Sunday, 31 July 2011

101 Things Update - Week 3

Well, this week was a total bust. Nearly. Besides keeping up the calcium tablets (borrrrrrrring) and finishing Three Cups of Tea (which I am about to write a post on... so I might post this after I have posted that so that I can link it to this... (later: Done! Linked!)), the whole exercising four days a week thing totally went out the window because I had a cold all week. And we all know what my reaction to being unable to exercise is - drown my sorrows in food! Yeah, I know, I'm so unbelievably smart... S-M-R-T!

So I've decided that a little bit of public humiliation might help me along. I know I'm crazy for doing this, but I'm going to add another tab to track my food and my exercise in the hope that it keeps me honest. The jury is still out on whether I will post my weight and/or measurements... Perhaps I shall post them as "today I weighed X" (literally using the letter X) and then the following week post "today I weight X minus . Could work. If I decide I hate doing it or I'm too embarrassed by it I can always delete the page.

Actually, I just realised that I DID exercise this week - I shovelled a ute load of 20mm aggregate over my mum's driveway and worked up quite a sweat doing it. So, it wasn't a dead loss!

Aaaaaaaanyway, besides finishing my first of fifteen unread books, it also occurred to me that I have been going great guns in the blog posting department, and so I might highlight that in green and start counting them.

So, in summary:

#35: To exercise 4 times a week in the lead-up to the wedding - more or less a total bust, with the exception of weilding a shovel to resurface my mum's driveway to stop her slipping over and twisting her OTHER ankle

#24: To blog at least twice a month for a year - Well, considering I have racked up a blistering EIGHT (including this one) posts this month - a record for me - I'm off to a good start. And even if I don't do it twice a month exactly, I can still claim that I averaged twice a month. So I'm fairly confident that I can highlight this one in green now

#65: To read all my unread books before buying more - One down, fourteen to go.

#49: To lose 1kg per month until under 75kg but over 70kg - it just occurred to me that if I'm planning on meticulously counting my exercise and food in a public forum, that I may as well commit to losing the weight along with it. They logically go hand in hand, really. And my jeans are getting a little tight after my birthday week and then my week of no exercise...

Book Review - Three Cups of Tea, by David Oliver Relin (with Greg Mortimer)

#65 on my list of 101 Things to do in 1001 days is to read all the unread books on my shelf... okay, shelves... before purchasing any more of them.

The first cab off the rank was Three Cups of Tea, by David Oliver Relin, first published by Viking Penguin in 2006.

File:ThreeCupsOfTea BookCover.jpg

It is a story about Greg Mortensen, an American trauma nurse-mountaineer (or perhaps that should be mountaineer-trauma nurse, given the latter only occurred to subsidise the former!) who failed to summit K2 (for all you un-adventurous lowlanders, K2 is the second-highest summit on Earth after Mount Everest, and has the reputation of being the more difficult of the two to climb. One in four die attempting to summit it, a fatality rate second only to Annapurna) in the early nineties, and who, on his way back down the mountain, exhausted and delirious, took a wrong turn and ended up in a remote Pakistani village.

His meeting of the villagers and their hospitality towards this infidel in his moment of need set him on a path to his new calling in life - correcting the vacuum of education and government support by building schools and other life-improving infrastructure (water pipes; sewing facilities for women; very basic first aid clinics in villages (training someone to administer antibiotics, electrolytes and to dress wounds) etc) in Pakistan, and later in Afghanistan.

After leaving Pakistan, Mortensen (or Dr Greg, as he later became known) couldn't shake the image of the Pakistani children doggedly holding school classes outside in the cold, using sticks to do their sums in the dirt. He had made a promise to the village elder that one day he would be back to help the children, and kept his word. He particularly saw the necessity of providing education for girls, which was completely lacking in this impoverished corner of a largely Muslim country.

Having had plans drawn up, he determined that a school could be built for just USD$12,000, but Mortensen struggled badly to raise funds. Everybody was interested in supporting high-profile charities to build schools for the Buddhist Nepalese children (probably because the profile was raised by Sir Edmund Hillary through his philanthropic work), and nobody was interested in helping the unknown entity that is the Muslim Pakistanis. He wrote over five hundred letters to various celebrities who could very well afford such a sum asking for assistance, and was ignored by all. Eventually, scientist Dr Jean Hoerni, a self-made millionaire from the computer industry and fellow lover of mountaineering, bankrolled the first school and eventually enabled the founding of the Central Asia Institute.

Following several false starts and setbacks, with the help of a handful of locals passionate about bettering their childrens' futures, and finding support in the oddest of places, Dr. Greg and the CAI built 55 schools over the following decade (more have been built since). During this process he had jihads declared on him by conservative regional Muslim leaders, and by the Taliban. More than one school was destroyed due to the fear (shared and perhaps incited by the conservative leaders) that Mortensen was attempting to Christian-ise their children (rather, his schools taught a general-purpose, secular curriculum), with especial concern over the fact that he wished to educate girls. Wiser leaders were able to see that by educating their children, particularly girls, they were empowering the next generation to live better lives, and as such the jihads were effectively overruled by high-level religious leaders and by the high courts of Pakistan.

Published in 2006 but not taking off until it was released in paperback a couple of years later, Three Cups of Tea spent 69 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers List (non-fiction), and it is easy to see why it held the attention of a nation in the years following 9/11 and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Mortensen's mission to give as many children of this new generation of Pakistanis and Afghans a non-extremist, secular education rather than the extremist Muslim education provided by Saudi-funded, Taliban-run schools is one man's way of ensuring that the next generation does not have the hatred for the Western world that this one does; that they do not resent the West for the destruction wreaked on their country and to their families during the War on Terror.

In case you were wondering, Mortensen did support the American occupation of Afghanistan, but was wise enough to see that there was no surer way to guarantee ongoing hatred for the West and to set ourselves up for future terrorist attacks than by not providing assistance where it was required, especially when the need was caused by the destructive forces of US (and local) military action, and therefore reinforcing the Taliban's anti-Western message. It helped me see that there is a massive difference between a conservative Muslim and an extreme one, and that there is as such much resentment in the region for the Taliban's extremist actions.

