Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Hall of Immense Anonymous Eyebrows

Click on the image to find out who these beautiful eyebrows belong to. I can pick these babies a mile off, but I realise not everyone shares my facially hirsute fetish.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Week 3: Change it up

Much as I'm loving the caval-cake, I miss baking! Last night I put some seriously over-ripe bananas to good use in this Banana Bread recipe. I tried banana bread for the first time in Sydney a few years ago, and I have been hooked ever since. It is so good lightly toasted with a little butter/marge - wholesome and filling and perfect on a typically Melbourne day (bright but chilly) before going for a surf or an epic shopping trek.

150g golden (unrefined) caster sugar
60g margarine
2 eggs
3 tablespoons water
3 over ripe bananas, mashed
220g wholemeal plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 180c. Line a loaf pan with baking paper.
Beat sugar and margarine until smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs, water and bananas until well blended. Mix in the flour, bicarb soda, salt and baking powder until the mixture is just moistened. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to blend all ingredients. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for about 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Week 3: Union Jack surprise cake + bonus aussie flag pav!

It's been a bumper week in the cake zone, in honor of two very special events - first up, I got my UK citizenship on Friday!! Wow, that's been a long time in the making. I'll drink to that:

Savouring the bitter taste of UK citizenship

Secondly, we had a house-warming BBQ on the weekend, for which London put on the most spectacularly beautiful weekend of the year (possibly of the last 7 years). Our guests and I were the awe-struck recipients of not one, but TWO beautifully decorated dessert stuffs.

Aussie Flag Pav

*Note: my boyfriend wasn't happy with this recipe and took a couple of attempts, and he never managed to get the egg whites to the "stiff peaks" stage - he literally had to pour the mixture onto a baking tray. However, it tasted absolutely amazing and had a lovely marshmallowy centre, so it was a success in my book. I've tweaked the recipe so that you whisk the egg whites before adding the sugar, and replaced the cornflour with custard powder. If anyone tries it, let me know how it goes!

8 large egg whites (at room temperature)
pinch salt
350g caster sugar
2 tsps custard powder
pinch of cream of tartar
1 tsp white wine vinegar
4 drops vanilla essence
300ml double cream, firmly whipped
Strawberries and blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180c. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form (much easier with an electric whisk). Continue beating while adding the sugar and pinch of salt until stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the custard powder, cream of tartar, vinegar and vanilla essence and fold in gently with a metal spoon.

Place the egg white mix onto the paper in whatever shape you desire, smoothing the edges. Place in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 150C/300F/Gas 2 and cook for 1¼ hours. Turn off the oven, leave the door slightly ajar and allow to cool completely. Transfer your pav onto a plate, then pile on the cream and dress with the fruit.

Look: ***** A-mazing. Pavlova always looks impressive, but the Australia flag made out of blueberries and strawberries made it extra special.
Taste: ***** Gorgeous. Light, crunchy outer with soft marshmallow in the middle. And you can't go far wrong with whipped cream and berries.
Texture: **** Perfect, as far as I'm concerned - but I'm not giving it 5 stars because the chef wasn't 100% happy with it.

Union Jack surprise cake (can you guess what the secret ingredient is yet?!)

175g sugar
175g butter
3 eggs
200g flour
a tin of tomato soup
spice/cinnamon to taste
some blueberries

For the topping:
Crème fraiche with some sugar mixed in
Strawberries and blueberries

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, beating in one at a time. Fold in the remaining ingredients until mixed well and pour into a cake tin. Bake at 180c for about 40 mins, or until the top springs back when pressed. This is quite a dense cake, so the skewer test doesn't work so well!

Decorate with the crème fraiche and berries. Union Jack optional.

Look: ***** Very pretty round cake with crème fraiche all over and union jack decoration on top.
Taste: *** Pretty different. None of us guessed tomato, but as soon as it was revealed, you could recognise the unusual flavour! I wasn't 100% convinced, but points for adventurousness.
Texture: *** Dense and fudgey in the middle.

Bonus points: 3: for making both cakes on theme; taking extra time to decorate them beautifully; and using an unexpected ingredient that Herr Heston Himself would approve of.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Week 2: Low-fat moist carrot cake

Low fat at my own request, just so there's no controversy...adapted from a Delia recipe.

175 g dark brown soft sugar
3 medium eggs
120 ml sunflower oil
200g self-raising flour (you could use wholemeal, we didn't have any)
1½ tsp bicarb soda
3 tsp mixed spice
grated zest 1 orange
200g carrots, peeled and grated
175g sultanas

For the topping:
250gm low fat cream cheese
20g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Whisk sugar, eggs and oil together in a bowl using an electric hand whisk for 2-3 minutes. Sift in flour, bicarb soda and mixed spice and stir in.

Add the orange zest, carrots and sultanas. Pour the mixture into a lined slice tin and bake 40-45 minutes, until it feels firm and springy to the touch.

Make the topping by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl until light and fluffy, then cover and chill for 1-2 hours or until needed.

Look: ***1/2 Pretty impressive, rich looking cake. The spice in the cream cheese is a nice touch.
Taste: *** Rich and sweet. A little overpowering, would work better as a slice rather than a tall cake.
Texture: *** Super moist! She's not joking, that Delia.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mugged (not smug)

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to the Windies (which, incidentally, were not actually that windy at all - why not the Sunnies?). Anyway, I spent 3 nights in Barbados and 2 nights in St. Lucia.

Smug? Well, I might ordinarily have been, a little... except that this holiday was not quite as I expected. The beaches were stunning, the weather was gorgeous, the hotels were lovely - but as for my time there? Well, let's just say it was...eventful.

