Saturday, 31 May 2014

100 Days of Awesome: Day Eight - Parties, Cake and Fire

One week in and I'm done with capitalising the AWESOME. It's a little excessive. 

Lunch with friends. Awesome. 

Engagement party #1 - got to see my brother, plus there was this cake, both if which were awesome:

Then I made this cake, which isn't as cool as the first one, but I'm also not a pastry chef like the bride-to-be's father, who made that other cake, is. So I think it's a pretty awesome effort:

Now I'm at engagement party #2, at my house (not my party, to be clear!), and I've seen a bunch of my friends, am within a stone's throw of my bed, and I'm sitting in front of this fire:

Life is pretty awesome. So what was awesome about your day?

Friday, 30 May 2014

100 Days of Awesome: Day Seven - Thank God It's Friday!

Today was one of those damned frustrating days where you get absolutely nothing done that you had planned, because STUFF keeps happening. So I'm really glad it's the weekend... although admittedly, despite the stress, I actually kind of fed off it because it was one of those days that reminded me that my job is actually kind of important. Pity about the stress and the yelling and so forth, though. But feeling valuable was AWESOME. 

And you know what else was AWESOME? The weather! It was magnificent! So at least, even though I was rushing about like a mad thing putting out (metaphorical) spotfires, I got to look at my most favourite-est shade of blue ever. This colour makes me very happy. Something about the intensity, I think, and that it speaks of open spaces:

And I spoke to my Aunty Glennis for a while, which was AWESOME, and it was doubly AWESOME because one of my cousins just relocated his family to Melbourne, which means I get to see more of them. Huzzah!

Last but not least, I went out for a drink with the guy from Day One. He has bookended Week One of Awesomeness. I'm not sure how he felt about it, but I had a good night. We didn't really run out of things to talk about, and even after we went outside to leave, we talked for another ten or fifteen minutes. It was a fairly platonic, noncommittal exit from the evening, but I do recall his friend telling me the other night how shy he is, so heaven only knows if the platonic-ness indicates anything. I think it's probably worth us catching up again to see if there's anything there, in any case. Anyway, what was AWESOME about it - besides having quite an enjoyable evening with a nice guy - was that it was probably the first time in my life a guy has given me his number, that I have been interested enough to use it, and that we've actually been out and had a good time. Guess I'm finally growing up ;)

Anyway, bed time for me. Hope your Friday was awesome, too!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

100 Days of Awesome: Day Six - Dumplings, Dating and a Day at the Gym

Well, not a whole day. Because, ow.
So first up, there was corned beef for lunch (yep, still going on it! God bless salted meats). And we all know how I feel about corned beef. That's right, it was AWESOME!! Oh! And dumplings for dinner - my housemates over-ordered and I walked in at just the right moment. DOUBLE AWESOME!!! :-)
And then I had a really productive day at work. I was getting ALL of the things done, which was AWESOME!!!
And then I got something off my chest, which felt AWESOME!!!
And then I managed to pretty much go an entire day without snacking on crap, which is the first time in a while I've been able to say that. And I suspect it was related to having a productive day at work, because I wasn't bored or frustrated. AWESOME!!!
And then I was so goshdarned inspired by that, that when I got home I finally headed around the corner and joined the gym. It only took me five months of living here. And because you're basically locked in for sixteen weeks, the tightarse in me is bound to ensure I make good use of my membership fees! And I'm pretty excited about the whole getting fit again thing, which is AWESOME!!!
Last but not least, I finally decided to text the guy I met on Saturday night, and we're going out for a quiet drink tomorrow night after work. A friend pointed out to me that it takes guts to give a girl you just met your number, even if you've had a couple of drinks, so I figured it was only fair to at least have a drink with him. Not sure yet how it will go, but we have spent the evening texting and he seems like a nice guy. Plus he can spell and punctuate with reasonable accuracy, which, if you know me, you'll realise is AWESOME!!! Oh, except he's a Richmond supporter... hmm... just kidding, I don't really care. It's not like he goes for Collingwood ;-)
So, dear reader, what was awesome about your day? Was it productive? Did it involve dumplings, or fitness targets, or making a date with a boy/girl for the weekend?

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

100 Days of Awesome: Day Five - The Fault in Our Stars

Considering I got approximately 3.47 hours' sleep last night, today really was pretty darned awesome. 

It started with a brekkie BBQ at work at 6:30am. The time wasn't so great, but the egg n bacon sanga? AWESOME start to the day!

