rosemary sausage rolls were a novel addition to the menu. I enjoyed the mini meringue with hazelnut truffle and the marmalade sweetened Devonshire scones served with cream. The standout item for me was the chocolate and cherry tartlet made with delicious chocolate marquis. Yum!

Sparkling high tea is fun way to wile away a Sunday afternoon with friends. Thanks to the Amora Hotel for this lovely prize.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Pear and chocolate brioche

I am fascinated by brioche. Not quite bread, not quite cake, and it is eaten either at breakfast or for dessert. The French have once again got their food right!

My first attempt at baking brioche was under the careful supervision of a live-in French pâtissier. As I no longer have this luxury, I needed to find a recipe I could make by myself. Once again, The New Zealand Bread Book by Simon and Alison Holst had an excellent recipe that could be made either in a breadmaker (then cooked in the oven) or by hand. I used my breadmaker to mix the dough, then shaped the brioche by hand before proofing and baking it in the oven.

The shaping part of the recipe can be fiddly but is getting easier with practice. The pear and chocolate combination is my favourite (and most successful) flavour so far. I have tried making bobble-top brioche a couple of times but prefer the consistency of the three ball method outlined below. It produces a lighter, fluffier finish that you can pull apart while eating. The recipe makes approximately 10 x 90 gram pieces with a bit left over to make a smaller sample one.

Pear and chocolate brioche

  • 3 t Surebake yeast
  • 420 g standard plain flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 75 g butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 70 g pear pieces, finely diced
Egg glaze
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 t sugar
  1. Place first seven ingredients into bread maker in the order listed. Put chocolate chips in the fruit dispenser. Set on the DOUGH RAISIN cycle (2 hours 20 minutes). Check the dough after about 3 minutes of mixing. It should be soft, but if it looks too wet and sticky add 2 T of extra flour.
  2. When the dough cycle is complete, remove dough from the machine and transfer to a well-oiled bow. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into four or five even pieces, Break off pieces and roll into small balls weighing approximately 30 grams each. This video demonstrates the technique really well.
  4. Place three balls together in a well-oiled muffin pan. Lightly press the diced pear pieces around the edges and in between the dough balls.
    Dough balls with pear pieces - before proofing
  5. Cover loosely with cling film and leave to rise in a warm draught-free place for about 1 hour or until the dough is approximately double in size. (I use the proof dough setting on my oven.)
  6. Preheat oven to 180°C. Make the egg glaze by shaking an egg, water and sugar together in a tightly closed jar or whisking with a fork. Brush over the dough using a pastry brush.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown on all surfaces. Makes 10-11 brioche.
Pear and chocolate brioche

Sunday, 28 September 2014

7 grain loaf

One of my baking goals for this year is to reduce the amount of bread I buy and make as much as possible myself. I am having lots of fun (and success) and am proud to report that I haven't bought a single 'fancy' loaf all year - including baked goods like bread rolls, hot cross buns, focaccia and treats like cinnamon swirls. I have also experimented with some everyday bread recipes.

This recipe for 7 grain bread came from a colleague who frequently bakes his own bread. We swapped success stories; I passed on the busy people's bread recipe in exchange for his one below. It is made in a breadmaker and baked on the medium size whole wheat setting (5 hours in total for Panasonic breadmakers). It has a few less conventional ingredients that you can buy from places like Bin Inn or in some supermarket bulk bins. They combine well to add to the overall taste and texture.

7 grain bread

  • 2 1/2 t Surebake yeast
  • 210 g high grade flour
  • 105 g wholemeal flour
  • 45 g 7 grain (or 5 grain) mix
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 T cornmeal (fine or medium grade)
  • 1 T gluten flour
  • 1 T milk powder
  • 1 T sunflower seeds
  • 1 T pumpkin seeds
  • 1 T Canola or sunflower oil
  • 220 ml tepid water
  1. Add ingredients in the order listed above (or following manufacturer's instructions) to breadmaker pan.
  2. Set to whole wheat > bake > medium loaf size. Cycle will take 5 hours.
  3. Leave in bread pan for 5 mins once cooked then turn out onto wire rack to cool.
7 grain medium sized loaf
Nothing smells or tastes better than freshly baked bread

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Word of the day: pithy

Following the success of last year's word of the day, pecksniffian, I have a new word to add to my everyday vocabulary. The word came to my attention today in the form of feedback emailed to a colleague:
"At 15 pages in length this is a substantial document and doesn't meet requirements in terms of being a pithy and succinct indication of outcomes."
Pithy? Isn't that something found underneath the skin of citrus fruits, like mandarins or oranges?

Apparently not. Several sources offer variations on the following definitions:
  • brief, forceful, and meaningful in expression
  • full of vigor, substance, or meaning
  • terse and vigorously expressive
  • forcible
  • using few words in a clever and effective way
  • having substance and point.
I guess they make sense in the context, albeit the word just sounded very strange in a formal email.