This is a well written, inspiring and interesting book, and gives you a rarely-seen insight into rural Pakistan and a different perspective on what the people of the region think of the Taliban. I did not see it as pro-Muslim mission or publication, but rather, a religion-neutral, pro-education, pro-opportunity, pro-humans one, and I recommend reading it.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

101 Things Update - Week 2

Well. Two weeks into 101 Things and I'm doing well in some areas and absolutely failing in others.

#1: To declare my 29th year "Year of the Cupcake" - I turned 29 this week *shudders* and already the first cab is off the rank with these gluten free carrot cupcakes with orange cream cheese frosting. I made them for my birthday party because I have several gluten intolerant friends. Given how I feel about cupcakes and also given how tricky gluten free baking can be, I think I really grabbed the bull by the horns on this one. Consider Year of the Cupcake to be declared!

#21: To learn to make a Cosmopolitan - done, also for my birthday party. Not very hard at all, and to those not in the know they appear to be a little bit fancy!

#35: To exercise 4 times per week in the lead-up to the wedding - Week 2 and I'm slipping. Now, I'm going to use the excuse perfectly understandable reason that because it was my 29th birthday this week, and this coincided with my time off with Grant, that of course I wasn't going to spend my time at the gym, particularly as I was about 500km from the gym I am a member at.

But, to my credit, I went out of my way to walk everywhere. So, when we went to the pub for tea on my birthday and then to the movies, we walked. Not so bad! Also, to my credit, I bought a new pair of gym pants and a singlet with a shelf bra in it from Kmart on sale for a total of $21. This counts towards exercise of course. HAHAHA I'm kidding! Not even **I** am that delusional! But what it does mean is that I can go to the gym on 4 consecutive days without the stench killing other gym-goers. Score!

#45: To take calcium tablets each day - I think I'm doing okay, and don't recall missing (m)any, but we'll find out when I get to the bottom of the jar. It's not actually that straightforward, though, because I have a different jar in Adelaide and quite often when I'm in Melbourne I'm too lazy to go down to the car and get mine out. But don't tell mum that, because it means that I'm taking hers...

I'm also not going to bother updating this one every week because it's borrrrrrrrring.

#65: To read all my unread books before buying more - Still reading Three Cups of Tea. Still loving it. If I remember to bring it away with me this week I may have even more of it read soon! Again, I won't bother updating this one unless I have finished a book, or to let you know what the next book I'm reading is.

#74: To delete crap photos from SD cards, hard drives etc - in progress. Have started on the 8GB SD card currently in my digital SLR, mainly because I ran out of space on it the other day. No, there aren't that many photos on it, but I shoot in raw so I can - one day - more effectively use photo editing software. But I still have quite a lot of photos to get through, both on this card and on one or two others I have.

#78: To learn to blow-dry my hair - I probably should have mentioned this last week but one of my lovely bridesmaids Emma and I had a play with our hair last weekend and we did okay. Although if I posted on the Saturday night, which I think I did, it hadn't actually happened yet. We're learning to do the smooth thing, and we're learning what kind of curling tools do what to our hair (the answer isn't always "they curl it!", surprisingly...). We have a ways to go yet but we'll get there. My intention behind #78 was to have nice hair for our wedding, and to carry a useful skill away from it. And for all you doubters, it IS a useful skill when you have hair as unruly as mine. Of course, I generally go with the "embrace the mess" theory rather than going down the long and winding path of Taming the Beast...

#79: To use up all the dregs of my beauty products - I've finished one old bottle of moisturiser and started on another old one. I think I stopped using both of them because I was developing a mild sensitivity to them (!), so I'm only using the dregs on weekends and my regular moisturiser during the week. I find that if I use the same type of moisturiser all the time I get a little sensitive to it, so I change moisturisers every time I run out so that I'm not consistently exposing myself to the same ingredients. And it seems to be working, because neither of those moistureiser dregs have caused much trouble. Yet...

So, progress has been made! Somehow I doubt that next week will be quite as exciting for you, dear reader.

101 Things #21: Learn to Make a Cosmopolitan

I acknowledge that I'm probably about ten to fifteen years behind the 8-ball on learning to make the cocktail made famous by the girls on Sex and the City, but I figure that it's better late than never!

Also, technically, I think I may have been underage at the time. Which would have stopped me from drinking. Of course.

*runs away giggling*

(More to the point, I probably couldn't afford to have more than one bottle of sprits on the go back then!)
Anyway, there seem to be a few variations on the theme but I went with the simplest:

1 shot Cointreau
1 shot vodka
1 shot cranberry juice
1/2 slice of lime

Shake the liquids with the ice. Strain into a martini glass, such as the below ones that my awesome brother bought a set of for me for my birthday. Sort of squeeze/twist/rip the piece of lime so that juice ends up in the glass, but so that the lime can still function as a garnish.

Note that I recommend using a proper cocktail shaker with an inbuilt seive, and not an old Cottees Topping milkshake shaker (you know the sort that used to come free with the topping every few summers?) and a seive, because it just goes everywhere and makes everything horrifically sticky. I also recommend keeping the spirits in the freezer for a colder drink.
Finally, I have one last, somewhat crude, observation/general health warning - perhaps quite fittingly for a drink made famous by Sex and the City, this cocktail can best be described as a leg-opener. I was drunk twice last night, and both times were about ten minutes into one of these puppies. They were the only drinks I had all night. If you're a single gal (or guy) out on the town I would recommend alternating these with a glass of water, presuming, of course, that you wish to remain in control of your faculties!!!

Year of the Cupcake #1- Gluten Free Carrot Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Icing

As part of my 101 Things I decided to declare my 29th year Year of the Cupcake.

So here goes.

I am now 29 years old, plus four days. On my 29th year plus two days, I (quitely, internally) declared it to be YEAR OF THE CUPCAKE!!! (that's supposed to be said using the same emphasis as the commentator on that classic gameshow Sale of the Century used to say it - SAAAAle of the CENTury!!!)

I feel like I need more fanfare here because this really is a big thing for me!!!

It's not quite the fanfare I was after (and here's a disturbing fact: I Google Images'd "Robin Hood Men In Tights Bugle" because I had a certain (fabricated, it would seem) image in my head, and it asked me if I had meant "Robin Hood Men In Tights Bulge"...) but I think it does the trick:

So. It's the Year of the Cupcake, which means completely stamping out my cupcake phobia for once and for all. I have started out with something a bit trickier than usual - gluten free cupcakes. I adapted an existing recipe because the health food store didn't have the type of flour I sought, and I also added a magic ingredient which I will go into more detail on later.