Next, I had to drive an hour to head back to the main office for an audit. This was the reason I was about 4.53 hours short on sleep, by the way - I was fully stressed about it, so I tossed and turned all night. But luckily I'm good friends with the auditor, so despite the audit being boring, as audits generally are, and despite being a bit bummed by an email I got, it was also a pretty AWESOME working day because I got to hang out with a friend at the same time. Multitasking at its best! Well, it was as awesome as audits can be, anyhow. And I actually got a dorky little sense of satisfaction out of it, and now I have a tangible hit list, which feels gooooood. 

Then I got a rock star car park at the train station. AWESOME!!!

Last but not least, I scored a ticket to the preview of The Fault In Our Stars, via Kirsti, via Decoybetty, via Nuffnang. So Kirsti and I sat there an blubbered for about two hours. I've never heard a cinema sound so moist (sorry if you don't like the word "moist", but I happen to feel that it is fairly onomatopoeic and therefore intensely satisfying to use. Moist, moist, moist. Ok, I'm done now!). 

To be honest, I cried waaaay more than Kirsti did. I knew I would. I saw the ad for it a few weeks back when I saw The Other Woman and I identified with the themes right away. To the point that I purchased the book immediately with the intention of reading it, like, yesterday. Of course, it's sitting there, all lonesome-like, while I finish off Annapurna (yeah, I guess I don't really have a "type" of book that I stick to, despite having a few tried and tested favourites) but the intention is to devour it in a single rainy weekend. And it's just as well I saw the movie first, cos now I know that I'll need an entire box of tissues to get through it!

I haven't read any reviews of either the book or the movie of The Fault in Our Stars, nor do I hold much stock in reviews, so I suppose that's somewhat irrelevant. I don't know how well it is written, not having read it (although if the protagonist Hazel Grace's narration is relatively true to the text, then I very much look forward to reading it). And I can't speak for the craft of the filmmakers because I know nothing of it, although it was easy to watch which I suppose let the story and the characters shine. 

But what I can tell you is that the integrity of the story is pretty solid. Thankfully - and may it stay that way - I don't have cancer, nor have I neve watched someone close to me either win or lose a battle with it. I can, however, identify with plenty of the things that Hazel Grace says, two in particular.

The first one that hit me was “I'm a grenade and at some point I'm going to blow up". Although the stats aren't actually all that bad for me n my dodgy heart, that's still how I feel. I question why anybody would choose to be with me if they know I could drop dead tomorrow, and the fact that only one man has really tried - and failed - supports it. I don't think I actively push people away, but I doubt that anyone would even try and it feels like I'm too big a risk, and not worth it because of the bad stuff. Except that I know that's stupid. And I'm also a scientist and I do understand that correlation is not causation... but feelings aren't very scientific, are they.

The second was Hazel Grace's description of how she appreciates the time she spends with Augustus Waters:
"There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities...There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get...but, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world..."

I think, without even realising it, that I have been applying Hazel Grace's thoughts on infinity to the various people that come into my life and make a difference to me. Oftentimes they are with me for far too short a period before drifting away again for one reason or another, and so I am sad for a time. It occasionally makes me wonder whether the ones for whom it is a conscious choice make that choice because I am a grenade, and they don't realise that not all grenades explode. And I know that's quite egocentric of me to even consider that people choosing to pull back from me has anything to do with them realising how bad losing me would be if they actually cared, but it's either that or my personality that's the problem, and it's much easier on my ego to pin it all on the grenade thing! But grenades and sadness aside, I have learnt to appreciate those smaller infinities. There are a lot of wonderful people in the world, and having even the very shortest time with them is still a great gift. And being able to recognise that gift is pretty AWESOME.
So, what awesome things happened to you today? Rock star car park? Free movie tickets? Someone make you laugh unexpectedly?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

100 Days of Awesome: Day Four - I'm Alive!

So today was awesome for three reasons, and two of them related to food. 

Nobody is surprised by that, are they... (Statement, not question!)

First up, there was another AWESOME corned beef sanga with green tomato chutney that my Superintendent made. The chutney, I mean. His wife makes his sandwiches for him so the chances of me having one made by him are slim to none. 

Secondly, I went out for tea at the local Russell (that's the RSL, or Returned Servicemans League, for those playing elsewhere in the world). $21 for two courses - mini spring rolls for entree, and calamari with chips n salad for mains. Surprisingly (for me and my sweet tooth) I went for the entree and main not the main and dessert, but the desserts looked a bit pov to me. Anyway, it was cheap, massive servings, the service was super-fast and it was tasty, too. AWESOME!

