Monday, 30 April 2012

101 Things Update: April 2012

Well, I just realised that it's been a couple of months since I wrote an update on my 101 Things, and with my clicker --> getting quite close to 700 I'm beginning to get a bit nervous that I won't get the list done.

That's right, you heard me - I'm nervous that I won't finish the list when I have in excess of 700 days to complete it. Is that a problem??

Yyyyyyyyyyyeaaahhhhhhhhhhh... anyway!

It's been a pretty slow couple of months. I've dabbled here and there with the list but not made any special efforts. Some of these were completed in previous months but I've been too lazy to post about it!

So without further ado, here is the update:

1. Year of the Cupcake - I just counted and realised that I've actually made eleven batches of cupcakes in a period of time in which I should have made only ten. Twelve if you count the ones I made for a baby shower and never posted the photos for. Thirteen if you count the ones I made at Easter out of packet mix and also never posted the photos for. My brain is starting to assume that all food should be baked in cupcake tins, and that's scaring me a little... Anyway, I made these Apricot Upside-Down (cup)Cakes, and they're supposed to be good-ish for you. At least, they're still, like, 140 calories per serve but at least you get some sort of nutrition in that and not just a mouthful of butter and sugar *goes to happy butter-sugar place* The ones I have planned for next month are from Sprinkle Bakes and they're going to be, as they say, amazeballs. Might as well finish the challenge with a bang. And don't ask me what's so amazing about balls, because... okay, totally not going there. Moving on!

2, 3 and 4 all centre around tasting wine in South Australia. I'm toying with the idea of heading over to SA on the next long weekend (June) and knocking out two of the three wine regions and catching up with some friends from SA while I'm at it. I should probably get off my bottom and organise that, shouldn't I...

8. To make a fancy-schmancy cake. Well, I have (perhaps foolishly) agreed to bake my new-found friend Amber's wedding cake. Foolish on several levels - one, I'm terrified that I'll balls it up completely. Two, I'll be baking it in her kitchen, only a day or two before the wedding. I guess if it turns out to be an horrific mess that makes Miss A cry, I'll just scrape back the buttercream, pour chocolate ganache over it and adorn it with strawberries. Always good to have a backup plan ;) Anyway, I'm brainstorming ideas on Pintrest at present. The original brief was black cornelli lace with accents of red and purple, but it seems to be evoloving. And, to assauge Amber's fears, I am attending 12 hours of cake decorating course in the month of May. I don't know whether it will teach me all the wikkiz skillz I need, but at least it will give me a foundation of the basics (YouTube only takes you so far) and will enable me to attend more advanced courses should the need arise. In the meantime, my own 30th birthday *shudders* is coming up and I could probably make myself a schmancy cake as a practice one for Amber's.

*draws breath*

I'm actually really disappointed that #15 - the dinner party one - hasn't even gotten started. It means that I've gone nearly 300 days without having anyone over for dinner. Shame on me! (might have something to do with how awful the kitchen table has been, but mum cleaned her crap off it so we could have lunch yesterday... best I capitalise on that!)

22. To learn to make cheese - May is the month! Getting excited...

30. Do a jigsaw puzzle - in the end I went with a Ken Duncan one, which is a big panorama of a mill with autumn trees all around and a mill-pond in the foreground. It's a very tranquil piece, and I'm finding doing the puzzle very absorbing and - you guessed it - tranquilizing. Hours pass by very easily, and I must say I'm really enjoying it.

31. Build a Lego model. Done it. Smashed it. (figuratively - as in, blitzed the challenge... and also literally, as in, smashed the models to pieces and put them away once a sufficient amount of dust had gathered on them!)

43. Go horse riding. I'm booked in for May the 13th, with my BFF Ness' twin brother Dean. The same twin whose birthday I keep forgetting, even though, being Ness' twin, he has the exact same birthday as her. Yep, I'm a moron.

54. & 55. Visit Mexico and Africa. I'm at the plotting stage. As in, the serious plotting stage. As in, have narrowed down what tours I want to do (because yes, I will be doing it in a tour, because no, I don't feel comfortable travelling alone in those places, especially now with my tendency to try and drop dead in less-than-convenient locations... Mt Hotham, anyone? Peru? How about on an operating table?). As in, have even looked at the dates those tours leave and have roughed out a schedule. As in, have done a pre-assessment for travel insurance, and it looks like they'll cover me - huzzah! As in, have told my boss of my intention to take two months off, and he sounded surprised and a little bewildered but didn't say nooooooooooo... so now all I have to do is get him to sign my leave form. So it's looking good. It's looking really good.

I haven't holidayed overseas since 2009 when KirstiKat and I headed to Thailand. Unless you count the cruise at Christmas 2010, which I kind of don't, because it was during my enforced Christmas break and, great fun though it was, it wasn't really going and seeking adventure. That said, I'd love to do another cruise, it's just a different style of holiday and not what I'm after for this one. So. Who wants to come to Mexico or Africa? And that's a serious question. I'm looking for travel buddies...

61. Read a Long Walk to Freedom. I'm about half way through and yep, it's a long walk, but not painfully so! By which I mean, it's actually quite an interesting read.

97. Write to my Aunt Judy once ever six months. Well, I finally put pen to paper and have written the first letter. I haven't posted it yet, mind you, because I'm waiting on dad to call me back with her address. But, partial credit!

Soooooooo I guess the last couple of months weren't as slow as I had thought. That's good! I like crossing things off :)

Lego: I haz it. Lotz of it.

If you've been keeping half an eye on my 101 Things list, you'll know that one of my challenges was to build a Lego model. Well! Did I ever! And I don't think that I'm quite done, yet, because I had so much fun doing it. My dad even came over and helped me find pieces like he used to when I was a kid! You can probably tell exactly how much fun I had by the number of unnecessary exclamation marks in this post!