1 1/3c gluten free flour (the one I used was a blend of maize and tapioca starch, and soy and rice flours)
2/3c maize cornflour
2tsp gluten free baking powder
1tsp bicarb soda
2tsp mixed spice
1/2tsp xanthum gum
1c brown sugar
1 1/2c grated carrot (this was about 2 medium carrots but I am aware that the word "medium" is quite subjective!)
1c chopped walnuts
1/2c extra light olive oil
1/2c sour cream
3 eggs

125g Philly cream cheese
1tsp grated orange rind
1 1/2c icing sugar, sifted.

* * * * *

Sift dry ingredients (I don't count brown sugar as "dry" because it doesn't pass through a seive, and almost behaves like a liquid in many ways. I almost took a video of it to prove my point, but I'll leave that for another (quiet, boring, slow) day!).

(Quick lesson on dry ingredients, one of which I already knew and you probably did too, but thought I'd share anyway:

Lesson #1 - cornflour ain't always CORNflour. Yaknow, player? Word.

See, this is CORNflour (please disregard the Best Before date. I do!):

And this is "cornflour" (aka wheaten cornflour, which, WTF, people??!?!?!):

And the fact that there is actually a picture of wheat on the box really screams out that it contains wheat, but I never understood why you would want wheat in CORNflour. I'm sure there's a reason, but I'm not convinced that it's a particularly good one, especially not from those with gluten intolerances!

Lesson #2 - my magic ingredient: Xanthum gum. Oh yes. It is expensive, and this was the first time I had used it so I wasn't quite sure how things would pan out both with and without it, but suspect it was by and large reponsible for my cupcakes being nice and springy and elastic in a non-crumbly, non-gym-mat sort of way common to many gluten free baked goods. I'm not willing to screw with perfection, so the next time I make this recipe I will most likely include the xanthum gum. The packet said to use half a teaspoon in a family sized cake so I figured that equate to a batch of cupcakes. Sort of. So I guess it's not that expensive when you take into account the fact that, at half a teaspoon per cake, this particular packet will last about a bajillion years. Lesson over. Once you've looked at the below picture, that is. I just thought a bracket would look pretty silly hanging about on its own below the photo.)

Stir in brown sugar, carrots and walnuts.

Mix oil, sour cream and eggs together, then stir into the dry-ish mix.

Bake for 7 minutes at 170oC to get the rising thing happening (the flour packet told me that was important with GF flour) and then another 8-10 minutes at 160oC. Cakes are cooked when a skewer comes out cleanish and it doesn't look like a wet puddle in the middle. Note that my larger cakes were a bit on the moist side but still nice. You probably don't want GF cakes to overcook because they're naturally quite dry, so I think that in this case it is particularly important to make sure all cupcakes are a uniform size. Mine were close but a couple were too big and a couple were too small; averaged out, I think it made about 18 cupcakes. Note that two are missing in the below photo. Actually, no, don't note that two are missing *whistles nonchalantly*

Note that the original recipe was for a 20cm round pan and you were to bake it for an hour and then stand for 5 minutes before turning out.

While they're cooling, beat the Philly and the orange rind together until they look sort of... soft? Fluffy? Not a solid block, anyhow, and not lumpy. And then add in the icing sugar, a heaped spoonfull at a time, and beat until it's nice and icing-y. Spread it on.

Admire the beauty (although, granted, not as pretty as these ones).

Eat it.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

(punched in the head with) Chocolate Mud Cake

Last week I made the mistake of talking up my wikkid baking skillz at work, and as such was unanimously nominated to provide a 3-in-1 birthday cake, for the birthdays of myself and of two others that are all around this week. Someone requested mud cake, and I asked whether they wanted a mud cake that would make it feel like they had been punched in the head, and they said yes. So I decided on this one, which is the recipe my friend Emma handed me when I volunteered to make this cake for her engagement party...

... and also what I used for my friend Jody's 30th birthday.

I'm thinking about using it for the bottom layer of our wedding cake, but it's going to take a practice run or two to get it right - baking in a 12" pan is quite a different story to baking in an 8" pan. Hurrah for tasty trial runs!

Before I begin, I have an important note for you: Although it tastes okay "raw", I do not recommend using Whittaker's chocolate for the ganache or for the decorations. I don't know whether this brand of chocolate was the problem or if there was something else freaky going on in my kitchen, but I do know that when I tried to melt white Whittaker's for the decorations it basically turned into a soft ball (as if I had burnt it, even though I was using a double boiler), which resulted in me having to waste my precious time driving back up the street to get some Cadbury Dream chocolate and finish the job. I'm sure Nestle's Milky Bar would also suffice. The reason I think that there's something up with the Whittaker's is because the ganache, which I used dark Whittaker's in, also came out funny and grainy, and it's never done that before using Club or Old Gold. Hopefully the cake itself turns out alright. I will find out tomorrow!


250g chocolate (125g each of dark and milk chocolate)
250g butter (NOT unsalted)
1tsp instant coffee granules/powder
3/4c water
2c + 2 tbsp plain flour
1/4c + 2tsp cocoa powder
1/2tsp bicarb soda
2 1/2c castor sugar (good in theory unless you forget to buy more like me! I used 3/4c castor and the rest was regular white sugar - I'll let you know if it tastes awful)
4 large eggs
2tbsp oil (any mild flavoured oil... again, I only had olive oil which isn't light, but will let you know if it tastes awful)
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2c buttermilk (I used normal milk with a little white vinegar - google "how to make buttermilk" and it'll give you better quantities)

150g milk chocolate
150g dark chocolate
1/3c thickened cream

1 block white chocolate, melted
1 punnet fresh strawberries, washed and dried

* * * *
* * * *

Preheat oven to 160oC. Grease 23cm round cake tin and line base and sides so paper comes a few cm above the top of the pan

Heat butter, chocolate, coffee and water in large saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. When melted and mixed, remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm/room temp (if you want to speed this up, put a couple of inches of water in your kitchen sink, place the saucepan in it and stir it. The water will suck the heat out of the saucepan and it will cool faster. Be very careful not to let water into the saucepan though!)