The third and final thing that happened today (if you don't count perving on totally hot - but unfortunately spoken for - landholders!) was that my friend Kirsti reminded me that six years ago today I nearly died in Peru and was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome. What is AWESOME about that is that, since then, I've been defibrillated nine times and survived. And I've spent 32 nights in hospital, and I'm still sane, and I still love getting food on a tray, and still love bed goes up bed goes down bed goes up bed goes down bed goes up bed goes down. And I've had three bouts of surgery, and have bounced back faster each time, and the scar still upsets me but hey, at least they've been able to keep it in the same spot. 

And I'm becoming mentally stronger - I'm pretty much back to being Invincible Ness, albeit a version that doesn't do quite such foolhardy things but will still have a shot at almost anything. After all, we only get to live each day once. It's probably only really happened in the last six months, and I'm pretty excited about what new things there are around the corner for me to conquer. I don't feel like a cripple anymore (which I know friends will yell at me for saying, but it's how I felt for a very long time). So I think that's pretty AWESOME!!! 

And another AWESOME aspect of my stupid dodgy heart is the amazing support I've received from unexpected quarters over the last six years. In addition to existing friends, family and acquaintances (mostly) becoming closer, veritable strangers have also embraced me across four states and looked out for me, and it takes pretty special people to do that, so I am proud to number you all amongst my friends. 

So I'm alive, and that's pretty darned AWESOME!

Well, that's it for today's blessings. This little black duck needs to hit the hay. 

So what was awesome about your day today? Hit me up below. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

100 Days of Awesome: Day Three - Not So Awesome

Well that took less time than I expected. I'm only onto Day Three, and already I'm scraping the bottom of the "awesome" barrel. Below-average day and feeling pretty uninspired. Sad face. 

I might have a change of heart once I'm back for yoga, though. In fact, given how much I love it I'd be surprised if I didn't. Yoga really is awesome (no capitals yet - will re-assess the situation and finish this post once I'm full of endorphins and am feeling more enthusiastic about things!).

In the meantime, I can only think of two awesome things from today. 

First up, one of the landholders whose property we are affecting rang me this morning to see if we could lend them a backhoe for two seconds. You see, their FRIGGING MASSIVE, 60kg+  American Bulldog x Mastiff died, and they knew that digging a hole big enough by hand would take quite some doing. Obviously it's obviously not awesome that the dog died - he was a beautifully ugly, slobbery horse of a thing that was just begging you to cuddle him (er, although I do concede that not everyone feels as fondly of big dogs or even of those breeds as I do!), and I'm sad that he died. But what is AWESOME is that I've formed a positive relationship with the landholders whereby they felt able to ask me for help. And even better is that I was able to help them. 

The other pre-yoga thing on my list was that a friend was staying alone at hotel for a conference, and she texted to say that fancy-pants rooms with king-sized beds aren't much fun without someone to share it with. So I encouraged her to jump on the beds and build a fort from bedding. This is what she came up with:
My response? "I see doonas and chairs. You're not trying hard enough."

And then:
"Much better!"

Encouraging an adult to build a fort from bedding and succeeding? AWESOME! Looks like fun, too. 

Oh! I tell a lie! There was something else about my day that qualified:

Corned beef and pickle sandwiches, which are one of my favourite-est sandwiches ever. Definitely qualifies as AWESOME! Heh, which means that at least the next two days will also be awesome, cos I'm still eating the leftovers 😄

*     *     *     *     *

Yep. Yoga was good. It was really good. In fact, it was AWESOME! I turned myself into a pretzel, stretched the bits that needed stretching, worked some weak bits, and did a wee bit of mediation and relaxation to quieten the mind and rest the body. So I'm feeling a lot more positive than when I first began writing. And tomorrow there will be corned beef again, so I'm looking forward to my day with a positive attitude 😄

What was awesome about YOUR day? Hit me up below in the comments. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

100 Days of Awesome: Day Two - Ikea, Sunshine and Corned Beef

 Today was a pottering kind of day, but that's what Sundays are for!  

Woke up at a reasonable hour, and despite it being only a five hour sleep I have felt alarmingly sprightly today. AWESOME!

Took a trip to Ikea and discovered you could get a full cooked brekkie including juice for the princely sum of $6.95. AWESOME!

Walked past a big ol' crate of puppets and simply had to buy one for my Housebaby (housemates' baby). And it is AWESOME!

(You can tell I'm writing this in bed, can't you.)

Cup of tea and blogging in the sunshine. AWESOME!

Corned beef with mashed potato, peas and carrots for dinner. That's my Last Supper meal, by the way. Why? Because it's AWESOME!

Remembering to document a pretty good day? AWESOME!

What was awesome about YOUR Sunday?