Also, if you love Lego and are sick of your own parents and would very much like to be adopted, I recommend Kelley over at as your new mother. She recently threw an epic Lego-themed birthday party for her boy. A birthday party that included a food fight, chocolate lego bricks and Lego jellies and Lego decorations. Man, that's dedication!

So anyway, this is how much Lego we have collected over the years. Also, hot tip - keep your kids' Lego on an old sheet inside an old suitcase. So much easier to pack up!

Most of it is my brother's, but a substantial amount is the medieval stuff, most of which is mine. MINE, I TELLS YA!!! I'm not sure what I like more - the little horsies... Or the wizards... Or the ghosties... Or the teensy, tiny little weapons (by the way, the large axes kind of hurt to step on. In case you were wondering...)

And this, my dears, is the massive pile of instructions to go with it all.

(Except that after I took this photo, I realised that a lot of it is actually Lego advertising material from the early Eighties that came with the Lego. I wonder if it's worth anything as a collector's thingie, cos most people throw this shit out (welcome to my house!), and surely something so dog-eared and chewed rare should be worth something...?)

In the end I made a few things. Most of them were missing pieces when I finished (the house is still missing quite a few but I managed to make it stay up anyhow) but I found most of the missing bits as I did more models.

(that looks structurally sound, right??)

So far, I have made a police car, a fire engine, a house, a medieval house, a space ship, and what I think is supposed to be Merlin in a tree (don't ask me why he's in a tree).

Not exactly a top news story, but I guess I can cross it off my list!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Book Review: A Short History of the World, by H.G. Wells

This one took me a flippin' long time to read, partly because I was reading three other books at the same time (this was my aeroplane book which I, predictably, picked up at the airport one day in my travels) and partly because it is interesting enough but heavy on the detail. Suffice it to say that I am glad that the chapters are short. Paradoxically, however, that might be why it took me so long to read - because I rarely read more than one chapter at a time, and the chapters are so short.

I have nothing particularly noteworthy to say about the book. It steps through people and places in history that I have never heard of. I do wonder whether that is related to the fact that it was written in 1922 in England, and one presumes the History syllabus back then was somewhat different to mid-nineties Australia.

I feel that in many instances it skipped over things too much and gave too much apparently inane detail, which overwhelmed me.  I was hoping that by reading it I would become absorbed enough to permanently learn something; to become an ancient history trivia champion, if you will; but nothing lodged in my brain. I learnt more from Rings of Saturn than from this book, and that surprised me because Rings of Saturn was more of a memoir than a history book.

I am sure that if you are a history buff and already have a degree of familiarity with some of the events depicted within the book, that it will flow well and simply be like putting a puzzle together.  It wasn't that the narrative tone was too old-fashioned either, because I am well acquainted with Victorian fiction. No, I'm just no history buff, and this book simply wasn't my style. The saving grace for me was that the author did a good job of commenting on various events as though he was literally having a conversation with the reader.

If you want to get a taste of it you can click on various sections here.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Year of the Cupcake #11: Apricot Upside-Down Cakes (diabetic friendly... allegedly...)

Depending on how often you read my blog, you may be aware that I have decided that I want to get a bit fitter in time for my 30th birthday *shudders* and also eat a bit more thoughtfully. So when my BFF Em and I decided to catch up for afternoon tea, I thought it would be prudent to choose something a little bit lighter on the calories as I knew I'd be going back for seconds ;) I got this from the Australian Women's Weekly site and are supposed to be diabetic friendly. They have a little under 140cal per serve, which isn't **that** bad (provided you only eat one!).

(as I write this, Em hasn't tried them yet but I have, and I think they're okay... but then, it's pretty hard to find me much happier than when I'm eating a bowl of Weetbix with banana or sultanas and a little bit of All Bran on it (I know, I'm a freak), so I'm probaly not the best judge of whether something wholemeal is tasty...)

I know that I'm kind of cheating making this my April entry for my Year of the Cupcake challenge because they didn't come in cupcake wrappers, and they were upside-down, but they were made in a cupcake tin! Huzzah!

1 tbsp + 3/4c brown sugar, firmly packed
12 canned apricot halves in syrup, drained
2 eggs
3/4c (90g) almond meal
1tsp vanilla essence
1/3c (50g) wholemeal SR flour
1/2c (125mL) skim milk
1/4c (80g) apricot conserve, warmed

Preheat oven to 180oC. Grease 12-hole muffin tin and line bases with little squares of baking paper. Sprinkle sugar (from the 1tbsp) evenly across holes and add 1 apricot half to each, cut side down.

Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and 3/4c sugar in medium bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in almond meal, essence, flour and milk. Divide mixture among pan holes (it will be quite runny).

Bake about 20mins. Stand for 5mins; turn onto a wire rack. Brush apricot conserve over hot cakes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

570kJ; 5g total fat; 19g carbohydrate; 1.5g fibre; 50mg sodium; medium GI.

I ended up brusing on blackberry conserve because it's all we had in the fridge.

They are quite a tasty morsel, as long as you like the natural sweetness of wholemeal flour rather than the overpowering sweetness of white sugar. The texture is rough, but not unpleasantly so, and the squishiness of the apricot keeps it interesting. I dare say that they would be wonderful served hot with a dollop of thickened cream, but I suppose that's defeating the purpose ;)

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Good News! I'm Just Crazy!

After last week's little freak out, I visited the electrophysiologist yesterday to see whether I had in fact been experiencing shocks from Zappy MkII or not, due to the several times in the last few weeks I've woken up feeling like it has happened, or is about to happen.

The good news is, I haven't been trying to die, at least, not since I was on the table. Yay!

The bad news is, looks like I'm a nutcase. Not that we weren't already aware of that...

I'm not **completely** insane, though - there have been some arrhythmias, just nothing potentially fatal (I love how lightly they phrase that...), and apparently nothing that should be serious enough for me to be sitting bolt upright and calling out in distress in the night. did

They did a couple of tests on the device and also looked at the settings, and one of them didn't seem quite right but they knew there must be a reason for it. My usual doctor, you see, is away on sabatical so they decided the status quo set by the Grand Poo-Bah Electrophysiologist of the World (or at least, of Australia) should remain for the time being.