Sift flour, cocoa and bicarb soda into a very large bowl. Add castor sugar and stir together until well combined. Using a whisk is good for this, and for mixing the wet ingredients.

In a medium bowl whisk eggs, oil, vanilla and buttermilk. Add to flour mixture and stir well until combined.

Add melted chocolate mixture to the mixture in the large bowl in three batches, stirring until combined after each addition.

Pour mixture into pan and bake for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Test cake with wooden skewer or thin bladed knife. If the skewer comes out clean or with moist crumbs (not gooey batter) attached it's done.

Remove from oven, leave in tin and cover with a clean tea towel until cool (DAMNIT!!! I knew I did something wrong...)

Note that I have tried this recipe out in different pans at different temperatures and for different cooking times, and I don't think I've ever gotten it quite right, but it always tastes good. Quite often the outside comes out a little hard but the inside is wonderful. Maybe if I remembered to put a teatowel over it while I was cooling it, it may have been another story...

* * * *
* * * *
Place chocolate and cream in medium heavy-based saucepan over very low heat. Stir frequently. Remove from heat when chocolate has just melted and mixture is smooth. Cool ganache slightly at room temperature to obtain a spreadable consistency - too warm and it will soak into the cake. Spread on cake. I did a bit of a crumb coating whilst the ganache was probably a little too warm, and then when I had made the decorations I did a second, thicker coating and used it to glue on my decorations.

Note that this is not my preferred ganache recipe, and today it turned out particularly funny. You can probably see the grainy texture in the photo if you know what you're looking for. Usually I use equivalent parts cream to chocolate (e.g. what you have in mL in cream you have in g in chocolate) - I'll heat the cream until bubbles are just starting to form, remove form heat, and then add chopped up chocolate to it, sit it for a few minutes to allow the chocolate to melt and then stir it all until smooth. The longer you sit it the thicker it gets; if you cool it completely and then whip it it makes a really nice frosting; if you use it hot you can actually pour it over the cake for a glossy, thin finish (place cake on cake rack with a tray underneath before you pour). You can also up the proportion of chocolate used. The amount of chocolate used in this recipe is probably as high a proportion as you would ever want to go with, at least in my experience.

* * * *
* * * *
Put a clean baking tray in the freezer to cool it. It is more important that the bottom of the tray is clean than the top.

Melt a block of white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl does not come into direct contact with the boiling water (i.e. the heat source), stirring frequently.

Once melted and smooth, very quickly dip strawberries into chocolate, shake off excess and place on baking paper to set.

Remove tray from freezer and spread remaining white chocolate thinly into an oblong shape on the back of the tray. Pop it back in the freezer and check it every 30 seconds or so until it is mostly set, but still a little soft.

Using a... okay, well I used a paint scraper that in a previous life been used to remove Araldite from the base plate of a vibration monitor. Rest assured it has been cleaned since then! But most normal people use a flat, long, sharp kitchen knife held sideways... hold it at about a 45 degree angle to the tray and curl the chocolate up. There's quite a good tutorial by Pioneer Woman here which I have probably directed you to before. Note that she uses a little vegetable shortening in it to soften it. I didn't this time, which is why my curls were thicker and didn't curl as nicely.

Arrange it nicely on top of the cake.

Admire the pretty.

Wait a day to eat it because you promised it to others... hopefully I don't Sleep Eat tonight...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

101 Things Update - Week 1

Hi everyone! *waves*

Just thought I'd update you on how my 101 Things are going. I've got a few of them on the go and none of them complete, which is okay for Week 1, I think!

#35: Exercising 4 times a week each week up until the wedding - I hit our lovely little gym in Kerang 3 times this week and did about 35 mins of cardio and at least another 20 mins of light weights, crunches, squats and lunges. Ouch. And I discovered that I am totally retarded at using a cross trainer. If you haven't tried to use one and are judging me for my apalling lack of coordination, then you are juding me pre-emptively because the movement is completely unnatural and I know of at least two people who agree with me!

I also hiked walked today at Werribee Gorge, and whilst it wasn't the hardest hike walk known to man, I do think it counts as exercise because there was sweat involved. Which I guess means that lying spreadeagled on the loungeroom floor watching TV with the fan blowing on you eating icy-poles on a hot day in the vain hope that you will cool down and stop sweating also technically counts as exercise... works for me!

(Note the altered terminology - it's to prove a point to somebody. You know who you are!)

#45: Taking calicium tablets each day - So far, so good. I can't quite remember what day I posted this list, although I think it was a Saturday night, and I think I procured the tablets on the Sunday (I got the ones with Vitamin D in them, to aid absorption. Go me!) and started taking the tablets on the Monday so I've only missed one day. Not bad. Remind me at some point to post a photograph of an X-Ray of my mum's spine so that you understand why I'm so paranoid about this...

#65: To read my unread books before buying any more - I have commenced reading my first unread book and have realised I'd get more reading done if I didn't spend so much time at the gym, but my health is my priority here. The first book on my list is called Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Relin and is more or less a biography of trauma nurse/mountaineer/humanitarian Greg Mortensen. So far, so good. I'll write a proper post about it when I'm done.

#79: Using up the dregs of my beauty products - This is again one that will remain "in progress" for quite some time. I'm not exactly sure when I will declare myself successful, but I do know that so far I have finished a night cream, an old shampoo, an old travel conditioner and am making an effort to regularly wear mascara so that I can use all the different ones I have up.

You'd be amazed at how many mascaras I have - there's the ones (two, actually, because I already had one, and then someone bought another one as a gift for me after mistakenly thinking that I wanted it and not that I already had it) that give you super-fat lashes; There's waterproof one (because I used to assume that it would rain, or that I would somehow sweat so hard that it would run, which, phht, if you're going to sweat that hard whilst wearing mascara then you're probably at the gym after a day at work, and if you're willing to sweat and puff and pant and grunt in a really unflattering manner in front of strangers then it probably doesn't make much difference to your appearance to have sweated mascara half way down your face!); There's the non-waterproof one from the day I had a revelation and realised how brittle and stiff the waterproof ones make your eyelashes; And then, of course, I made the transition to a cheap but awesome Revlon one that Ness had in her handbag the day that I forgot to apply mascara before Al's wedding. To be clear, I didn't steal her mascara - I merely went and bought my own one shortly afterwards because I liked it.