100 Days of Awesome: Day One - A Hike, and the Three D's

If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that I recently completed my 101 Things in 1001 Days challenge. And you'll also know that I only completed roughly half the list, and was contemplating starting another one. I've been stewing over what variation of the concept would work the best without putting undue pressure on myself, or being disappointed for failing to achieve certain targets, and then I hit upon the idea of not writing a list at all, but just doing things that make me happy for a set period of time instead.
I had a pretty cruddy time of things last week. It was mostly that at every turn there was some kind of obstacle (except for Wednesday. Wednesday was productive AND it involved cake!), a lot of stress at work, and then my brother had a super crap day at work (his boss is a total a-hole) which made me feel bad for him. And then my dad, who has some mental health issues, ended up being hospitalised with that yesterday. Which admittedly was more of a relief than anything, because it had been building for a while and he needed help, but it just makes me very, very sad seeing him not being himself like that. I have to commend my (all-male) colleagues for coping very well when I burst into tears at work after I got off the phone to Dad on Thursday. I'm the consummate professional! ;) And then to cap it all off, my boss asked me to have something done for Monday at 4:30pm on Friday. So although I do need to get that done today, I'm doing this instead.
And why, you may ask?
Because I've been mulling over this idea for a couple of days, and decided during my hike yesterday that instead of writing a big ol' list that I "have to" achieve, I will keep it simple and just live an awesome life for the next hundred days. The idea is that I inject a little bit of sunshine into each and every day, even if it's by doing something dumb like painting my nails, or talking to a friend on the phone, because, believe it or not, those things can make my day. Even doing something that I've been putting off and I'm all tense about can make me feel really good.
So, to that end, I'm sitting in the sunshine and fresh air (tick!), with a nice cup of tea by my side (tick!), and I'm writing (tick!) my idea down. It's definitely a more awesome choice than knuckling down right away and doing some work, that's fo' shizzle! I can do that later.
Part of the decision making process was because of my cruddy few days, and part of it was because I was physically struggling yesterday with what should be a relatively easy walk, and that really upset me and my foolish pride. I love being outdoors, and I love hiking, and it just seems so unfair that it hurts so much to do something I love so much. I can't pull the "I just had heart surgery" card for much longer, and I'm loath to make excuses for myself, even though I am at a physical disadvantage and fatigue much more quickly than your average person. I have to keep reminding myself that I actually live a fuller and more active life than plenty of people with fewer challenges set before them, and that slow and steady really can win the race. Well, maybe not win. But you can certainly participate in and enjoy the race. Hah, they should totally make a bumper sticker with that on it. It's super-catchy! ;-p
So now, instead of resenting my weaknesses, I will try to spend the next 100 days making myself stronger, both physically and emotionally. The emotional is being taken care of by this challenge because in theory I will be happy or satisfied for at least a small portion of every day, and I'm having the inkling that it will also feed my physical strength. Because doing a hard yoga session makes me happy. Going for a run makes me happy, even if it frustrates the hell out of me, because I've derived a sense of achievement from making myself do it. And going for a hike makes me happy, even if I have to stop every 500m (or less, depending on the terrain) to catch my breath, because I'm out in nature and that makes me very happy indeed.
I'm going to make yesterday Day One, and I will endeavour to update every night (although I can't promise that will happen... but I'm not going to beat myself up about it. If I'd rather paint my toenails, then so be it!).
Well to begin with, I went hiking. I headed out to the You Yangs for the first time with my BFF Ness (yep, there's two of us) and did the East-West Walk a friend that lives in the area had recommended, and it was quite pretty. Plus it was a nice day, and I was outdoors. AWESOME!
We also climbed Flinders Peak, which is especially handy considering I've committed to climb something every week this year, and I fell behind during my stay in hospital. AWESOME!
(Wheee! I'm alive! And very, very sweaty. And wearing my very sexy, incredibly practical hiking shirt. Mmm, attractive...)
On my way back down the peak, the aforementioned friend rang to see how the walk was and we had a little chat before I decided I should probably pay more attention to where I was placing my feet than to the phone. AWESOME!
It was really good catching up with Nessa, too. We haven't really had much one-on-one time in years, so having a bit of girl-time was nice. AWESOME!
Then we came home and watched Pitch Perfect, which Ness hadn't seen (scandalous, I know). ACA-AWESOME!
Then we frocked up and hit the town for the three D's: Dumplings, Dancing and Drinks. First we had dinner - Peking duck and various dumplings. AWESOME!
Then we went for a drink at The Croft Institute, which I remember allegedly being super-awesome back at uni (I never actually visited in those days), and it was kinda eh, but then two things happened - one, my dad's girlfriend rang and said that dad was finally in hospital and getting help - AWESOME! - and my friend Harry showed up - AWESOME!
Haz took us to a more happening place over the road, where we danced the night away. AWESOME!
While we were dancing I somehow attracted the attention of a tall, fit guy who bought me two drinks and gave me his number. He was very sweet and quite shy, and therefore not a jerk. AWESOME!
Then we moved on to the Gin Palace for a nightcap, and were able to sit on the super-comfy couches and rest our weary feet there whilst we sipped real cocktails. AWESOME!
I also got the bartender to invent a cocktail for me, and I named in in his honour, which he seemed to appreciate. AWESOME!
And then my housemate Dave came and got us from the city, so we didn't have to muck around with taxis. AWESOME!
Day One, and I'm definitely off to an awesome start :) I hold no illusions that every day will be that awesome - after all, it was a weekend - but having read through that before hitting Publish I'm realising exactly how small the happenings and interractions that build up to make an awesome day really are. It's kind of just formally recognising and counting your blessings, and that's something I think everyone can benefit from.
So what made your day awesome? I'm serious! Tell me in the Comments section below!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Tarting Yourself Up - Raspberry Chantilly Tart