So, my best guess is that... (time for a story!) well, anyone who's ever slept in the same room as me may know that every so often I do weird shit in my sleep, especially when I'm over-tired, stressed out or uncomfortable. True story. Usually it's talking out loud about the sheep out in the paddock or the traffic management required for an asphalting job; or trying to make the bed while I'm still in it or putting clothes on if I'm not wearing any (sorry, overshare); once in a while I'll go for a wee stroll about the house; and, on special occasions, I put out fires or kill snakes from the comfort of my own bed, much to the bemusement of my bedfellow. I have a great old time of it and only wake up when something in my surroundings doesn't match  what I'm seeing in my dream (like a light switch not being in the right place, or a button not being where it's supposed to be), or frustrates me, or confuses me. So chances are I felt those arrhythmias in my sleep and then dreamt about the worst case scenario and reacted accordingly, and my reaction woke me up.

Suffice it to say I slept like a baby last night because I wasn't quite so paranoid. It's not to say that the fear has gone completely. It's always hanging over me, but sometimes, like recently, it just becomes bigger and uglier and gets the better of me. I probably need therapy...

Anyway, as promised, here is the post-surgery photo, from after the dressing came off. Since then it has formed a pinky-purple line down the incision, but nothing as bad as the old scar which was pretty bad. It's the line that runs right down the centre of the picture, not the shorter lines around it which are where my skin was wrinkled under the dressing, and which have now faded. Next time I have the tape off I'll take a photo (a note about the tape - last time they didn't tell me to tape the wound and this time they did, and the new scar is about 1mm across 6 weeks after surgery where the old one was about 6mm across. Much better result, so moral of the story - if you have a deep wound and care about scarring, keep it taped for a couple of months to take the pressure off the scar tissue. Brought to you by your favourite wannabe plastic surgeon ;).

Have a great weekend, people. I'm aiming for my next post to be about food, not about serious stuff. Mmm, speaking of which, I'm off to get an apricot upside-down cake!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Post-Surgery Update

Today - Wednesday, the day I wrote this, not the day I posted this - is 6 weeks since my pacemaker surgery. The recovery has gone pretty well, with the exception that if you asked me to swim freestyle I wouldn't be able to. The scar tissue seems to have tightened things up in my pec/front of shoulder, which isn't really surprising given that I girled out over the pain and held my arm to my side to protect it for more than a week after surgery. I know, silly Nessie. If I can't stretch it out myself within the next couple of weeks I'll head to the physio.

I'm supposed to have a follow-up appointment with an electrophysiologist in a couple of weeks' time, but over the last few weeks I've had a few things happen that I'm not entirely sure I dreamt, or if they actually happened, so I've scheduled an emergency appointment for this coming Friday (which is probably the day I will schedule the post for).

You see, three times each over the last couple of weeks, I have woken up absolutely certain I was about to have a turn (as in, enough to wake up and, two out of three times, sit up and call out); and I have also dreamt that I have received a shock vividly enough to have "felt" it and woken up (one time of the three I didn't wake up but I sure as hell remembered the dream!). Because I have been asleep at the time I have no idea whether it's just in my head; whether maybe my heart has played its old games, but just a little, just enough to prey on my mind and cause me to dream about it.

I hope it's just that.

I really hope it's just that.

But I'm not entirely convinced that it's all in my head, because this morning, when I "dreamt" about the shock, my ears were ringing a little when I woke up. Thing is, though, my ears ring just about all the time, and it gets louder and quieter of its own accord. See why I'm confused??

Things going in my favour, are that although  my ears have been ringing, my entire face hasn't been numb as it has been in the past. Mind you, in the past I haven't had a defibrillator to curtail the whole brain-losing-oxygen thing, so that could go either way. I haven't felt like I'm pushing through layers of black water when I wake, but again, that's a loss-of-consciousness thing and probably wouldn't happen if I had been defibrillated and not spent a great deal of time unconscious. My pulse rate has been... relatively steady after feeling like this, but then I **do** have a pacemaker now to beat that into submission. My head goes around and around and around this, in case you couldn't tell.

Things going against me are that I have felt funny in my waking hours. Nothing that lasted too long (I'm talking a matter of moments or seconds at the most), nothing like before, but still something. I guess Zappy MkII is ironing most of the hiccups out, but he has obviously not been 100% successful. Bless him for trying.

This sort of thing quite seriously screws with my universe. If it has happened, then a) well, it's just plain ol' not good, and b) I can't drive for six months afterwards. At least, I think that's how it works. It's how it has worked in the past, anyhow. On top of that, it also has the tendency to make me a blithering mess (at least on the inside - I tend to act tough on the outside but suspect it's pretty transparent!) and scared for about 90% of my day. As in, I think about it more than I think about food. And that's really saying something!!!

I'm scared. I'm really bloody scared. I hate being alone, especially at night, but the nature of my work means I don't have much choice in that. Well, I do. I could ask to be sent back to head office. But then that opens up the possibility of blacking out on public transport, collapsing onto train tracks and generally making a fuss in a public space, and knowing that I have Zappy looking out for me I would - believe it or not - prefer to be alone. I'm stronger when I'm alone, which is a bit of a paradox given that I hate being alone!!!

I am also beginning to be scared of dying, for the first time ever. It doesn't make any sense because there's nothing different now to last time. Actually, maybe it's just like it was before - that I'm not as much scared of dying as I am of not living - and there is SO MUCH MORE that I want to do now. I have this helpless sense of time passing, of not living life to the fullest, but I don't know what else I could be doing. I do need to rest every now and then, you know ;)

I also had this ridiculous thought this morning that if I were to die, there are probably things in my room I wouldn't want people to see. Letters to and from highschool friends about boys. Underwear with holes in them. Stupid sentimental things from years ago. A tube of Wartkill for that weird spot on the palm of my left hand (oh. Well now the interwebs knows about it. Never mind!). Stories I wrote that were the daydreamings of a teenage girl; poems and songs I wrote to express my angst over unrequited love. The list that goes on. Maybe it's time for a clean up!