Tonight, my plans will be furthered by using up some sample face washes.

Anyway, that's it from me. Not terribly exciting, I know, but meh... too bad! You may get lucky and see a post about a cake in the next couple of days, but you also may not. Cos I can be a bit lazy like that...

See ya!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Squiffy Photy-Tooks

Okay. So. Before you think I'm mental for having entitled my post "Squiffy Photy-Tooks", the very first thing I have to tell you is that my mum refers to photos as photy-tooks. Don't ask me why, but she does. So I didn't just make that up, right now, here on the spot.

Which leads me to the second point: Whilst I may be just a tiny bit squiffy - squiffy enough to use the word "photy-tooks", and also squiffy enough to walk home from the pub on this three degree night and decide that it's a rip-snorter of an idea to go and get my camera from my pleasantly heated cabin, and then go back out to the banks of the River Murray to take photos... and also to use the phrase "rip-snorter" - I... shit. I have no idea where I was going with this. Um. Something to do with squiffiness not impairing my judgement. Or something. And also something about me not being particularly squiffy right now. Not that you'd take my word for it, but I only had four standard drinks in four hours, so I have no reason at all to be in the least bit squiffy. I think I'm mainly very tired - it's been a long week, full of gym attendance for my 1001 things challenge (I'll update the list soon, I swear!), plus a whole lot of hard work.

Anyway, this leads me to my third point: it's 12:12am and I should be in bed, but I figured that I'll be buggered tomorrow anyway on account of only arriving home from a work function at ten to twelve, so hang it, I may as well stay up another half hour and post these photos.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm a little bit disproportionately excited about these photos. I've never taken photos in Full Manual mode in the dark, and I'm kind of excited that I made my camera take a photo at all, let alone one that's sort of vaguely okay.

To be clear, I only think that one of them is sort of vaguely okay.

And that's this one:

It's probably a bit difficult to appreciate it on a small-ish blog photo, but anyone who's been out and about at night on an evening with a more or less full moon will realise that, murky though it is, this is actually quite an accurate depiction of the colours and the light that you see on a night such as tonight. It could probably have done with half a second longer exposure, but I'm still pretty happy with this - you can see shadows on the river in the dark, plus the reflection of the light, so I'm ok with it.

Then I got a bit annoyed at the stupid light meter, because it wouldn't let me take a photo of the bigger lights on the other side of the river with a bit of stuff going on around them without winding the exposure time up to 25 seconds, so that's why this one is a little on the blurry side:

I'm pretty impressed with the colour of the river, though, as well as the grass - it's quite true to form, at least, for daylight. But totally not the effect I was going for - I heart the first photo.

And then I took this one, which I really like, except for the fact that it's blurry. I really, really wish I'd had my tripod with me, except it's back in Adelaide, and so I had to make do with one of those treated pine log barriers they put around carparks and the like to prevent people from driving into stupid places that they're not supposed to. Such as they have thoughtfully installed adjacent to Murray River at Barham to prevent idiots from driving into the river, for example, which is where I was resting my camera and trying oh-so-hard not to breathe and make the photo blur:

I failed. Those blurry streaks in the sky are the Southern Cross, or part thereof, and I'm afraid you're just going to have to take my word on it.

So anyway I decided to downplay the fact that it's blurry by shrinking the photo:

See, that makes it much clearer! (yep, sure it does, Vanessa...)

And then I decided to take this photo of my beautiful, sparkly nailpolish when I got back home into the warmth of my cabin:

... and that's about the same time I realised that it was well and truly time for bed.

Nighty-night, people!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

101 Things in 1001 Days

Well, it looks like it's gone viral - this 101 things in 1001 days business - and I have decided to buy into it for no good reason other than a bit of fun. I mean, I'm sure that the concept ebbs and flows because it first started in 2003, and my friend Emma (a non-blogger, but one who does frequent blogs) mentioned last year or maybe the year before that she was going to do it, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't come up with 101 things I could conceivably do in the next 1001 days. But it's come around again and seems to have hit my little corner of the Blogosphere with a vengeance, so I'm in.

In case you don't know what it's about, here is the info from the Day Zero Project website:

The Challenge:

Complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days.

The Criteria:

Tasks must be specific (i.e. no ambiguity in the wording) with a result that is either measurable or clearly defined. Tasks must also be realistic and stretching (i.e. represent some amount of work on your part).

Why 1001 Days?

Many people have created lists in the past - frequently simple challenges such as New Year's resolutions or a 'Bucket List'. The key to beating procrastination is to set a deadline that is realistic. 1001 Days (about 2.75 years) is a better period of time than a year, because it allows you several seasons to complete the tasks, which is better for organising and timing some tasks such as overseas trips, study semesters, or outdoor activities.

So, with no further ado, here's my list: (note that on my initial list, #1 was "find 101 things to do in 1001 days" and #2 was "blog about it", but I have since found two things that can take the place of those, and they're also kind of a given)

Food and wine
1. Declare my 29th year to be Year of the Cupcake and conquer my fear of cupcakes, good and proper. One new cupcake each month!
2. Taste wine in the Barossa (done it before but my wine supply is dwindling!)
3. Taste wine in McLaren Vale (ditto)
4. Taste wine in the Clare Valley
5. Learn to make meringue buttercream frosting
6. Make Sweetapolita's ruffle cake
7. Make Sweetapolita's rainbow cake (ex-Whisk Kid)
8. Make my own wedding cake
9. Make gnocchi from scratch
10. Learn to cook artichokes
11. Learn to cook chokos
12. Learn to cook (or not cook??... see how confused I am???) figs
13. Make chutney
14. Bottle fruit
15. Hold a dinner party with a theme every 6 months, e.g. a certain county's cuisine; a colour; a flavour etc
16. Make monkeyface biscuits
17. Make croquembouche. Or profiteroles. Some sort of fancy French pastry thing filled with creme patisserie, anyhow!
18. Make a lemon tart
19. Learn to make a Toblerone
20. Learn to make a Pina Colada
21. Learn to make a Cosmopolitan
22. Learn to make cheese
23. Make icecream