First of all, I foolishly got very badly sunburnt on my first day, which was followed by an excrutiating night during which my aloe vera-ed legs stuck to the sheets and needed to be torn off inch by inch, resulting in a pain so extreme it made me look back on my last bikini wax with a fondness I usually reserve for cute boys with cupcakes.

Second of all, there was the vomiting. All the vomiting. I was sick in the air, I was sick in the sea, and I was sick in the bus depot at Bridgetown (do NOT recommend).

Not quite the glamorous, sun-kissed look I was going for - more lobster pink body topped with pasty, sweating face grimacing between heaves. Sexy times!

And thirdly, the cherry in my Banana Daiquiri: I think I got mugged in Soufrière. I say "think" because I'm still not entirely sure what happened; all I know is that I ended up handing over 60 Eastern Carribbean Dollars to a local who told me his name was 'Isaac'. I prefer 'Dodgy F*cker' thanks, or DoFo for short.

He was already hustling us through the window of our mini-van as we pulled up to the ramshackle town, saying he would take me on a tour and telling my boyfriend don't worry, don't worry, he would look after me, and to make sure I had enough money for the day. Alarm bells should have been ringing at that point, but I am so ridiculously naive that I always expect people to be well-intentioned and am unfailingly disappointed on the odd occassion they turn out not to be. As my boyfriend and driver took off so he could hike the Gros Piton (not that I'm blaming him or anything), I was abandoned left behind willingly in a very shabby run-down town, alone with a skinny and poorly dressed man in his late thirties - just us and a couple of chickens scratching around a neighbourhood back street that had a sorry air of neglect to it.

It scares me a lot more now that I reflect on it. At the time, I was feeling a little vulnerable to be left on my own in a strange and not particularly nice place, so I was happy to be in the hands of a local who was promising to show me around (I believe that people are mostly good, remember). As he led me away from the main streets - I didn't realise this until later, for the moment I had no points of reference to tell me otherwise - he pointed out 'sights' that included such highlights as: a woman selling coconut cookies by the side of the road, an abandoned estate, a hummingbird. As we made our way further away from the centre of town, he was reduced to pointing out trees and shacks, all while keeping up a stream of heavily accented babble which I had to concentrate to understand. I made positive but non-committal noises, wondering how long I would have to walk around with him before I could politely take my leave and figure out where the hell I was.

Damn my stupid, obliging, subservient politeness. It really doesn't serve me well in situations like this.

Eventually, after about twenty awkward minutes, the 'tour' ground to a halt and DoFo demanded 100 ECD - all the money I had in my wallet. My jaw dropped. At this point, I still didn't realise I was being mugged, if you can believe that. I thought he literally expected me to pay him 100 ECD for his crappy tour. I said something like "100 EC? But it cost us 80 to get all the way here from Castries!", about a 1.5 hour journey. He insisted, his tone darkening. I quickly re-counted the bills in my wallet, buying time while I decided what to do. Despite my ludicrous naivety, I realised what a nightmarish proposition it was to be left alone in this dreadful and possibly unsafe place with no money. I needed water, and food, and possibly an escape route. So I stood my ground, and decided that I could reasonably give him 60 and be OK with only 40 left in my wallet for the day. I said shakily, "I'll give you 60". He was getting jumpy by this stage, not looking me in the eye and hassling me in a low voice, asking hadn't I enjoyed the tour? And he must have 100, it was worth 100, give me a hundred. I gave him 60 and started walking away, in the direction of where the mini-bus dropped me off. He came after me and insisted that 70 was the only reasonable amount, he would take 70, 70 was a good price, but 60, no. I just kept saying 'sorry, no' as he trailed me, and eventually he gave up and took off, muttering darkly to himself.

Relaying this story to a St. Lucia travel agent who approached us with a questionaire in the airport, she said, eyes wide, "You were robbed!" and I realised that yes, actually, I was. I didn't realise it at the time - I even joked about having 'survived' Soufrière when my boyfriend (finally) arrived to pick me up - but I was well and truly mugged, for the first time in my life. And I'm so daft I didn't even realise it until after it happened.

Makes for an interesting cautionary tale, no?

Friday, May 14, 2010

You know you're in your thirties when...

...the hotel staff wish you a Happy Mother's Day.

I mean, lady, I am well aware I've been steadily putting on weight for a while now (my mellow-making drugs and too damn many delicious cakes are the main culprits) - and yes, I am aware that a childless woman in her thirties is something of a bizarre curio in your family-centric culture - but really. For a minute there I was enjoying the novel sensation of actually filling out my unpadded bikini top, enough so that I could ignore the plumper new bits further south.

Isn't life just one big series of trade-offs for women? Skinny no-boobs or chubby McBooberson. Boring safe guy or dashing cad. Chocolate honey-comb or pink grapefruit (can't do both together! Or CAN you...). Faithful werewolf or moody vampire.


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Week 1 in the cake zone: Apple cake

This went down a treat, especially with one Missy Slam Dunks.

200g butter
200g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
200g self-raising flour plus a little baking powder, sifted
3 tsps cinnamon
two bramley apples, peeled and cut into small chunks/grated, squeezed to remove excess juice
handful sultanas
lemon juice to taste
demerara sugar to sprinkle on top

Cream the butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time. Mix in the flour, followed by the other ingredients. Pour into cake tin and sprinkle with demerara sugar, bake at 180 celcius for about 40 mins (he's a bit hazy on the details).

Look: **1/2 Looked like an ordinary cake.
Taste: **** Excellent, lovely apple flavour with subtle spicing, not too sweet or overpowering.
Texture: ***** Sumblime. Soft and not too moist, contrasting with a delicious sugar crust on top.
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