I know I'll be okay, one way or another, but every now and then a girl needs a little breakdown! Thanks for listening, and spare a thought for me at around 1pm on Friday when they tell me whether I'm a total nut job or just of grave medical concern - all good mojo greatly appreciated :)

Thank you also to those two or three kind souls who have been keeping a particularly close eye on me since my little stunt at Christmas. It has come from - not unexpected quarters, because that's not fair to say, but just, well, not who I imagined would pay the most attention to how I was feeling. True, the majority of it has been via text message, but I have felt like someone is there and listening, and that means a lot. Not that I've ever actually really been alone, and have had most of my nearest and dearest around me or at the end of the phone at all times, but still. Thank you.

I'll let you know how I go, and will also post a picture of the new scar sooner or later - it's way better than my old one!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Restaurant Review: Mr Carsisi - Kyneton, Victoria.

At the close of the Easter long weekend, I opted to stop being a Very Bad Daughter and, instead of changing my flight and spending an extra day in sunny Queensland, I decided to fly home and spend some time with my dad. Where it was less than one degree overnight on the first night, and less than three degrees on the second night, which was about 25 degrees colder than where I had just come from. Brr.

Dad moved up to Kyneton in central Victoria... quite a few months ago, now that I think of it! Six, maybe? And to prove what a terrible daughter I am, this was only the second time I visited him *hangs head in shame* It was actually Katie's post that made me a little more motivated to visit. Anything involving food tends to spur me on and get me motivated. And no, I'm not at all curious as to why my pants are getting tight... why do you ask? ;)

I wish I had taken some photos of the place, but basically it's one of those little kit homes which dad is in the process of "improving". Dad is incapable of living anywhere without improving it. Which is probably a good thing, given some of the crapholes that he has lived in! In this instance, the bulk of the improvement has involved ripping out the kitty pee-soaked carpets and replacing them with floorboards in the living areas and carpets in the bedrooms. There is also potential for a future extension.

Anyway, it's good that he had a full day of manual labour planned for me the following day - putting up shelves in the shed, grubbing thistles out in his paddocks and the like - because my meal was surprisingly filling for a restaurant that is nice enough to show you the wine bottle before they pour it!

Before I commence my review, I have to tell you that this is my first ever restaurant review. It's going to suck, not the least because I left my phone at home so couldn't even take some C-grade, low-light shots of the food. I also don't yet know what form the writing will take or how I will structure it - I guess I will wing it as I go. I have a little blogger crush on Tori, and I can only hope that one day I will have as much talent for weaving a tapesty with words and bringing food to life before you, as she does in her little finger. You know, the one that you use to press the apostrophe key because you use it less than the A key and that would imply that it's the less talented of the two little fingers. By my awesome logic.

It's probably for the best that Virgin had thoughtfully given me free food on the plane (still haven't figured out why), otherwise I would have been so ravenous that I would have gone completely over the top with dinner at Mr Carsisi. Mind you, I kind of wish I had, because the dessert menu was to die for (huh. Seems that I'll take a bullet for food... yeah, nobody's surprised!). As you can see from the menu (should you have opted to click the link), it has a fairly heavy Middle Eastern influence, a type of food that generally appeals to me what with its spices and meats and the exotic sweetness of honey, almond, rosewater, orange blossom... Oh well, now I have an excuse for another visit. Huzzah!

The restaurant is apparently in the old iceworks and has solid wooden floors, exposed beams, big windows... and curiously low door handles! I was seated on an old church pew with cushions, whilst dad sat opposite on a chair. To our right was a weatherboard wall with a row of mis-matched hooks with mis-matched numbers (such as one finds on a letterbox) beside them; this was where coats were hung for each table, which I thought was a lovely touch for a town as cold as Kyneton. The whole place had a very rustic feel, which I'm a big fan of.
We began dinner with a glass of wine - I chose a 2010 Galli Estate Tempranillo/ Grenache/ Mourvedre. It seemed that I picked well because it was exceptionally easy to drink. I don't have a particularly sophisticated palate (I have no idea how to spell that. My first instinct was "pallet" but that probably has more to do with working in construction than anything else...), but I know what I like and I liked this. Lots. It would be a good cold weather wine, without being too demanding on the tongue as a shiraz can be. I like to be able to drink wine WITH a meal, rather than having the two compete for dominance.

After we had ordered, a couple of fat slices of sourdough and some crisped, spiced mountain bread were brought to our table with a bowl of oilve oil for dipping. The olive oil was light and flavoursome without being overwhelming or greasy, as olive oil should be (not overwhelming, that is). The sourdough was soft and fresh in the middle and chewy on the outside, and its tang married well with the olive oil. I also put a little rock salt on my plate and dipped the oiled bread in at one point, just for something different. I can't put my finger on the spice(s) used on the mountain bread but it was certainly enjoyable.

I probably could have eaten sourdough all evening (heck, I could any day of the week!), but the serving was adequate but small, one presumes so as to not fill one up before the main attraction. So many restaurants and pubs lose sight of that in favour of large, heavy servings, although I think things are tending back towards quality over quantity these days. Or perhaps I've just started eating at fancier restaurants... or restaurants have cut down on serving sizes because they're tight...?

Upon dad's recommendation (he went for the beef this time) I ordered the slow roasted Persian spiced lamb, served with Mount Zero pearl barley & pomegranate tabouleh; chickpea puree; and zhoug... or so the menu says. I don't know what the heck zhoug is. Okay, Google tells me that it is a Middle Eastern/Yemeni hot sauce that was brought to Israel by Yemeni Jews. You know, in case you were wondering. So know I know what that taste was!