Hobbies and crafts
24. Blog at least twice a month for a year
25. Learn to use photo editing software
26. Research camera lenses properly to determine which one I want next
27. Purchase said lens and take some kickass photos with it
28. Write a post on what I have learnt about lenses so that I can give the next poor sucker a helping hand
29. Make an effort to take a photo each week for six months
30. Do a jigsaw puzzle
31. Build a Lego model
32. Sew one garment and one useful item (curtains, napkins, apron etc) from scratch
33. Knit something tricky, e.g. a jumper with a snowflake pattern on it
34. Take a long-exposure photo of the night sky

Sport, health and recreation
35. Exercise 4 times per week in the lead-up to the wedding. Keep a record of it and share it with the world when I'm done
36. Go for one month without red meat
37. Go for one month with no processed food i.e. the only thing that can come from packets are things like rice or spices or basic baking ingredients like flour and sugar, where you can visually identify the individual ingredients. An exception will be made for bread, but only for wholemeal or rye breads, not refined white ones. Keep a list of everything I eat that month to hold myself accountable
38. Spend 20 minutes per day walking for a month. Shopping counts!
39. Climb Mount Bogong (again)
40. Buy a good pair of sneakers that give my feet the support they need when I exercise
41. Learn the Viennese Waltz
42. Do a 4WD course
43. Go horse riding
44. Get a shooter's licence
45. Take calcium tablets every day - no Swiss Cheese spine for me!
46. Take a poledancing lesson
47. Take a ballet lesson
48. Participate in a fun run/walk
49. Lose 1kg per month until I am under 75kg (but over 70kg) and am happy with what I see. Keep it off and throw away my "backup" jeans

50. Visit Wilson's Prom (this may or may not fit into the sport, fitness and recreation category, depending on whether the visit involves a hike)
51. Visit a theme park
52. Take Grant to the snow
53. Go fishing with Saul and Steve (that's my brother and my might-as-well-be-my-brother, for those who don't know me)
54. Visit Africa
55. Visit Mexico
56. Visit Tasmania, preferably to do the Overland Track (which will depend on my health and the level of idiocy of my friends for agreeing to accompany me)
57. Write a list of 10 places around the world I wish to visit in this lifetime (I don't think phrasing it as "before I die" is particularly appropriate, because everyone assumes they'll die at around eighty, and in reality our time on this planet may be much shorter than that. Macabre, I know, but why wait a lifetime to do something you want to do?)
58. Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge
59. Take Grant to Kangaroo Island

Thinky and learny stuff. Stuff is good.
60. Re-read Wuthering Heights. Again. Try to enjoy it, or at least to understand why it is a "classic". Try not to be angry about wasting my time when I find out I still hate it
61. Read A Long Walk to Freedom
62. Do some sort of further education in ecology or science
63. Do some sort of further education to make me more employable, in an area such as safety, quality or management
64. Get a food handler's certificate
65. Read the books I have before buying more
66. Read Gone With the Wind (will have to wait until I've achieved the previous one because I don't own it! Oh, but I'd forgotten about libraries... and one of my friends probably owns it... yeah, I'll be fine)
67. Watch Gone With the Wind (it doesn't really fit into the other categories so I'll leave it here for purposes of comparison to the book)
68. Take a language class
69. Take a botanical illustration class (or just a drawing class, if they won't let me in due to my lack of wikkid skillz!)
70. Learn ten new songs on the guitar
71. Learn the basic geography of Africa
72. Read Romeo and Juliet again. Understand the meaning of the words and appreciate their beauty as I go. Learn 3 soliloquies from it

73. Get married (yeah, I know, foregone conclusions are cheating...)
74. Delete crap photos from SD cards and hard drives
75. File photos properly
76. Make albums for holidays and events, using only the good photos
77. Print the GREAT photos and frame them
78. Learn to blow-dry my hair to make it nice and shiny and smooth (I'm turning 29 in a couple of weeks and don't own a hairdryer...)
79. Use up all the dregs of half-used beauty products before buying new ones
80. Clean out my underwear drawer and get rid of the "uglies". Everybody has them and nobody should!
81. Apply for an ABN
82. Save up for a second house
83. Fix the gremlins in the House at Ness Corner
84. Rent out the House at Ness Corner and become a bloated capitalist (HAH!)
85. Own a dog. Train it well.
86. Plan to have kids... or actually start having them... hmm, should probably discuss this with the future hubby!
87. Listen more attentively
88. Interrupt less readily
89. Write more neatly, no matter how much of a hurry I am in
90. Prepare properly for meetings
91. Be sufficiently auditable at any moment in time
92. Ask mum about her life. Take notes.
93. Ask dad about his life. Take notes.
94. Ask my parents about their parents.
95. Declare the first Sunday of each month to be Purge Day - all clutter must go!
96. Send a birthday card each month for a year
97. Write to my Aunt Judy every 6 months. She's written me birthday cards every year as long as I can remember and I've been a horrible, crappy niece and so very rarely have I written back. I suck.
98. Have a (tastefully!) nude portrait done
99. Locate, sort and predominantly discard my highschool stuff. I think it's in a box under mum's house...
100. Have a vegetable garden
101. Make friends with my cousins. They're blood and I love them but I really know nothing about who they are and what they dream of

So there it is. It's a pretty big list and I think I may need a calendar (or perhaps a series of calendars) to make sure I stay on track with those "regular" occurrences, but I think it's achievable. Some of the things are the things that will only be known by me, such as the handwriting one or the interrupting people one, and there are a couple of things on the list that might bite me in the arse, but that's life. Shit happens. Once I figure out how you'll be able to keep track of my list via a new tab on my blog. I know it can be done but  I'm a little bit slow off the mark with technology.
Wish me luck!

The end date is the 5th of April, 2014

Monday, 4 July 2011

Boozy Sultana-Choc Chip Biscuits

I'll make this one short and sweet for you, just like the biscuits!

125g softened butter
1/2c sugar
1 egg
1c SR flour
1/2c sultanas/raisins/currents/mixture, soaked in 2-3tbsp of rum (the actual quantity was a couple of "sloshes" out of the bottle)
1/2c dark chocolate chips

Pour rum over sultanas and leave to sit (should sit for a while, and you should stir occasionally if possible - when you're making Christmas cake you're supposed to leave the brandy to soak into the fruit overnight - but we all know how patient I am!).

Preheat oven to 180oC.

Cream butter and sugar, add egg, beat well.

Add sifted flour and mix into a smooth dough.

Drain sultanas (if there is any residual rum) and mix them into the dough along with the chocolate chips.

