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Where are you, summer?

Summer hasn’t shown up this season. Yet, I add hopefully. Here in Wellington, it’s been totally AWOL. After the steamy heat of Japan and Korea, and then even worse in Vietnam in June, I said – foolishly, it seems – that I didn’t want summer to arrive too soon, or to be too hot. But this is just getting ridiculous. We’ve had non-stop wind since October. Usually the spring winds last a few weeks, or maybe a month, around October or November. But December was crazy, and although we get the occasional calm day, the wind has otherwise been the most consistent part of this “summer.”

I’ve worn sandals once. I haven’t even had to paint my toenails, or shave my legs (though don’t worry, I have), because I’m generally in shoes or sneakers and jeans. We’ve even had the heating on, including today, and I’ve managed to sit outside on the deck with a drink for – count it – ONE measly day! So it’s been wine and cocktails inside, in a desperate attempt to pretend that it is, in fact, summer. Sure, we’ve been able to get lovely summer produce from the supermarket and even the garden, so that’s kept me busy at least.

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Tomato and zucchini relish jars

Yet from almost every window in my house, I look outside and across the valley, and see dozens of bright red pohutukawa trees. As much as I love them, it’s as if they are mocking me!

Still, I can’t resist photographing them. Here are a few from my walk down my street the other day, on a rare calm and sunny (though not very warm) day.

 

Sharing some recipes

Following requests, I promised some of the recipes I mentioned in my previous posts, and figured I may as well make them public. Along with my comments to help the baking process.

Pavlova

Pavlova is a New Zealand classic, even though those Aussies across the Tasman try to claim it. Everyone has their own trick to making it, and they will swear black and blue that their recipe is the best. But you know what? Most recipes are good (so feel free to try recipes online).

Anyway, it’s not so much the ingredients (essentially egg whites and sugar, vanilla and vinegar) but the cooking temperature and time which are important. The key is figuring out what works for your oven, and your tastes.For example, my mother-in-law always made successful (to her and her family) pavlovas. They were very marshmallowy, with a very shallow crust, because her recipe required turning off the oven as soon as the uncooked pavlova went in. In comparison, my mother’s oven was very temperamental, and hers were often more meringue-like and crunchy on the outside, though still with marshmallow inside. I grew up with the more crunchy pavlovas, and I love them. So I like to keep the oven on, even if it is at a low heat, to get that.

The one I made for Christmas dinner worked well. It was a combination of my mother-in-law’s recipe and another recipe.

Ingredients and method:
4 egg whites
1 cup or 250 mls (or slightly more) of sugar or caster sugar (I’ve used both with success)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp white wine/cider vinegar
Whipped cream
Topping

Preheat the oven to 170C fan bake.

Whisk the egg whites till stiff, then keep whisking whilst gradually adding the sugar, until all sugar is added, and the egg whites are stiff and glossy. (An electric beater/cake mixer is almost essential, unless you have amazing arm/wrist strength).

Add the vanilla and vinegar, and mix till blended.

Line a baking sheet with baking paper, pile the egg white mixture on top into a neat circle, approx 4 cms high ( about a 20 cm/8″ diameter). Smooth the top.

Bake in oven on 180oC for 10-15 minutes or so, then turn down to 150oC and bake for a total of 50 minutes to an hour. I opened the oven, let most of the heat out, then left my pavlova in until it cooled. The combination of time and temperatures really depends on your taste and your oven. If you think it is crunchy enough on the outside, you can cool it outside the oven.

Traditionally, the cooled pavlova is topped with whipped cream (approximately 300 mls whipping cream) sweetened with 1-2 teaspoons icing/powdered sugar and a tsp vanilla essence, and decorated with fresh fruit, just before serving. I like to top my pavlovas with berries, though kiwifruit is also a classic and delicious combination. Passionfruit goes fabulously well with pavlova too. In winter, drained canned fruit is sometimes used, though I wouldn’t! Or you could grate or shave chocolate over the top. Sometimes I’ll spread lemon curd over the pavlova before adding the cream, for added flavour. Anything goes, really! 

 

Gay’s Fail-safe Christmas Cake

This is my sister’s recipe, and it really is very easy, quick, and fail-safe. I’m not sure where it came from originally, and neither is she! It is a classic boiled fruit cake recipe.

Either buy a packaged mixture of dried fruit or put your own together as I did. In fact, mine had more mixed peel, and a lower proportion of raisins simply because I’d run out. You could add dried apricots/ cranberries/ cherries, or anything else you wanted.

I didn’t have any almond essence, so added some amaretto liqueur along with the brandy, and that worked well. I might have used more than 2 TBSPs of alcohol!