The lamb was drier than I expected based solely on what it looked like, and also my prior (extremely limited) experience with Middle Eastern (sort of - Turkish, actually) food. That's not to say that it was dry. I think my mouth was confused because the meat fell to pieces as if it had been stewed, but it had the texture/moisture of a roasted meat. Never having eaten anything slow-roasted before I presume this makes perfect sense.

The thick slices of fillet were held together by a - not too thick, not too fatty, not too chewy - spiced crust, and bissected by that fatty layer you get... only the fat had dissolved (into the meat, I presume, thus preventing it from being too dry), so I was pleasantly surprised by not having to face any stringy lamb fat. I think I expected the spice to be spicier (due to my preconceptions of Turkish meat, no doubt); the flavour was similar to the spices you get in a souvlaki, but the flavour was confined to the outside of the lamb instead of the whole meat, and it wasn't wallowing in oil as a souvlaki does. The inside of the lamb just tasted like lamb, which is not something I'm accustomed to due to my habit of stabbing my lamb and stuffing it with garlic and rosemary, but made for a nice change.

I have to say, I LOVED the barley tabouleh. Normally tabouleh is quite dry, probably because the burghul hasn't be soaked for long enough, but here the barley was moist and yet firm enough to pop between the teeth. The (I presume) lemon juice and parsely were well-balanced with the other flavours, and made a refreshing accompanyment to the lamb and chickpea.

I found the chickpea puree to be what spaghetti is to bolognese - substance and carriage and texture, but not really the star flavour. It was filling and its coarseness made it interesting, but beyond that I think I was just too distracted by the lamb and tabouleh to pay much heed to it! Except, of course, to do that OCD thing where I have to put a little bit of each component of the meal on my fork for each bite (after the initial taste of everything on the plate, alone). I found out just last weekend that my mum does it, too, so I'm glad to know I didn't just develop that particular brand of nutsiness on my own...

The more restaurants I eat at the more I learn to figure out when I will need to order extra vegetables as a side or not. This was one where your main meal was certainly filling enough without it, but where, if you're a fan of greens as I am, I would recommend ordering a side. We ordered and shared a serve of green beans with artichoke, crispy sucuk sausage and walnut oil. The beans were still firm but not undercooked, the walnut oil added a pleasant bitterness and the salt of the sausage cut through the bitter. It was just what I wanted to accompany the chickpea puree.

The serving size was large enough to fill me entirely. As I said before, I regret not being starving hungry as I would very much liked to have tried their dessert menu, but it was not to be. Perhaps next time! Oh, and there WILL be a next time.

I hear that they're quite popular so if you're keen to go, particularly on a Saturday, I would suggest you book. Mr Carsisi is on Piper Street in Kyneton, and there was plenty of on-street parking... at least, there was at 6pm on a Monday night of a public holiday in a country town!

(So.... did I do okay with this review or was it a total dog's breakfast?)

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Daring Cooks: Create Your Own Recipe! plus Year of the Cupcake #10 - Chocolate Heartache Cake (GF)

Hello all. I've been a Very Bad Daring Cook of late, between my laziness and my surgery and some other bullplop stuff going on in my life and what have you. This month isn't really an exception, because the entire idea of Daring Kitchen is to extend yourself a bit and actually cook the challenges that they post! I hope the Daring Kitchen gods won't smite me...

I'm a Daring Cook and not a Daring Baker, because I already bake (more than I should!!! *pats food baby*) and I want to extend myself as a savoury cook. But I baked instead of cooking this month because of a last minute dinner invitation from a friend visiting from interstate, and also because I needed to bake cupcakes for my own Year of the Cupcake challenge. Yes, I am aware that I shouldn't leave things until literally the last possible day, but there was Easter and a trip to Brisbane and recovering from surgery and coping with returning to work, so I was sort of painted into a corner.

I had my recipe picked out, and the ingredients ready to go, and instead I ended up going to the exceptionally tasty Mamasita *drools* I have no idea whether it, or Taco Bill's, is closer to authentic Mexican cuisine, but Mamasita beats the pants off Taco Bills. Even though you may have to line up for extended periods of time to get in. Which we didn't, because we opted to have dinner at Nanna O'Clock (5:30pm)!

Our April 2012 Daring Cooks hosts were David & Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking. They presented us with a very daring and unique challenge of forming our own recipes by using a set list of ingredients!

Basically what we had to do was pick one from each of the following groups of ingredients and make a savoury meal out of it. I broke the "savoury" rule, but I did make something with three of the ingredients, and I'm really glad that I did because I have offically found THE WORLD'S BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE RECIPE!!! I'm serious. If you don't try this then there's no point in living.

No, I'm not prone to drama at all. Why do you ask?

These were the groups of ingredients:

List 1: Parsnips, Eggplant (aubergine), Cauliflower
List 2: Balsamic Vinegar, Goat Cheese, Chipotle peppers
List 3: Maple Syrup, Instant Coffee, Bananas

And this is the recipe I had originally picked out - meatloaf with BBQ sauce (contained vinegar and coffee), to be served with roasted parsnip. And then I had decided to kick it up a notch and caramelise the parsnip in maple syrup, and serve it with a potato and cauliflower mash, using goats cheese instead of butter to mash it. That obviously didn't happen. I used the Australian Women's Weekly (AWW) Recipe Maker widget to narrow down my recipes, where you just enter the ingredients you wish to use and it spits out recipes. The downside about the widget is that if it can't find a recipe with all the ingredients listed, it will just return recipes that include any of those ingredients and you won't know that until you read through the recipe.


I made Chocolate Heartache Cake, which various sources on the interwebs tells me is from Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache. Oh! And the interwebs also just informed me that Harry Eastwood is a she and not a he! Anyway, my understanding of the book is that most (all??) of the recipes contain vegies to reduce the amount of fat (butter) required, so theoretically they're not all that bad for you. Except for the part where it contains 200g of honey and 300g of chocolate...

