July 22, 2011 § 7 Comments
‘The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.’
The words that started an empire.
I read my first Harry Potter book, The Chamber of Secrets, when I was 13 years old, three years after The Philosopher’s Stone had hit bookshelves but before Potter Mania had engulfed the world. From that moment the spell was cast and I devoured book after book in quick succession. It wasn’t until page 640 in book number four, The Goblet of Fire, that I had to learn patience. Slow months went by as I awaited the release of Prisoner of Azkaban, my young mind nearly exploding in anticipation of what the Hogwarts crew was up to.
And so it goes with many of the great series.
It was late December 2001, I was coming out of the cinema after watching the first Lord Of The Rings film with the Batman and my dad. The clock had just gone 3pm yet the temperature outside still sat on 42˚C (c.100F). I was on a little sugar high from choc-tops and Maltesers and the back of my legs had gone to sleep about an hour prior. Standing in the carpark, without words at the AWESOMENESS that was LOTR, Batman and I thought we would absolutely die if we had to wait an entire year for the next installment.
It was 1999, the streets were drowning in rain, I was 11. We were at a coastal town, having enjoyed breakfast at a seaside cafe watching the storm punish the nearby sand. Batman wanted to get back to the hotel where he would have access to cable. Unfortunately for Batman it was nice weather for Ducks and chickens to trawl second hand bookstores and antique shops in search of the next volume of Trixie Belden, my favourite all-time series, first published in 1948 and not easily accessible at the local library or bookstore. Store after store after store until finally we came upon a man selling rocking horses and old books.
It was mere weeks ago when separation anxiety once again reared its ugly head. NB and I had been loyal followers of the HBO series Game of Thrones, staying up past my bedtime each Sunday evening until the final nail-biting episode. Again, an entire year must go past before I will be reacquainted with those friends.
Now, you may ask what on earth all this talk has to do with pirate cupcakes? Good question!
Another series that has spanned nearly a decade is Pirates Of The Caribbean. While I enjoyed the first POTC, very much actually, it wasn’t one of those “ARE THEY REALLY MAKING ME WAIT FOR THE SEQUEL…” kind of films.
But I do love pirates, and all things nautical.
Yep, you heard right. Toenails. O.P.I has released a Pirates of the Caribbean range and I loved their jeweled, ocean green lacquer. A combination of blue and yellow food colouring and I think I got pretty close!
Tell me blushers, what movie, book or show has hooked you the most?
April 26, 2011 § 11 Comments
Dawn Service. The air is brisk, perhaps the first frost has fallen. I like to watch as people shuffle their feet, murmuring with Dragon’s Breath flowing from cold lips. Yet when the ceremony begins a revered silence falls across the crowd, only to be broken by the soul-stirring notes of The Last Post
This is the first year that I’ve missed the ANZAC Day parade and it felt a little strange. But then NB messaged me mid-morning with an ANZAC message and I realised that I should be expanding the tribute to North Carolina.
I love love love ANZAC biscuits. They’re the 15 minute biscuit that lasts for weeks (if you can keep your fingers out of the jar!) Originally made to be sent in food parcels to Australian and New Zealand troops stationed in Europe during World War 1, ANZAC biscuits are now a staple on the table at any Australian national celebration. The recipe was created and named for the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, hence the name ANZAC.
Now if I could only find a Two-Up circle…
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
125 g (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
2 tbs boiling water
Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and stir in the oats, coconut, sugar and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre.
Place the golden syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the butter has melted.
Pour the butter mixture into the well in the centre of the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
Drop tablespoons of mixture onto the prepared trays, leaving a 3cm/1.25 inch in between to allow for spreading.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on wire racks and store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
April 25, 2011 § 5 Comments
First things first, I melted our food processor.
What does this have to do anything? Well, I wanted to make a carrot-bread for Easter morning tea, and I knew that using the processor would make it into a 6 minute job and save the laborious task of grating 8 carrots by hand. Fortunately the processor still works and for future reference it is wise to avoid placing the bowl directly onto a hot cooktop.
Easter is synonymous with many things, and gluttony is certainly one of them. I remember childhood Easters of eating myself sick with chocolate and the day would inevitably end in loud moans and cramping agony. My brother on the other hand was a hoarder. He would hide his loot around the house so I couldn’t raid his bag once I was finished and for the months that followed we would find bunnies and eggs tucked behind peg baskets in the laundry or stuffed in the cracks between the pantry and the fridge.