The recipe says use a 20cm by 20cm tin. I found there was too much mixture for my tin this size (perhaps it was too shallow?), so scooped some out, put them into big muffin tins, and got three individual Christmas cakes in addition, which were good to give as gifts.

Cooking time depends on your oven. Mine took considerably less time.

It is lovely with or without icing. Some people ice their Christmas cakes with a marzipan layer, then white icing on top, and decorate them highly. My sister doesn’t like this icing, so uses a vanilla butter cream. It is delicious, but decadent. Although it is more festive to ice, I couldn’t be bothered icing my cake, due to laziness/exhaustion/lower back pain! We finished it last night, and agreed it didn’t really need icing.

Ingredients and Method:
225g butter
900 g mixed dried fruit (approx with 30% sultanas, raisins and currants, 10% mixed peel)
1 cup (250 ml)  cold water
good pinch of salt
2 TBSP vinegar
vanilla, almond and lemon essences
2 cups flour
2 tsp custard powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tin condensed milk
1 tsp baking soda
2 TBSP sherry/brandy
Pinch salt

Heat fruit, butter, water, vinegar and essences until butter is melted. Stir well. Cool.
Add baking soda, condensed milk, and alcohol. Mix well.
Mix dry ingredients into fruit mixture.
Bake at 150oC for 1 ½ hours, then 100oC for 1 hour.

20cm x 20cm (8″ by 8″) pan, lined with baking paper.

Happy baking!

 

 

 

 

A true microblog!

I’ve been too busy today to post yesterday and today, but it’s the last Monday of 2019, so I have to say something.

It’s been another fun year of blogging, though I haven’t always been terribly inspired. Unlike my recent weeks in the kitchen. Yes, it has continued! My husband has grown a few zucchinis, and you know what they are like. They grow more abundantly than you expect! So this afternoon I’ve been experimenting and made my first batch of zucchini relish. I shall report back.

I hope you’ll visit me again in 2020. There are only 5 more hours left. Happy New Year!

More pohutukawa

I promised on my last tree-loving post that I would try and get some snaps of a bunch of pohutukawa trees in flower. The trouble with pohutukawa trees is that they rarely all flower at the same time. Still, yesterday I snapped this hillside from my car. You can see how great they look together, and in the distance there are little spatters of red from other pohutukawa trees. There are pockets of trees in flower, or even individual ones, that are gloriously in flower all over the city right now. They make me happy.

Another Thursday Treelove post, if a little late.

My week of cooking

I am pleased to report that my Beetroot and Feta tart last Monday evening was a huge hit. With a thin crust of spelt and buckwheat flour, with chia seeds, and stuffed with spinach, beetroot, kumara (sweet potato), feta and onion jam, it is a lot of work, but very delicious. Spread the do-ahead items over a few days before you want the tart, and it will be no time to throw it together and bake in the end.  Here’s the link to the recipe.

The last year or two, my husband and I have developed a habit of getting coffee and the best scones in Wellington at the local cafe once or twice a week. We counted up how much we had spent, and resolved we need to cut down. So with added motivation, the morning after the beetroot/feta tart success, I tried out a new, very easy recipe for cheese scones. It was a great success, and after eating a scone each, I’ve frozen the rest.

A day or so later, I splashed out trying lemon tiramisu/trifle recipes for a dinner party last night. Turns out, buying limoncello a few days before Christmas can be problematic, but I managed to track enough down to keep us going for the rest of the summer! It’s also quite expensive, so maybe next time I’ll make a lemon syrup and fortify it with limoncello, rather than soaking the savoiardi biscuits in just limoncello. It also meant a friend had to have a very small serving, as she was driving home, and that’s no fun! In the end I mixed and matched the things I loved (lemon curd, limoncello, berries), and was very happy. Despite the weather, it was a summery way to end the meal. And the best part? Leftovers for lunch!

Last night I experimented too with a salmon recipe which sounded, frankly, just weird. Still, I was at a loss to think of something else, so I went ahead and tried it. Glazed with a chipotle raspberry sauce, and topped with pickled onion slices, I figured we could scrape all the weird stuff off it and just eat the salmon if those flavours didn’t work. I mean, salmon and raspberries? But, to my surprise, they worked! And the pickled onion was perfect with it. So I now have a new favourite entertaining recipe, and I’m very happy. Best part about it – on warm summer evenings, they recommend serving at room temperature, so pretty much everything can be do-ahead. I like that.