This one contains eggplant, goat cheese and maple syrup.

CHOCOLATE HEARTACHE CAKE omgyoumustmakeitnowitwillchangeyourlife

2 small (400g) aubergines (eggplants)
300g good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
50g cocoa
60g ground almonds
3 medium eggs
200g clear honey
2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt (oops! Forgot to put that in...)
1tsp brandy (I used dark rum as it's all I had in the house *adjusts pirate eyepatch*)

Preheat oven to 180oC. Grease and oil a 23 x 7cm tin/pop cupcake liners in cupcake tin (I made thirteen cupcakes but could probably have squeezed fourteen out of it if I hadn't sampled so many stages of the recipe and accidentally-on-purpose left some batter in the bowl...

Stab your eggplants all over with a fork and put them in a covered microwave safe bowl in the microwave. (I added a wee drop of water because I was paranoid that it would shrivel and catch fire if I didn't, but I don't know if it made any difference. It certainly didn't burst into flames, anyhow!) Microwave for 8 minutes (I flipped it over half way through), remove from microwave and drain any juices in the bowl and let it sit until it's **just** cool enough to handle.

Strip skin off it (you may need to scrape some flesh off the inside of the skin - don't waste the eggplant, but also don't get any bitter skin gunk in it), puree it and then add the chocolate and stir it around. The hot eggplant will melt the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Pick out the big chunks that refuse to melt and eat them to confirm that eggplant and chocolate actually do go well together.

Meanwhile, mix all the other ingredients together and then mix the eggplant mixture in.

For cupcakes, bake for around 20 mins (check at 18mins because mum's oven sucks at regulating temperature). For cake, bake 30 mins. I judged them to be ready when the skewer came out with moist crumbs (but not liquid) stuck to it. I put them on a rack almost immediately but the recipe says to leave the cake in the tin for 15 mins first.


60g cream cheese
120g goat cheese
1-2tbsp maple syrup (according to your tastebuds, and a darned fine excuse to eat frosting!)
2tbsp icing sugar

Beat cheeses together until light. Add the maple syrup and sugar and beat until mixed well. Spread on cooled cupcakes.

What can I say about these - they are moist and they are dense and they are wonderful. The honey as the sweetener is a much more exotic flavour than the usual old castor sugar that goes into most mud cakes. It seems a little bit Middle Eastern, what with the honey, almond and eggplant; and the lack of butter makes it seem lighter. Perhaps it is the serving size (cupcake!) but I wasn't hit with a sugar rush or that Cake Regret feeling you get with some baked goods. It is altogether out of the ordinary, and all those little quirks in the recipe takes it above and beyond a normal chocolate/mud cake. As Boy would say, it's like Taylor Swift and Rachel Bilson are making love on your tongue. The idea doesn't appeal to me as it does to him, but I think I understand the sentiment...

Please disregard the fact that there are only nine cupcakes on this tray.

Can't imagine why...

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Crikey! A Trip to Australia Zoo

I visited Brisbane over the Easter long weekend to visit Grant and his family, and on Good Friday we visited Australia Zoo.
I was thoroughly impressed by the place from the moment we walked through the ticket booth. The lady who served us was once Steve Irwin's body guard, and spoke with great emotion of her late, great employer (as did all the other staff). It was actually kind of an emotional experience.

All the staff were highly knowledgeable about the animals they handled (who can tell me the difference between the behaviour of (and amongst) crocodiles and aligators? Ooh, pick me! Pick me! I know now!), and quite clearly loved their charges - a couple of handlers looked unimpressed and a little bit upset when visitors would joke about eating the animals!

The cages were also spacious and well laid out. I don't actually recall seeing concrete anywhere but the walkways for humans, although there was probably some around some of the crocodile pools (but a lot of them were surrounded by grass... which, fun fact, has to be mown. One crocodile in particular has single-handedly (mouthedly??) destroyed four lawn mowers and a whipper snipper!). As a tree hugger, this pleased me muchly. The absence of concrete, that is. Not the crocodiles destroying horticultural equipment...

I expected the zoo to have a total focus on Australian wildlife (such as Healesville Sanctuary does), but it actually had quite a range of random animals.

We met an iguana (let's call him Jub-Jub, shall we? I **think** this is a Rhino Iguana, but they do actually have a Green Iguana called Jub-Jub!)

some tortoises having kisses (good to know you can still get frisky when you're quite a number of decades old!)
a wombat (I think this is a Common Wombat) and he really could move!

There were any number of reptiles (unsurprising, given it was formerly a reptile park). Most of the photos turned out blurry due to the low light and my inability to stand still, and it was particularly obvious given the pattern the scales make, so I will only subject you to four photos! And fewer exclamation marks from here on in! I promise! (I'll stop now...)

There was a large aviary, which was quite a serene place to sit and chill (at least, it was once you realised the birds weren't going to fly into you and peck your eyes out... although I do have a story about a magpie that flew into me (sort of), but that's another story for another time).
Then we patted kangaroos and koalas (btw, who thinks I look like a man dressed like this? Because I was mistaken for one. I **had** thought I didn't have a particularly masculine face but perhaps the (borrowed) V8 Supercar hat and work-issued sunglasses tipped it over the edge??)