My dad uses the word "tart" perhaps more than your average person. He's renovating his house at present and talks about "tarting the place up" and says that the place is "tartsville, darling" in this amusingly mincing voice. Even when he buys a new suit or a tie or cufflinks he talks about "looking like a tart." He's quite the character, my dad.
For those who are playing along in America, the word "tart" has several meanings, including one which you may or may not be aware of -
First, there's the word for a sharp taste, e.g. "that apple was a bit tart for my liking,"
Secondly, there's the food - a baked dish with a pastry base and an open top.
And thirdly, there's the British slang for a promiscuous woman or a prostitute.
Obviously my dad's prolific use of the word "tart" pertains to the third definition. Not that he's a promiscuous woman or a prostitute (although I have no idea what he got up to in his younger years, but I really don't want to think about that!!!), but to "tart oneself up" is to put a bit of effort into making yourself... perhaps a step beyond presentable. Showy, even. And to have "a tart on the side" implies that you are engaging in, erm, extracurricular activities that perhaps you ought not be!
And obviously this post is about baked goods, not about women of questionable character or putting on a show. Although I have to admit the tarts did a pretty good job of being showy - they're quite simple, but also effective.

I also need to confess that, in the past, I've used a (baked!) tart as a vehicle for publicly delivering a backhanded comment about someone's moral sensibilities and personal choices. They say that if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all... unless you can backstab with sweetened baked goods, in which case you're good to go!
The recipe came from the book 50 Rainbow Tarts. It caught my eye in a book shop the other week while I was looking for a birthday gift for my friend A, and I simply had to have it. Hah, that's usually how it happens. Happy not-birthday to me! Although A was actually with me at the time, so there's really no excuse for losing focus...
It's a great concept, and it really appeals to me in terms of how visually pleasing and structured the recipes are - there are 50 tarts, all colours of the rainbow, and the index is basically a paint colour chart with little sample dots and the name of the tart  and page number listed below it (sorry about the quality of the picture - I snapped it quickly with my iPhone to show a friend who displays slight OCD tendencies when it comes to colour-coding!).
You can tell it was written by a graphic designer with a love of food, and I wish I'd thought of it first! Quick suggestion to the publishers for the second print run, though - run your dots right the way across the page and treat it as a full-page spread rather than two pages, or else do the same but starting in one corner and radiating out through the spectrum of colour and shade as you move across the page.
There are both sweet and savoury tarts, and each one has been made into a small oblong with a with a white strip at the bottom, much like a paint colour chip. I'd probably call it an open tart because everything is kind of piled on top of a flat base with no sides. There are four different pastry base recipes right in the front, several recipes for the white part, and from there the book makes its way through the rainbow by applying different toppings to various combinations of base and cream.

Pastry Base
160g plain flour
25g icing sugar
50g unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
Pinch salt
1 vanilla bean (I used 1tsp of vanilla bean paste)
1 egg
3tbsp milk

Chantilly Cream
150mL chilled cream
20g icing sugar

The Tart
1 quantity pastry (above)
1 quantity cream (above)
125g raspberries, plus more for decoration (I used frozen raspberries and picked out 24 good ones plus a few spares and let them thaw out on a piece of paper towel, standing on their ends)
3/4tsp gelatine powder

Pastry Base
Line baking tray with baking paper. Combine all ingredients as far as the salt.