Roll into 24 or so walnut-sized balls and place on 2 trays lined with baking paper, evenly spaced.

Bake for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned - watch the bottom of the biscuits as they catch quite easily.


(This is the last one, by the way, otherwise the photo would have been of an artistically-piled stack of biscuits on a pretty plate instead of a lone biscuit in my hand, headed for my mouth. The others could not evade their fate for long enough for me to remember to obtain photographic evidence of them... oops... And NO, I DID NOT eat an entire batch of biscuits on my own!!! I sent at least 16 of them away with Grant. So I only ate about 1/3 of a batch of biscuits on my own. So there.)

Next time I'll soak the sultanas for longer. Also, I'll make sure I acually buy sultanas, instead of having to pick all the peel out of a packet of mixed fruit. Yes, I really did that. I was in the throes of baking before I realised. Also, I intended to soak the sultanas in dark rum, but discovered that the only dark rum in the house was Grant's top-shelf stuff, so I assumed he wouldn't appreciate me using it in cooking and instead opted for the cheap n nasty $8 Kmart Special white rum left behind by some random partygoer.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Leftovers Sausage Casserole

This recipe ain't a fancy one, but it's good to have up your sleeve. Also, with a bit of imagination you can apply it to just about any meat/vegetable combination that happens to be lurking in the refrigerator. And you should serve it with mashed potato to mop up the gravy. Or bread. Or bread and butter. God, I love carbs!

But, honestly, besides the fact that I wanted to use up the leftover sausages and try and get through the vegetables in our fridge before we disappear for another month or two, I also really, really wanted to try out my new flameproof casserole dish, reduced from $399 down to $69. How could a girl say no to a bargain like that?? And if that weren't enough it's red. And if it's red then it's awesome. Red AND awesome.

Anyway, I won't hold your hand too much through this one because it really is very basic. I think it goes without saying that the onions should be cooked and the vegies just browned ever so slightly, or at least warmed to get the cooking process started. It doesn't really matter what you chuck in, or how much, provided that there's enough liquid in there, but the ingredients I used are a tried and tested combination. It's one of those "magic pot" recipes that you can just add to at will, and I suspect that you could probably keep the recipe rolling day after day by throwing different leftovers and extras in as the mood strikes you. Some people think that's gross but I happen to think that it's fabulous (provided your food hygeine is up to scratch).

But what I WILL do is encourage you to giggle immaturely over the resemblance this carrot has to a nipple. Obviously the colours are a little out of whack, but I'm pretty sure it won't just be me that sees this:

Anyway, the ingredients:

4 cooked sausages, 4 small carrots, 2 medium potatoes (cubed in 2(ish)cm pieces), 1 brown onion, 2 cloves garlic, as much thyme as you can pull out of the garden in the dark without worrying about whether you have uprooted the plant, parsley, 1 can crushed tomatoes, frozen peas, a couple of heaped tbsp of gravy powder and a couple of cups of boiling water. You know, give or take. And the "give or take" refers to all of those quantities!

Turn oven on to about 180oC (truth be told I wasn't paying much attention to how how my oven was, but 180 is my default setting). Heat RED*, AWESOME flameproof casserole dish on medium heat. Realise you've got the wrong burner on and then change burners. Add oil (apparently you're supposed to add your oil after it's heated when you're using enamelled cast iron. Check it out! I read the instructions!).

*Note that your flameproof casserole dish doesn't actually have to be red for this to work. I don't think...

Fry onions and garlic.

Add thyme and carrots.

This, by the way, is the quantity of thyme to which I referred in the ingredients:

Add potato.

Realise you're going to need these puppies, and thank your lucky stars you always keep a can in the cupboard.

LOOK!!! IT'S THE RIGHT WAY UP!!! Note for future - rotate image using Windows Picture and Fax Viewer and THEN open it with Microsoft Office Picture Manager. Don't ask me why but it seems to work! Hopefully my success will be repeated next time...

Add tomatoes.

Dissolve gravy powder with boiling water in the tomato tin (be careful not to burn your fingers when you pick up the tin. I do it in the tin because it cleans all the juices out and doesn't waste anything). Add extra boiling water if it's too thick or extra gravy powder if it's too thin. Add chopped up sausages (the OCD side of me insists that you cut them diagonally because they look nicer).

Add torn parsley.

Put lid on and pop in the oven for 45 mins or so, until the potatoes are cooked. Add frozen peas - until it looks right, but I think I added about a cup or so - and cook for another ten or so minutes.

Serve with mashed potatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste (I personally add only pepper as the gravy is quite salty on its own).

It's a little bit daggy but it's one of my favourite meals ever. I luvz it. Comfort food at its best.

I freaked out a little because the casserole dish darkened quite considerably in the oven, but it reverted back to its original hue once it had cooled. Crisis averted!

Also, you can make this in a regular casserole dish but you'll need a frying pan, too. You can do it without giving the vegies a quick fry but the onion often turns out a bit funny. By which I mean raw. You will need to stir it a few times during cooking to ensure everything cook evenly if your casserole dish is jam-packed (the centre will cook more slowly), and particularly if some of it is poking its head above the liquid. You may also need to put a tray underneath to catch any drips if the dish is so full that it is in danger of overflowing, which has often happened to me cooking in a smaller (non-flameproof) casserole dish for a larger number of people.

You can play about with flavours, too - add red wine, or curry powder, or whatever herbs and spices your li'l heart desires.

Lastly, if you're making it with raw meat instead of cooked snags, dust the cubed meat in flour and then add stock instead of gravox - the flour will thicken the gravy, and the stock will give it the flavour.


Chocolate Fondant Puddings

Last night it was all about comfort food. I'll write about the main course presently (sausage casserole... MADE TOTALLY AWESOME BY THE FACT THAT IT WAS COOKED IN MY AWESOME NEW RED FLAMEPROOF CASSEROLE DISH!!! Oh... I said awesome twice... well, I'm excited about it!), but it's not as exciting as what we had for dessert.  I'm going to apologise in advance for the orientation of the photos, and also of their quality - when I'm cooking in a semi-determined fashion at night, indoors, with relatively poor lighting, there is simply no point in pansying about with your camera on full manual. I needed the flash, and CBF mucking about with flash compensation and white balance and so forth. Mainly because I haven't had a chance to play with it just yet. And also because I was feeling lazy.