I think pithy might be best used as a substitute word. We practised using it in some different contexts in the office today.

Favourite song:
Will Smith's Gettin' Pithy Wit It

Favourite way to feel sorry for yourself:
Throw a pithy party for ... nobody, because they wouldn't come if you invited them anyway.

Favourite band:

Favourite expression:
I'm really pithed off.

Favourite warning:
Don't pith me off.

Favourite way to describe the weather (derivative):
It's pithing down outside.

Favourite childhood game:
Pithy in the middle

Your challenge: use the word pithy in a sentence in a completely inappropriate way and see if anyone notices.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


If you are what you eat, I worry that I am going to turn into a Chinese dumpling sometime soon. ;-)

Dumplings have blown sushi completely out of the water this year as my preferred lunch option. They make a welcome change to the usual salad wrap that I've made almost every morning for the past few years. Every two or three weeks, lunch boredom sets in and I promise myself a treat in the form of steamed dumplings. I gather up some fellow office foodies and we head out to indulge in fresh dumplings - our instant happy place!

I've always liked dumplings but my near-obsession with them was fuelled by a dumpling making class last year. Despite the best of intentions, I still haven't got around to making them at home ... yet. I make do with tracking down the House of Dumplings cart at festivals and markets, as well as the occasional visit to the dumpling food court in town. I can't wait to check out House of Dumplings's new dumpling shops.

House of Dumplings selection
These steamed dumplings are from a small food court on Lambton Quay. They are pork with Chinese cabbage flavour with a hint of grated ginger inside and are just about to be drizzled with soy sauce and chili sauce. They also taste delicious when pan fried. Mmmmm.

Pork and Chinese cabbage steamed dumplings
Why I don't get this excited about broccoli?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Off on a tandem

We were chatting about an out-of-town colleague that is due to visit the office shortly, where she will meet some of our branch coworkers for the first time. Donna and I have worked together before. It would be fair to say that she has a very distinct personality that sometimes disguises a heart of gold. We get on well, but I'm aware that some others don't.

Patricia filled in our new staff members: "The thing about Donna is she always comes up with these outrageous malapropisms. I used to point them out but now I wouldn't dare. She doesn't think they're funny at all!"

We laughed politely at Patricia's anecdote but our confused faces quickly gave way to a collective confession that none of us actually knew what a malapropism was, let alone what Donna was doing wrong.

Patricia elaborated: "Donna will say something like, 'the meeting was going really well and we talked about lots of good ideas, until Sophie brought up alternative funding. Next thing, they were off on a tandem!'"

Imagine the impeccable timing Sophie and her colleague must have to just hop on a nearby tandem mid-meeting and cycle away together! Does this happen often? Is the tandem kept on standby somewhere close, ready at a moment's notice if it is needed, we wondered? Or does one just appear out of thin air whenever Sophie and her coworkers sound like they might be about to ride off together?

Another malapropism that I have heard for years in the education world is Pacific, as in, "we need this project's objectives to be really Pacific." How delightful would that be? Imagine objectives that were entirely Pasifika-focused! It might be appropriate sometimes, but I don't think it's the word they're looking for. I find it really hard to keep a straight face when I hear professionals educators reminding people to make things Pacific.

What malapropisms make you laugh?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Fresh As freeze dried powder

I have discovered my new favourite baking ingredient: Fresh As freeze dried powder. I came across a recipe requiring it a few months ago and so started out with a package of raspberry powder. Now, after using it to make several different recipes with some more left over in the fridge, I am well and truly hooked. It is easily one of #myfavoritethings.

Believe me when I say that this freeze dried powder is magical. A big problem for me when using syrup-based flavours is the effect it can have on the final product. Adding liquid to flavour fondant, buttercream or even cake mix requires great caution as the consistency can easily change from a slightly sticky mixture to an over-wet mess. Freeze dried powder adds both colour and flavour with the same effect as adding icing sugar, for example. It blends in and doesn't upset the balance between wet and dry ingredients.

So far, my pack of raspberry freeze dried powder has made a few batches of raspberry marshmallow frosting and filling and a three-layer raspberry checkerboard cake with piped ombré ribbons and roses. I like the look of this little passionfruit pavlova recipe and might use the rest of my raspberry powder to make some, or maybe even buy some passionfruit powder and start experimenting with a new flavour.