Add vanilla, egg and milk and roughly combine with your hands (although I prefer to use a butter knife, because then I don't get sticky hands. They will get sticky later, though, just not quite as sticky as this step!).

Lightly flour your hands, remove rings (I'm telling you to do that because I always forget!) and tip onto a floured bench and knead the dough until smooth and it forms a ball. You don't want it too sticky but also not too dry.

Roll out flat and cut into four 12cm x 15cm rectangles (I would probably make eight that were half the size next time). Note that in the process of squaring them up, I ended up with excess pastry. So I spread the offcuts with apricot jam, rolled them into little pinwheels and baked them with the rest of the pastry. Yum!

Place onto prepared tracy, prick all over with a fork and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180oC (350oF). Bake for about 20mins, or until lightly golden. Cool.

Chantilly Cream
Beat cream in mixer until firm peaks form (but don't let it turn to butter!). Sift sugar into cream and beat for another few seconds until sugar is well incorporated.

The Tart
Combine the raspberries (except those set aside for decoration) with sugar and gelatine with a tablespoon of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Crush raspberries gently with a wooden spoon and bring to the boil. Remove from heat, strain through fine sieve to remove seeds, then cool completely (I put mine in the fridge to speed things up. Use a container with thin sides rather than a ceramic dish, as it will cool faster).

Once cooled, fold the raspberry liquid into half the cream, then spread on the upper part of the pastry base. Pipe or spread the remaining chantilly cream in whatever pattern your heart desires onto the lower part of the pastry. Decorate with the intact raspberries that you drained earlier.

The base itself wasn't as sweet a shortcrust as I am accustomed to, which kind of bugged me when I tried eating it raw, but obviously once it is loaded up with chantilly cream that is no longer an issue ;) It's also worth mentioning that in my head, a sweet shortcrust pastry is the melts-in-your-mouth one mum used to make from the Alma Lach's The Hows and Whys of French Cooking, which, predictably, is quite a heavenly pastry. I will probably experiment with different shortcut pastry recipes, but if you do the same you should bear in mind that the pastry needs to be robust enough to hold up when it is loaded up with topping and moved around.
I tried several methods of piping the cream (I'm a piping kinda gal!) but I'm sure just smearing it on with a knife or the back of a spoon would do just as well. I think all three look fine, but the third one is probably a bit prettier.

Be warned that the cream becomes a little runny once you fold the raspberry mixture through. I don't know whether I didn't put enough gelatine in, or it didn't cool enough, or it was just always going to happen. I might have to give it another try, just to be sure, and maybe add a bit more gelatine. All in the name of quality control, you see... ;)

Alright then, you lot, off you go. Get yourselves a cup of tea and have a little bit of tart on the side...

Monday, 5 May 2014

Back In The Game!