Working backwards, my sister and brother-in-law visited last month, and brought me some frozen whitebait, caught by their neighbour. Tiny patties of whitebait with champagne are my ideal entree. (If you are wondering what whitebait is, I wrote this some years ago.) These days, due to their expense, and efforts to limit consumption of the resource, I get whitebait maybe once every year or two. So it was an absolute treat.

nfdIt being Christmas, I’ve already made a batch or two of mini-sized mince pies, as I often give these away. They’re all gone, so I have another batch to do tomorrow, but fortunately have the filling all ready, and only need to make the pastry. 

And finally, because I had some left over dried fruit after making the mince pies, I decided to make a Christmas cake, for only the second time in my life! My sister has a fail-safe recipe – so she says – and we were reminded last year how good it is, and I actually took a photo of the recipe in case I was inspired this year. And lo, I was! She’s right. The recipe doesn’t seem to be able to fail, and I am thrilled with the result. I didn’t have almond essence, but figured some Amaretto would be a good substitute. I was right!  I didn’t ice* my cake – there’s enough sugar around at Christmas as it is – but they go perfectly with a cup of tea, and went down well with my guests last night too.

So there we have it. My busiest baking/cooking week of the year. I’ll make a pavlova tomorrow for Christmas Day, and then cooking Christmas dinner is going to be super easy. Then I might give my oven a good clean and both of us a good rest!

Happy cooking!

 

* Frosting (I think), to North Americans

Taking risks

Apparently, whilst we might intellectually recognise our own mortality, our brains don’t let us remember that, or let us continue to feel that. It explains why we always think that bad things “won’t happen to us.” Maybe we become more aware when bad things do happen to us,  which is perhaps why we generally become more aware of risks as we age.

It made me think about the issues around travel and danger, especially after the tragic accident at Whakaari/White Island this time last week, when dozens of tourists were caught up in the volcanic eruption there. I have friends and relatives who have been there, and have considered it myself, though have never quite felt eager enough, or perhaps confident enough, to actually go there. Everyone who visits the island – tourists and professionals (tour operators, vulcanologists, scientists etc –  takes a risk,  but clearly no-one goes there there expecting to die.

It’s the same when people drive when texting, after drinking, or when they’re tired. They don’t think that they will have an accident, or cause one. Though it is statistically much more likely. We all dismiss risks when we get in a car to pop to see friends, or go to the supermarket. We have to dismiss some risks in order to be able to function in our world.

Still, it also makes me think of poor Samoa, which has been in the grip of a dreadful measles epidemic. One death after a mistake giving a vaccination last year caused a shock in the nation, one that had already succumbed to anti-vax propaganda, and vaccination rates plummeted. Parents felt the risk of vaccinations was higher than the risk of death. And sadly, that has proved very wrong. This year, an epidemic has claimed 73 lives, in a country of only 198,000 people (roughly). This is the equivalent of 1776 deaths in New Zealand, or 122,000 in the USA. The epidemic is ongoing, but they have now vaccinated 93 percent of the population, hopefully eliminating the chance of this happening again. At least, in the near future.

Tragedies like these make me think about risk. The question of where to draw the line between risk, safety, and living our lives, is an individual one. But it can also have implications for so many other innocent people.

On a lighter note, I’m taking a risk tonight, making a new recipe for some friends. It’s a beetroot, feta and kumara (sweet potato) tart in a spelt and sour cream crust. It’s taken me all day. I underestimated how long it would take, how sore my back would get standing at the stove all day (I had to make an onion jam to go in it), and – looking now at the clock – how little time I now have before my friends arrive. If it is a disaster, it won’t matter. That’s a risk I am prepared to take.

Stay safe this holiday season.

NZ’s Christmas Tree

I missed Thursday’s Treelove post, but figure it won’t matter if I’m a few days late. Driving into the city last week, and walking around our suburb, I noticed that the pohutukawa trees are bursting into bloom. As a child, I read in books that they are known as New Zealand’s Christmas Trees, but I had never seen one except in books. You see, they only occur naturally in the northern half of the North Island, and I grew up in the southern half of the South Island.

These days, they are planted all over the place, and they prosper too. They are everywhere in Wellington, and I’ve often written about them. I’m sorry if I am repetitive, but their vibrant red blooms never fail to bring me joy, and I want to bring that joy to you. I use them for Christmas cards, and I even use them as my seasonal header on this blog!

So here’s just one of the trees. I snapped it on the east coast of the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, and wrote about our search for pohutukawa in bloom here.

I’ll try and get some shots of a group of trees in flower before the end of the year, for another Tree post, because it is a sight worth seeing.

Pohutukawa in flower

One or two pohutukawa trees did oblige with flowers

Another Thursday Treelove post, if a little late.