Of course, after a casserole served with mashed potato, dessert was a little on the rich side and so my stomach sloshed all night, but I would make it again. Only, next time, I would halve the serving size.

CHOCOLATE FONDANT RECIPE (Donna Hay - No Time to Cook)

200g dark chocolate, melted
60g butter, chopped,
2 eggs
2tbsp plain flour
1/3c brown sugar
Cream or icecream to serve.

Preheat oven to 180oC (160oC fan forced).

Melt the chocolate, and try not to whinge about how hard it is to melt chocolate. Double boilers aren't that complicated. Note that here I have opted to use a small saucepan and a large cereal bowl. Seriously. If you don't have this equipment then get the heck out of the kitchen!!! Also, I've heard tell that it's not that hard to melt chocolate in the microwave, but I personally have had little success with this and always end up burning it.

Whack it all in the blender. Blend until smooth.

Transfer mixture into 2 greased 1c capcity heat proof (= almost anything made of china that is in your kitchen cupboard, including but not limited to) dishes/ bowls/ ramekins/ mugs/ whatevers. I have resisted the urge to rush out and purchase one-cup capacity ramekins/souffle dishes because I already own 3/4c capacity ramekins/souffle dishes, and if you don't care too much about presentation, these deceptively large bowls that were already in my posession (how many Ss should be in that??) fit the bill.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until puddings are cooked on the outside and just set on the inside (which means that you'll get a bit of molten chocolate on your knife when you stick it in, which seems to be correct as far as the photos in the cookbook matching my final product suggests).

Stand for 10 mins (I suspect this is so that you don't sustain serious sugar burns to your tongue) then turn out onto a plate and serve with cream or icecream. Or go wild and have both. It just might help you to forget the fact that you just ate half a block of dark chocolate all to yourself in one sitting...

Dead easy. Super impressive. You know, assuming you remember to wipe the plate clean of crumbs and perhaps garnish it with a sprig of mint and perhaps a wee artistic drizzle of caramel sauce or cream or... or maybe even Toquay! Yummm... And it would never have occurred to me to use a blender to make a pudding (although this does mean having to clean a blender... which is okay if you like licking spatulas!). But I suggest halving the serving sizes because 1c is definitely too much for such a rich pudding. I would assume that to do this you might drop the temperature by ten or twenty degrees and have a look at them after 12-14 minutes so that they didn't dry out (but don't quote me). Also, if you use oversized ramekins for them like I did, I'd recommend leaving it in the bowl so that you can drown it in icecream and/or cream, thus negating the need to have a glass of milk by your side as you eat it.

NOTE TO SARA: These are not the puddings you requested the recipe for, but these are how I actually expected those particular puddings to turn out! Both recipes are by the same cook, though, so perhaps they managed to mix them up...?

A Cup of Tea and a Little Bit of History

Since I have been staying with my mum on weekends I have come to realise what a ridiculous perfectly wondrous variety of tea she keeps in the house. Sure, it’s nice to be able to pick out whatever tea you fancy, but I personally feel that if you have more than about six varieties (black, green, chamomile, peppermint, a variation on black tea such as chai or Earl Grey plus some sort of fruit infusion) you may in fact be bordering on OCD territory.
I really began to notice how much tea mum keeps when I realised that every time I ferreted around for the variety of tea I was after, I would invariably be hit in the forehead by a precariously perched box of tea that had decided to make a break for freedom.

It looks a little bit like this:

Bear in mind that this cupboard is also at least 2/3 the depth that it is wide, so there is more tea behind this tea!!!
The tea cupboard harbours the following varieties (in addition to the normal black tea kept in a canister on the bench):

Green tea; green tea with mint; peppermint tea; white tea (there were two of those); chamomile tea (3 different boxes); Sleepy Time tea; Roobis tea (whatever the hell that is); blackcurrant tea (actually, it was in there but I drank my way through it); honey and lemon infusion; raspberry, cranberry and strawberry infusion; rose hip tea; chai; Earl Grey iced tea powder circa 1986 (it still tastes fine but it’s a little more challenging to dissolve than it once was. I plan to finish it off this summer); Caro (caffeine free, barley-based coffee that tastes like crud soaked in pond water); and... well, check it out for yourself!

So now I’m going to let you in on my diabolical plan:

I intend to drink my way through  mum’s tea cupboard.

Heheh, not usually what you think of when the phrase “drink your way through” comes up, is it!

I’m just sick of the stupid little packets hitting me in the head when I open the cupboard. It's a perfectly diabolical scheme. I wonder how long it will take mum to realise that her tea stores have been depleted...

As for the history part of the post title, well when I was ferreting around for a packet of gelatine on Friday night to make a White Chocolate and Passionfruit Tart (forgot to take photos, but that's okay, because I got it wrong and will have to make it again to ensure that it's juuuust right... heh heh heh... although I'm sure that Al and Nat would say that it tasted fine, but I think this is one instance where perfection is important ;-) ), I came across this old cake glaze. I believe it’s normally used to glaze flans and fruit tarts. And that’s fine. Mum used to use it back in her catering days, when fruit flans were cool.

(Again, I apologise for the sideways nature of my picture, but they still won't stay turned (Kirsti, I haven't tried the Picasa thing yet but I will when I can be bothered have time). And thanks to those who offered the slightly condescending very sound advice of saving the photo after I have rotated it... the Sarcasm Fairy is knocking loudly at the door and I really, really want to let her in, but I'll just have to be satisfied by saying that I mastered the concept of saving changes to documents back in about 1994. I know you guys meant well, and honestly, thankyou for trying to help, but there are far darker and more mysterious powers at work here!

Also, sorry about the seventies-esque colours, but I had to play with the colour balance in order to allow you to read the packet.)

Aaaanyway, back to it - the bit that threw me a little was the fact that it was made in Germany. West Germany, to be precise. Now, I have a vague recollection of seeing the wall between East and West Germany crumble on TV in about what, Year One? So that's 1989. That wasn’t my imagination, was it???

Ahem. Tantrum over.

I suppose it is quite fitting that such a luxury item as cake glaze was produced in West Germany and not East Germany. With that in mind, I should go and investigate whether that big ol' jar of sauerkraut in the bottom of the shed was in fact made in East Germany...