A couple of weeks ago I was defeated by the 1000 Steps walk in the Dandenongs. It was two weeks and two days after the surgery to implant Zappy III, my new pacemaker, and I was pretty bummed out by having to admit defeat half way up. I was feeling kind of wonky, and I thought it best not to push  myself too hard and potentially screw things up for myself.
Yesterday afternoon, I decided it was high time I had another shot at it. After all, it had been a month and two days since going under the knife, and in that time I've done a couple of walks on the flat at a decent pace, plus a short walk down at Point Addis that involved quite a few steps going down and coming back up the cliffs to the beach. Plus shopping, which is basically an endurance event. Heh.
Credit where credit is due - my friend Brett put a bit of thought into whether or not those steps at Point Addis would be easier than my failed attempt at the 1000 Steps before suggesting it, and I survived. In actual fact, I barely struggled at all. I call that a win! (Let's ignore the fact that I barely struggled because I kept a pace akin to that of the proverbial tortoise the whole way up...)
This is the view of Point Addis from a disance, by the way. The cliffs we climbed are the ones towards the left of the picture, and are a little lower than the ones this picture is taken from. It's Brett's photo, not mine, taken another day. I was far too busy trying not to die to take any pictures, and I definitely didn't walk that far ;)
So anyway, I got to the 1000 Steps car park, and I got what could only be described as a rock star spot - five cars from the start of the walk. I imagine that had a little something to do with the fact that it was pouring with rain and only about ten degrees. This photo doesn't illustrate it well unless you realise that the entire windscreen is a slick of fast-moving water, and the little wobbles in the surface are huge, fat rain drops!
My brave friend Chay was the only other starter, and I sat in the car and waited for him. He eventually arrived and, unbeknownst to me, parked opposite me. I was so engrosesd in playing with my phone that I didn't see him pull in, and he was able to sneak up and scare the crap out of me by slamming his hands against the passenger window. That's right, Chay, scare the girl with the dodgy heart right before a hike! ;)
The walk went well. We didn't hurry up - I never do - but we kept a fairly steady pace and gossiped the entire way up and back down again. I guess that's a sign you're doing okay, and it also seems to help distract you from the pain a little. We stopped for a quick breather a few times, and I probably only noticed that I needed to because I was struggling to speak, and when we got to the top we went straight down instead of standing around, resting. Well, right after I took this all-important Proof Of Life selfie, anyhow!
I didn't make use of any of the seats on the trail, and, now that I think of it, I didn't even notice them. I guess I just wasn't looking for them because I didn't need them. Plus, the fronts of my legs were already wet. I didn't need to add a wet bum to that ;)
I have to say I'm pretty proud of myself, in case you couldn't tell by that photo. I almost look a little bit crazed with the success of it all! The fact I showed up in the pouring rain isn't such a huge deal - my determination means that once I set my mind on something I will do it, regardless of the obstacles.
I also don't really count rain as an obstacle. I've done enough hiking, and spent enough of my time outdoors in Tassie in seriously crappy weather for work, for it not to be an issue. And more than one friend said it was too dangerous to attempt on a day like that, but again, my judgement on "dangerous" is skewed, having pranced about a boulder field in the fog on a frosty morning (and you do have to prance, because the boulders are often spaced quite far apart!), with a rucksack packed full of Elliot traps on my back, all in the name of science. I'm such an Evel Knievel ;) (although luckily I have only broken four bones so far in my life, not 433!). Plus, I wasn't planning on running up or down the steps, so really it was a pretty low risk.
It took me a little over an hour to do the loop. Two seconds over the hour, in fact *shakes fist* But at least now, like when I failed to finish last time, I have a tangible goal to aim for. I'm a bit sore today - when I woke up, my legs were aching. And the wound site is pretty stiff, too. But that will get better. And sore is good. Sore means you're alive and you can feel.
I'm back in the game!

Friday, 2 May 2014

AWW Passionfruit Buttermilk Syrup Cake

I've been sulking about my recent stay in hospital for too long. Yeah, I'm still recovering from having the pacemaker replaced, and I do get stabs of pain from time to time, but I think I'm ready to put a more positive spin on things. And what more delicious way to do that, than to bake a cake!
I baked this one while I was recouperating at my mum's house, and had just decided that I had enough strength back in my right arm to put it through its paces and do something besides watch Game of Thrones. I chose it because I knew we had the ingredients in the cupboard already, and also because I knew it wouldn't actually take a great deal of strength or control in my right arm, as decorating a cake properly would have.
This is technically a syrup cake, thanks to the icing, and is magnificently buttery. It keeps quite well for 3 or so days. I say "or so" because I can't remember whether it was three or four, but if I'm honest with myself, I can't imagine that it would have made it far past Day 3 with my mum and I circling like vultures!
It's from the Australian Womens Weekly book Bake. Something I'm becoming more mindful of these days is trying to cook new recipes from my multitude of cookbooks, rather than reverting to the same old recipes again and again, and I had never tried this one before. Unfortunately, due to my wikkid skillz in selecting delectable recipes I tend to pick good ones, so I suspect this will become one recipe that I come back to because it was the perfect balance of buttery and tangy. Oh well, I suppose there are more tragic things in this life than cooking the same recipe over and over!
A copy of the original recipe can be found here on the AWW website.
Note that the recipe on the website tells you to bake it for 40 minutes in a bundt tin. I didn't have a bundt tin available to me at mum's, having relocated it to my new house (have tins: will travel!), so I baked it in a normal-sized, round tin. I think it was about 8" across, give or take. The supplementary instructions in the margin of the recipe say to cook it in a normal, round tin for about an hour. I think I cooked it for about an hour and five minutes, but as per usual I advocate aiming for five minutes less, testing it for doneness, and then putting it back in.
As per usual, I am incapable of sticking to the method. By which I mean, I suffer from the devastating afflctions of having the attention span of a bush fly; a rampant will of my own; and an above-average knowledge of all things baking. I'm that annoying person that sits in front of My Kitchen Rules and shouts "you're doing it wrong!" even if I've only cooked it once before. But rest assured that the cake came out wonderfully using my method, although if anyone clicks through and uses the original recipe from start to finish, please email me and tell me how it went!
250g butter, softened
1c castor sugar
3 egg yolks + 3 egg whites                                             
2 c SR flour (I used plain flour and added 4tsp of baking powder)
¾c buttermilk (I used normal milk and added a teaspoon of white vinegar, stirred and let it sit a while)
¼c passionfruit pulp *
1½c icing sugar
¼c passionfruit pulp, approximately *
* Note that between the two, it adds up to around one small tin of passionfruit pulp like we get here in Australia. You know the tins that are the same size as tomato paste? Yeah, them. I think I've seen Admiral, Ardmona and John West make them, although I'm sure there are other brands out there.
Preheat the oven to 180oC (160oC F/F). Grease and flour an 8-9" round, 4" deep tin, which I strongly suggest you do out on your back lawn to make the clean-up easier later - flour will go flying when you bash the tin to discard the excess. Or you could grease and line it instead. Hmm, I wonder if anyone has done the carbon footprint calculation on those two options...
Anyway, this is where I really diverted from the recipe. I was about to pull out mum's Kenwood when I realised that I broke it about a year ago. Well, okay, I didn't break it. It broke itself. I was sitting there, minding my own business, waiting for it to mix something, when it threw a gear. It still functions, but only on super-duper-high-speed, which I thought was a bit extreme for this cake. It's not like I was whipping cream or anything. 
So I cut the butter into four slabs (if you're playing along in the States, you're looking at around two sticks of butter, so cut them once lengthways), put them in a microwave-safe bowl and microwaved them for about ten or fifteen seconds. The aim here is to make it soft, but not melt it. There was a wee puddle of melted butter in the bottom of the bowl, but it mostly held its form quite well.
Next, I dumped the castor sugar in and beat it in with a wooden spoon. I went about as hard and as fast as I could, until it was a bit paler and fluffier in colour. Obviously it wasn't even close to what the mixer could do, but I think considering the fact my pectoral muscle had a hole in it, I did pretty well!