Raspberry marshmallow frosting
... with raspberry filling inside
Raspberry vanilla cake with piped ombré ribbons and roses
Raspberry vanilla checkerboard cake
As far as I am aware, there are three main stockists of Fresh As powder in the Wellington region: Moore Wilson's, Ontrays in Petone and Ruth Pretty's kitchen shop.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Chocolate buffet

There are many ways for a foodie to celebrate their birthday in Wellington. Markets, specialty food shops and a long list of excellent dining options. For those born in early September, the obvious choice is the chocolate buffet at the Amora Hotel. Last night, we joined a group celebrating a friend's birthday by overloading on chocolate and having dessert for dinner.

The buffet tables were heaving with small and perfectly formed chocolate desserts. Check out the menu here. We were offered hot chilli scented chocolate shots on arrival. There was also a crêpe station, a chocolate fountain and a stash of Kapiti ice cream to choose from. *drool*

It's hard to know where to begin when faced with so many options. We grabbed plates and worked around the first half of table, helping ourselves to one of everything with great gusto. Opera cake, black forest gâteau, profiteroles, tiramisu, raspberry dark chocolate marquise, Kirsch chocolate tart and Guinness chocolate mousse to begin.

First course
I checked out the crêpe station for my second course. The berry compote was a refreshing change to all the surrounding chocolate, as was the black doris plum and crème fraîche ice cream. However, we were there for chocolate so I added some chocolate mud cake slice and rocky road for good luck.

Second course
By this stage, we were labouring and the pace was seriously slowing. After soooooo much sugar in just one hour, the fruit from the chocolate fountain was appealing, as was the chocolate pear crumble with caramel sauce. I couldn't manage an almond coated rum ball or chocolate profiterole, even though I wanted to try them both. They stared at me from the plate, looking confused, forlorn and abandoned. The only thing missing was a chocolate after dinner mint at the end, but I probably would have struggled to eat one even if they were available.

The chocolate buffet is on until 14 September, so book quickly and prepare to indulge!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Pretzel making

My final Wellington on a Plate event was a hands-on pretzel making class on Saturday. Most people conjure up images of moreish party treats that come in the shape of mini pretzels, but we were being shown how to bake soft pretzels by German chef Uwe Braun.

After a monumental ticketing stuff-up that resulted in some of us turning up to an empty room due to us having a different start time printed on our tickets (2 hours earlier), we returned to a more reassuring sight: tables set with everything you need to make four soft pretzels and an entertaining host.

Tools of the trade
The ingredients are simple: flour, yeast, sugar, salt, melted butter and warm beer. (We were given half-bottles of Tui but I imagine real beer would taste good. You could even use cider.) Make a well in the flour. Mix the yeast in with the beer and a little bit of surrounding flour and leave until it starts reacting. Bubbles will form on top.

The yeast begins reacting to the beer
The next parts of the process are typical of bread making, involving kneading (I remember now why I have a bread maker and Kenwood mixer), resting the gluten and shaping the dough. After several stages, long strips of dough are twisted into the famous pretzel shape and placed on a baking tray. They are then glazed with egg yolk, dark soy sauce and a little bit more beer then sprinkled with rock salt or flaky salt.

Glazed and ready for baking
Approximately 15 minutes in the oven sees the dough turned into dark coloured soft baked pretzels.

Pretzels for afternoon tea
The finished pretzels looked good but were far too salty for my palette. I actually struggled to finish one. There was quite a bit of salt in the mixture, then soy sauce and more salt added to the glaze. I might try making pretzels at home but will either drastically reduce the salt content or look for a different recipe.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Classic soda and siphon workshop

And now for something a little bit different. Last night's Wellington on a Plate event was a hands-on classic soda and siphon workshop at Six Barrel Soda Co. We pulled up seats at the soda fountain and had some fun making yummy drinks.

We started by getting up close and personal with a soda siphon. This involved shaking (and shaking and shaking) this contraption to carbonate the water.

Soda siphon
We then used it to make our own soda floats, a smoother version of the old ice cream spiders we grew up with. Fill the glass to 3/4 with ice, then 3/4 with carbonated water. Pour 35 ml of soda syrup over the top and let it settle into the glass. (That's the correct way to make a soda. If you use alcohol, pour it into the bottom of the glass to mix it.) Add a scoop of ice cream or gelato and then more carbonated water on top. This gives the ice cream a frothy look and means that you can drink it, rather than eat it as a sundae. This is my classic cherry pomegranate soda float.

Cherry pomegranate soda float
We then experimented with a range of flavoured syrups and garnishes to create our own uniquely flavoured sodas. The syrups are all made onsite and distributed around the world from this little upstairs soda bar. I tried out the raspberry lemon syrup, added a few drops of orange bitters and delicately garnished it with orange and lime wedges. Very refreshing!

Raspberry lemon and bitters soda
It was time to step things up a notch. I added a dash of ginger syrup, then some freshly picked mint, a cucumber slice, some more bitters ... you get the picture. It was so much fun adding splashes of syrup and other ingredients to create new flavours. The results are only limited by your imagination!