After that it was time for the midday show, which included elephants
various birds which swooped about to Acca-Dacca's Thunderstruck (including this black cockatoo who strutted his stuff right in front of us, and who then took a swipe at a foreign tourist who thought it would be smart to pat something with a beak designed to crack nuts and strip branches off trees)

and the remaining Irwins - Terri, Bindi and Bob.
I have to say that Bindi is a little bit creepy - she seems totally fake, which I guess is a persona she projects to cope with the spotlight, but it doesn't make it any less creepy. Anyway, for now she seems to be an awesome role model for girls... provided she doesn't do a Miley Cyrus in a few years' time! It's also sad that Bindi and Bob's accents are about 3/4 American and 1/4 Australian now - I guess in the time elapsed since Steve's death they haven't had the Australian accent around home. It must be tough being surrounded by something that he built on a daily basis, and doing it with a sunny smile, so I guess Bindi's plastic creepiness is okay. Interestingly, though, "baby" Bob appeared (to me) to be completely disinterested in the whole thing. I guess he doesn't really remember his dad, so it probably means less to him to keep his memory alive.
Terri appears to have been wearing the same pair of high-waisted jeans like my mum wears since the late nineties, but she's pretty hands-on with the crocs so I guess it's okay about her pants ;)
They also had a massive dig at Channel 7, which aired the infamous footage of Steve dangling baby Bob over a crocodile. They also explained the entire situation from the perspective of experienced animal handlers, and, whilst not something **I** would do, I can see why he did it.
Croc keeper Wes is running from the crocodile here. This is the very same crocodile that put six massive holes in his bum and leg during the floods several years ago when their fences went down and they were trying to repair them before the crocs escaped. He was nearly dragged under the water but Steve saved him. There are photos of Wes' masticated bum up somewhere at the zoo and I must say he's pretty lucky to be alive! But he obviously loves his job, just like the rest of the staff.

Bindi is now old enough to be feeding crocs (under supervision, of course...). Here she is, with Wes literally holding her hand, feeding the croc at the show.
These three are Asian Otters, and they were super-cute. They need to be fed five times a day, and they absolutely knew when their keeper was on her way, because they crowded around the door she would be coming through and made adorable little noises. One of them was a total show-off, whilst another was totally over it and would just chill out and let the others compete for the food.
 It was whilst I was taking this photo of a cassowary that someone mistook me for a man. Nice one.

And I fed a nelephant half a kiwi fruit! The nelephant's name was Bimbo. Giggle. I know, I know, it probably means something cute in another language... One of the keepers told us that Steve Irwin used to go into the "kitchen" each day and pick out some fruit and veg and eat it; if it wasn't good enough for him then it wasn't good enough for the animals. And this crossed my mind as I handed the elephant this totally fresh, unbruised kiwifruit. Suffice it to say I loved the love this place has for its critters.

Altogether I had an awesome day. I was impressed by the keepers, by the facilities (both human and animal) and even by the food - there was a fair variety of healthy food and it didn't cost quite as many bajillion dollars as it did at Sea World. It also cost a little less to get into than Sea World (although a few bucks more than your average zoo - I think adult entry was around $55, and there were discounts for children, students, pensioners and defence force personnel - some of these groups of people would get in at half price. So if you're ever up on the Sunshine Coast, swing by. It's a big day to see everything, and if you have kids in tow you may wish to consider the option of the two day pass (with the second day being half price).

As for the late Steve Irwin, well I always thought he was a bit of a nutter for handling some of those animals/reptiles/arachnids the way he did, and I'm not altogether surprised that his life ended the way it did. But he wasn't anywhere near as reckless as Alby Mangles was (mind you, he wasn't as popular with the ladies as young Alby was, either. Even I, at the age of eight, had a wee crush on him!), and there has never been a shadow of doubt in my mind that he loved and understood the animals he handled, and was genuinely enthusiastic about them and cared about their welfare. There's a big difference between pissing a cobra off, and overfeeding your dog until it can barely walk which is, in my opinion, far worse. Steve and his family have done a lot for wildlife protection and rescue, both on a neighbourhood scale, across the country as well as overseas and that should be admired, no matter what you thought of the guy.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Book Review: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, by Ben H. Winters

First up, I need to tell you that my review is probably not going to be entirely objective as I'm a little bit over the whole parody or mashed-up classics genre. I was amused by it at first; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies tickled my funny bone, and Jane Slayre was also quite good. There have also been excellent mash-ups in other mediums, such as Wicked, the musical that re-writes the story of the famous Wizard of Oz character, the Wicked Witch of the West (East??), and I'm also a big fan of Robin Hood: Men in Tights (27 viewings and counting!).  But by the time I made it to Sense and Sensibilty and Sea Monsters I had reached the point of saturation.

In the second place, I was never all that fond of Sense and Sensibility to begin with. It always seemed a little bit meh to me. So I'm probably not the best person to be writing this review, but because I committed to it I shall subject the interwebs to it anyway! Also, I really don't know what I expected to happen, given this set of circumstances. I suppose I was setting myself up for failure.


...Gosh, I'm bored already! And I just remembered that I started writing this once before, and was so uninspired by it that I stopped writing. Writing is supposed to be fun for me, not a chore. I could just link this to Wiki and walk away, but I'm going to take the higher road. It hurrrrrts :(

Okay, so basically the entire thing takes place in the same time period as the original, but something called The Alteration has occurred. The Alteration means that aquatic life have it in for human beings, so living close to the coast is considered to be quite dangerous, what with attacks from giant squid and the like. The whole thing has a bit of a nautical theme going on.

Upstanding citizen Colonel Brandon now has tentacles coming out of his face that quiver when he becomes emotional or impassioned (cue a whole lot of phallic jokes), and carefree cad Willoughby is now a treasure hunter and gets about wearing wetsuit and flippers with a pet chimpanzee by his side (yeah, I don't really get it either). He attracts the attention of the Dashwood sisters when he rescues one of them when she falls into a creek and is attacked by a (presumably freshwater) octopus. Same as in the original, she falls in love with him and he allows her to, even though he is betrothed to another AND has a bit of a Past. Told you he was a cad. A rogue, even!

At some point the whole cast is removed to Submarine Station Beta (one presumes this = London) to liven things up a bit. Submarine Station Beta is where the upper classes go for their holidays and it also doubles as a locale for scientific experimentation on the marine life that are continually attempting to murder humans. It is a giant glass dome at the bottom of the sea and they even have circus-style performances where they show the citizens how well they have "tamed" the beasts of the deep. Every now and then it goes horribly wrong.