Next, I dipped my finger in and ate some butter and sugar to confirm it was stil just as delicious at this stage as it has been the other 12,496 times that I have tried it. Man, I love that part! Then, quick as a wink, I dumped the egg yolks in and mixed them through to prevent me from eating any more of it. It's a pretty good dis-incentive, I have to say. Raw egg grosses me out when I've just seen it (and yet, I happily eat cake batter, not to mention chocolate mousse which has both raw egg yolk and egg white in...go figure). 

I then alternated adding flour and milk, starting and finishing with flour - flour, milk, flour, milk, flour. I'm not sure why, but I'm pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that it was important, perhaps because you have more control over the moisture? I dunno. Anyway, I guess that kind of became irrelevant here, because you then dump the passionfruit pulp in and stir it until it is mixed in evenly, which really means you have very little control over the moisture content after all! But old habits die hard, and it's good to get into good habits.
Next (that's a dirty great lie - I did it first and set them aside, and I suggest you do, too. I like to not muck about once I've added liquid to a product containing a leavening agent, especially if I'm working near a hot stove - you don't want it reacting before you're ready for it to do so) I whipped the egg whites into stiff peaks using the whipping/beating attachment on mum's stick mixer (kind of like a Bamix, but with more accessories). I then gently mixed 1/3-1/2 of the egg white in - I refer to this quantity as the "sacrifical egg white", because, let's face it, the air is going to be squashed out of it by the dense cake mix. But the purpose of mixing it in first is to lighten the batter, so that when you go to fold the rest of it in, it doesn't fall totally flat.
Scrape the mixture into the tin, leaving just enough residue  to satisfy your ridiculous craving for cake batter (but without affecting your desire to eat the finished product), then put in the preheated oven (my preferred shelf spacing is a little above half way up, so it browns but doesn't burn) and bake for about an hour, give or take. Cake is done when it springs back when touched lightly.
Remove from oven, leave to cool in tin for about five minutes and then turn it out right-way-up on a wire rack to cool.
Once cool, ice it with the syrup icing. For the syrup, mix the icing sugar and passionfruit pulp together. Microwave (or you could do it in a saucepan) for... uh... I think I did it in 20 second bursts, until it was hot and the sugar was starting to dissolve. I then poured it carefully and evenly over the cake, so that it covered the top and the sides. I also didn't completely melt it, because I wanted it to penetrate but I also wanted it to have a bit of coverage. Look at it, sitting there, glistening with unforetold potential!

Anyway, this is what it looked like whole, before I iced it. The above picture were taken at night so they don't really capture the golden-brown perfection of this cake, so I thought I'd throw it in for you. Makes you hungry, doesn't it. And it smelt just as good as it looks while it was baking!

And this is what it looked like in the cold light of day. 

And I can assure you, you will be going back for a second piece. Maybe even a third. No judgement here!

Bon appetit!