This year I decided to show some restraint and instead of creating some deliciously naughty chocolate concoction, I decided to bake a healthy loaf in the shape of a carrot. I took a regular carrot cake recipe as my starting point and then fiddled and adapted it until it became gluten-free, dairy-free, no-added sugar, and just really really healthy. When I mentioned my idea to NB he showed no mercy: “That will taste terrible, I thought you invited people over for cake!” I could see the potential for disaster if my crowd showed up for the promised ‘Easter Cake’ to be fed carrot-loaf. I quickly emailed a disclaimer before moving back to the oven – ‘please join NB and I for a HEALTHY Easter treat. Eat at your own risk’.
I tasted the batter as I was mixing and it certainly lacked a cake-like sweetness, but then I remembered the jar of apple-sauce in our cupboard and I was thrilled to be able to use some. I felt so American putting apple sauce in a recipe!
As it turned out the cake was a hit. Admittedly it became MUCH more indulgent when I covered the cream cheese in Reese’s Pieces (Peanut Butter filled chocolate shells (Gluten free, not healthy, very delicious). An alternative could be you wanted to mixing a few tablespoons of natural nut butter into the cream cheese for flavour and decorating the cake with edible flowers.
Tell me Blushers, what did the Bunny bring for you this year?
The Bunny NB delivered an Easter Basket filled with dark chocolate raisins, a mango and real Dutch carrots!
To create the shape I sat one loaf above the other and used a sharp paring knife. Using a hot knife to spread the cream cheese, I decorated the outside with Reese’s Pieces and orange jellybeans. The ‘fronds’ use cream cheese tinted green and sprinkles.
(Makes 2 loaves)
6 dates and 6 dried apricots, soaked in 1/2 cup boiling water for 5 minutes (reserve water)
2/3 cup almonds
2/3 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup gluten free flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a food processor, process nuts to a fine meal. Place in a large bowl with flour, baking soda, oats, cinnamon, ginger and salt.
Process dates, apricots and water. Add eggs and vanilla and process to mix. Add wet mix to flour bowl with grated carrot and applesauce. Stir to mix.
Divide evenly into 2 baking paper-lined loaf tins and bake 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cream cheese ‘frosting’
Combine in processor:
2x blocks low fat cream cheese
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 vanilla bean scraped
April 19, 2011 § 11 Comments
In my family birthdays are never single day events. Normally celebrations will begin at home, before moving on to parties with friends and finally sharing a meal with other members of the family. In fact, until I moved to Sydney I don’t remember having a birthday that wasn’t extended for 7 – 10 days. It was just the way we did things.
Yesterday was NB’s birthday (hip hip hooray), and in true Blushing style we started the party on Saturday and won’t wrap it up until after the last slice of cake tonight!
The first part of Saturday welcomed us with torrential rain, so bad that I had expected to see Noah sail past at any given moment, but it was the perfect excuse to stay inside and make a cake.
When I was growing up The Duck would make the most INCREDIBLE cakes. We would always have one for the birthday party and another one to take to school and share with the class. These cakes looked like they had stepped straight out of a Disney set and they tasted like heaven, making me the classroom hero for the next four hours. Over the course of the years I think that my brother and I had every cake in The Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book (editions one and two), and the AWW Party Cakes For All Occasions. When we started getting older things became a little more sophisticated: triple layer mousse cake, profiterole towers, friands decorated with wildflowers…but I’ll always love remembering the look on my brother’s face when ‘Joe Bad’ was brought to the table in all its vibrant hair and safety-pin nose ring glory.
This year I wanted to bring back that fun. So the question came – what to make? Well Blushers, should you ever converse with NB and his friends you should expect to hear something along the following lines:
- Homer: When I held that gun in my hand, I felt a surge of power…like God must feel when he’s holding a gun.
- Ned Flanders: I’ve done everything the Bible says — even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!
- Homer: I’m normally not a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me, Superman.
- Comic Book Guy: Your questions have become more redundant and annoying than the last three “Highlander” movies.
- Homer: You don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You go in every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.
- Chief Wiggum: Uh, no, you got the wrong number. This is 9-1…2.
- Homer: Fame was like a drug. But what was even more like a drug were the drugs
- Sideshow Bob: I’ll be back. You can’t keep the Democrats out of the White House forever, and when they get in, I’m back on the streets, with all my criminal buddies.
- Homer: Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals…except the weasel.
- Milhouse: Remember the time he ate my goldfish? And you lied and said I never had goldfish. Then why did I have the bowl, Bart? *Why did I have the bowl?*
- Homer: Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.
- Lionel Hutz: Well, he’s kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace “accidentally” with “repeatedly” and replace “dog” with “son.”
- Homer: Lisa, vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins, and Eskimos.
…And so on!
I’m repeatedly impressed by how two men can carry out a whole conversation in quotes when I can’t even remember the punch line of a joke.
Ironically, after the candles were blown out no-one quoted a thing…should I have known I might have said:
Marge: Aww, look, Homie, our wedding cake!