Long story short, the marine life figure out how to get into the dome - they chip away at the glass until it cracks - and everyone is forced to return to the surface. Cue epic voyage with pirates, and Colonel Brandon being a hero.

It's quite... meh. There are quite a few similarities to the original, for instance, one of the daughters being unable to marry the man she loves because of class divisions; the Dashwoods are still kicked out of their home by their half brother and his new wife; and Colonel Brandon still has a ward who was wronged by Willoughby (although this involved seducing her and then burying her up to the neck in sand and left to find her own way out). But I find it a lot easier to transport my imagination to the world of vampires (Jane Slayre) and zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) than to a world of sea monsters. There were also quite a few plot devices that I feel were not well enough exploited. If you find it in a bargain bin, then sure. If you're a bit desperate at the airport then go for it. But if, like me, you're not a big fan of the original, I probably wouldn't bother.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Cupcake Decorating Course #2

Well, Rachel and I love cake so much we just couldn't help ourselves. After we had booked into the first cupcake decorating course, the one that had originally piqued our interest in such courses came up for an absolute bargain on one of those online deals websites ($50 instead of the usual $125), so we enrolled in that, too!

The second course was run by Jennifer Graham of Crabapple Cupcakes, and was totally different to the first course. I'm not quite sure which of the two courses you would say was "better". They were just different.

I must admit when I first walked in I was fairly skeptical that the course was going to be of any use at all. It was held upstairs in a restaurant in the city (it was closed for the night and we had the place to ourselves), and the furniture had been rearranged so that there was a big, long table in the middle and chairs absolutely jammed down the sides of the room. Because the majority of bakers do not actually fit onto a smallish chair without oozing over the sides a little, it was a wee bit squeezy!

My first impression was not good. There was a row of buckets of buttercream frosting in different colours, as well as various sprinkles, cachous and pre-made royal icing flowers. I was quite seriously concerned that we would be doing something I could very easily do on my own.

Then Jennifer opened her mouth and my heart sank a little bit further. It seemed like she was going to waffle on in a sales pitch about cake like it was a religion, and if there are two things I hate it is sales pitches, and people trying to force religion on you. And then I realised that we were all there because, to most of us, cake IS a religion. Once I realised that I was good to go. Huzzah!

We didn't learn a great deal about decorating that I didn't already know, but there were a few really good take-home cupcake baking and decorating tips:

1) Bicarb soda is used instead of baking powder where there are acidic ingredients such as buttermilk or chocolate. It also tends to give a browner/more golden finish on the cake

2) Following recipes correctly is important. Details like how long you beat cake batter for, not to overbeat it, recognising what "light and fluffy" looks like etc are important

3) Repeatability is paramount in cupcake decorating. You want them all to be identical, and you need to know exactly how much icing you put on and exactly how many times you turned the cupcake as you applied the icing

4) Always decorate in circles or arcs, not squares. Squares need to be absolutely perfect, and not only do they need to be perfect, but the entire display of cupcakes then needs to be lined up, too, and if one is off just a little then it looks terrible. Curves = good; square = bad

5) Ingredients should be at room temperature when you add them to the mix

6) You should get an oven thermometer so you know what temperature you are actually baking at.

They're the key messages. And now for some pretty photos!

Jennifer also gave us a handy information booklet with a recipe for basic vanilla cupcakes and buttercream frosting, which I will share with you in another post. She also taught us quite quickly how to pipe a rose but either I wasn't paying attention or I'm just not very good with my hands. Basically I want to know how to make those sugar flowers because it will be a hell of a lot cheaper to make them myself than to buy them! In case you couldn't tell, I loved those red sugar roses.

Anyway, if you get a chance, the Crabapple Bakery cupcake decorating course is good fun. In some ways I preferred the one we did at Marg and Maree's  - the class there was much smaller and there was more focus on learning each decorating technique then practising, then learning another technique and then practising; rather than the Crabapple one that was basically a two hour lecture followed by half an hour of decorating however you want with the techniques used, under guidance. Mind you, there were about forty people in the room as opposed to the twelve at the other course, so there was less guidance and some students got frustrated and slipped through the cracks a little. But I think it was worth doing the course nonetheless, just to pick up the tips listed above.

And hey, with either course, you get six free cupcakes!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Book Review - The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald

The Rings of Saturn is another one of those novels that has been sitting on my shelf ever since enrolling in a particular class at university and then transferring out of it. I have picked it up a number of times, opened it at a random page to get a feel for the style of writing and then put it down again having found it to be too dry.

As it turns out, it's not the sort of book that you can just pick up and open it at a random page and be grabbed by it because that just wouldn't make sense.

The Rings of Saturn is a meandering memo of the author's walking tour through East Anglia (I **think** that's the correct name for the coastal country in the south east of England). Normally one wouldn't consider notes on a walk to be worthy of an entire novel, but the author takes the time to research local history of each place he visits and relays that to us. I presume it is a work of non-fiction, but I haven't bothered verifying the "facts" found in the novel. I would say that many of them are anecdotal and based on local knowledge provided by people he met along the way, so much would not be tracable. But fiction or non-fiction, it makes for quite an interesting read!

Within the text are stories about the large manor houses he visits on his walking tour; abandoned military outposts; towns that have moved as a result of coastal erosion; quirky and occasionally historically important characters who once lived in the towns; certain buildings (such as public baths), the reason for their being (popularity with high society) and the subsequent degredation of the town as times changed; the rise and fall of natural forests and planted gardens; sericulture (silk production) in China and then Europe; and even the childhood of Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of  Darkness, rates a mention because of his roundabout connection to the area.

The chapters are manageably short and seperate enough to be able to put the book down, but interesting enough to want to keep going for another bite-sized story. I would rate it as a good book to read on the train, or if you don't have a great deal of time to read large slabs of text. The only thing that fails it is its lack of paragraphs - once you dive into a chapter, there are very few breaks. This is one of the better unread books that were sitting around my room, and one that I will quite likely read again.