Saturday, 26 April 2014


We were given a big bagful of walnuts recently. Handfuls have been shared with friends and family and the rest are spending their days drying in the sun. Those that are not gobbled up as snacks are destined to be finely chopped and used to top homemade cinnamon swirls when I get around to it - if they last that long.

I always have nuts in the pantry. A 30 gram handful makes for a yummy protein-laden snack with all the right cholesterol-lowering fats and just 185 calories. (Don't ask how I know that.) But walnuts tend to polarise people's palette. Either you like the woody taste or you don't; there's nothing in between.

I sit in the walnut lovers' camp. My brother is is firmly on the other side of the fence. However, when we were young (perhaps 8 and 6), there was a walnut incident in our home that neither of us have been allowed to forget, even 30 years later ...

A family friend had died and my parents were at an evening memorial service. Mum had pitched in with catering and baked to two large chocolate walnut cakes to bring to the funeral the next day. They were cooling while she and Dad were at the rosary and we were left with a babysitter (probably my grandmother, but no-one seems to remember where she was during the 'incident'). The cakes looked good. They smelled even better. Surely Mum wouldn't notice just a little nibble gone? We pulled out a small bit each from the back of one. I found a walnut. And another. Bonus! We pulled out some more. And then some more. We knew we shouldn't but couldn't stop ourselves until we had ripped apart the middle of both cakes, gorging on handfuls of walnuts and leaving just a few chunks of cake on the racks. I think my brother may have tried to reassemble the remaining crumbs into cake form. Surely no-one would notice?

I don't remember what happened when Mum got home but I know she wasn't happy. To this day, my brother insists he hates walnuts and always has, but we both vividly remember devouring the cake with great gusto and loving every bite!

It's funny how the sight (and taste) of something so small can bring back so many memories.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter break

The Easter break has changed so much for me over the years. This 4-day weekend is now my favourite holiday time during a busy year. There is something so appealing about being forced to take a break at the same time as being awarded a licence to eat copious amounts of chocolate, all the while being unable to do normal things (read: shop for stuff I don't need and rush about stressing over things that really don't matter) for just a couple of days each year. I look forward to the long weekend with probably more excitement than I should and eagerly embrace the time out.

Yesterday, we headed to the Horowhenua with a bunch of friends to spend the night in a friend's newly built log house. Set amid a 2 acre plot of land strewn with 40 metre gum trees, we were looking forward to the overnight stay that had long ago been promised. We loaded up the car with heaps of food, wine, Easter eggs for hiding and a few board games, then were on our way. The property had been hit pretty hard during the storms this week so there was some trepidation about what state we might find the grounds in, but the house was beautifully unscathed.

I'd had romantic ideas of us waking up on Easter Sunday to the smell of freshly baked hot cross buns and set about making dough to bring with me. What I hadn't anticipated was our friend not having an oven yet in his temporary kitchen. Plan B: I could use the warming rack beneath the woodburner and cross my fingers that it would successfully bake bread.

My oven for the night
The biggest challenge was getting enough heat. I needed 200ºC for the hot cross buns to cook but apparently it's rare for the oven to get above 130ºC (enough to slowly toast muesli but that's about it). We solved this by cranking up the burner, adding heaps of wood, pouring some wine and waiting. The buns doubled in size while proving in front of the heater, then it was into the fire to see what would happen.

Just the right size to bake a dozen hot cross buns
Success! Not only was the gap between the metal plates just big high to bake twelve hot cross buns on a tray, but they cooked perfectly with just the right amount of colour on top. I am so proud of my first ever (and potentially only ever) batch of woodburner baked hot cross buns! It was even more satisfying to produce them for an eager audience who oohed and aahed while they were baking and drooled over the smell as they were cooling.

The best part is that we have arrived home relaxed and armed with a cache of chocolate, along with a few spare hot cross buns for breakfast tomorrow. They will be perfectly matched with freshly brewed coffee after one more morning of sleeping in ... so long as the cat remembers that it's a holiday and doesn't wake me up for work at 6:30 am. (I don't rate my chances of that happening but at least I know breakfast will be good!)

Friday, 11 April 2014

Ready To Roll

We're enduring a long, slow Friday today. With only 40% of staff present in our office, the ensuing quiet should technically enable more productivity but has instead resulted in a general malaise that isn't helped by the dreary weather outside. So we're collectively tackling some really big issues.

It was all sparked by the casual Friday wardrobe choice of our 24-year-old accounting assistant. Spotted wearing a RTR t-shirt, he was asked by another colleague whether he knew what it meant. A quick Google search and he told us that it was "an old TV programme". "What does it stand for?" he was further challenged. "Ready To Roll," he read. By now, he had gathered quite an audience, all within a certain age range. We swiftly delivered a verdict: "You can’t be allowed to wear a RTR t-shirt if you don't know what it means and weren't even born at the time."

Naturally, he argued that he could wear the t-shirt. After all, he has been listening to some old music lately. He proudly told me a few weeks ago that, "I listened to an 80s song last week. It wasn't too bad." He then went on to name an obscure number that apparently earns him the right to say he knows about 80s music now. He "might even listen to another 80s song sometime" if I can recommend something for him to download. Never mind the oxymoron that is downloading 80s music.

Here's how it is: unless 6 pm Saturdays, Robbie Rakete with long hair (he was Robbie then, not Robert or a Wiggle), counting down to the number one single and not being allowed to stay up late enough to watch Radio With Pictures on a Sunday night rings a bell, you shouldn't be allowed to wear the t-shirt. Not in any circumstances. Not ever. Not even if you've listened to an 80s song once. No way. It's a bit like wearing a t-shirt for a concert you never went to or remembering Woodstock.

What do you think? Are we being too harsh?

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Random thoughts

Eep! It's been a while. *shrugs apologetically to self and blog*

Here are some random thought from the past couple of weeks:
  • Rice bread tastes amazing when fresh out of the oven but just as good lightly toasted the next day. Also, this recipe for Irish soda bread couldn't be quick or easier to make - I've done it several times recently with a 100% success rate.
  • Although I am enjoying baking lots of bread this year, I still adore baking cakes and other goodies. Today's attempt at making alphabet block cake toppers for a special little man's birthday was incredibly fun, even if my blocks didn't quite look like the ones in that picture.
  • I had the weirdest dream last night. My dad called and said the band had a job starting in two hours' time. It was Thursday night and we were playing a cabaret gig (what's with that??). I desperately raced around trying to find musical gear, a dress and a babysitter - when I haven't been in a band for years, haven't ever seen any of the ugly outfits I imagined sorting through in my 'wardrobe' and don't have a child!
  • An unexpected trip to Christchurch this week means I may be able to hunt for more Whittakers Big Eggs. I don't yet know what venue I'll be at, but I will definitely collect the egg at Wellington Airport along with any others I can sneak away to during the day. Yay!
  • If you have a Kindle, check out Heavenly Steals for daily freebies in a range of genre. I have occasionally picked up a few good biographies and light novels.
  • Daylight saving ended in the wee small hours of this morning. I wonder how long it will take for me to reprogramme the pussy cat into demanding breakfast an hour later than she's used to?