Homer: You mean there’s been cake in our freezer for eleven years? Why was I not informed?
Homer: Keep looking shocked and move slowly towards the cake.
I used Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cake recipe
The top is iced with a simple carrot cake cream cheese frosting, NB’s favourite, and I used a black gel-icing pen to draw the outline once I had finished the colour.
The center is filled with melted chocolate and mascarpone.
Around the edge is chocolate buttercream. I don’t worry about quantities when I make this, just a good chunk of butter, some icing sugar and melted chocolate…I really don’t think it can go wrong with those three ingredients!
Tell me Blushers, what was your favourite cake when you were growing up?
March 30, 2011 § 7 Comments
“We got three big weeks ahead of us. It’s wedding season, kid!”
“You sandbaggin’ son of a bitch!”
-Wedding Crashers (2005)
This is one of those movies that ticks all the boxes: funny boys with soft hearts (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn – tick), pretty girls with bizarre families (Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher – tick), beautiful scenery and giant houses (tick). But most importantly it’s a love story and, being the hopeless romantic that I am, I need nothing more than a happy ending.
As it turns out, March – June IS wedding season for 2011. This weekend we head north to celebrate with NB’s BFF, the following we’re back in town for a local ceremony and June will bring summer promises of love for the Renovators. Add to this the recent engagement of my own brother and my heart is about to explode with love!
It’s a fun time to be a girl, when those nearest and dearest are getting married, because we get to ooh and ahh over dress designs, flower arrangements and menu plans, get wildly jealous over honeymoon destinations and enjoy all the dressing up for engagement parties, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners etc. I love it.
Last Sunday NB and I were invited to a wedding shower where I knew the bride-to-be loved food as much as I did, hence the delicious Southern barbecue that was served up for guests. The last time this couple came over for dinner I only served up store-bought ice cream for dessert, so I thought something baked and something sweet would go down quite a treat.
Sunday morning was bitterly cold, the perfect weather conditions for making biscuits. Shortbread is a fail-safe option when gifting your baked goods, not everyone likes chocolate and some may be allergic to nuts, but I have never met a pair of lips that would say no to buttery biscuits. I had a lovely bottle of local berry jam that I was eager to try and ‘With A Little Help From My Friends‘ it wasn’t long until the kitchen was filled with the aroma of warm cookies and I was swatting NB’s fingers away from the cooling rack.
Tell me Blushers, what’s your favourite wedding meal?
125g (1/2cup) unsalted butter, softened
115g (1/2cup) caster sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Icing sugar, to dust
Line two baking trays with baking paper. Cream the butter, sugar and lemon in a medium-sized bowl with electric beaters until pale and fluffy. The add the egg, beating until just combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C 350F. Place half the dough between two sheets of baking paper and roll to 3/4 inch thick. Use a 1cm/ 1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out 18 circles.
Roll out second batch of dough and cut out circles, cutting out centre hole. Bake all biscuits for 8-10 minutes, then allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Coat base biscuit with jam and top with cut-out circles to close. Dust with icing sugar.
March 22, 2011 § 8 Comments
A few weeks ago the delicious Brydie over at CityHippyFarmGirl pondered about what songs to make cupcakes too? Well lately I’ve been listening to a lot of country music, it’s my guilty pleasure, and there’s something to do with a tune about a dog, a woman and a pickup that makes me want to bake.
I first made these biscuits when the A Team came over for dinner. I wanted something light and chocolate based so I fiddled around with a melting moment recipe and excavated the pantry until I found three types of chocolate: dark, white and cocoa. For a dessert served with ice cream they were good, but I felt they were too chalky and dry to live in the biscuit jar for random sweet-time-snacks.
So today was back to the drawing-board with the support of Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood.
‘Cause I got friends in low places,
Where the Whiskey drowns,
And the Beer chases my blues away,
But I’ll be okay,
Now I’m not big on social graces,
Think I’ll slip on down to the oasis,
Oh I got friends,
In low places.
Chocolate Melting Moments with White Chocolate Cream Filling
125g (4oz) unsalted butter, softened
1/2c icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
3/4c plain flour
1/4c rice flour
1/4c (unsweetened) cocoa powder
1/2c ground almonds
100g (2/3c) dark chocolate, chopped
20g (3/4oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 tbl coffee liqueur, Baileys, whiskey etc.
White Chocolate Cream
75g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar
50g white chocolate, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 170C/325F. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Cream butter, sugar and vanilla in a medium sized bowl. Sift in flours, cocoa and almonds and stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough.
Shape teaspoons of the dough into balls, place on the prepared trays 1.5 inches apart and flatten slightly. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool on tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Chocolate Spread: Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir until chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and place in a clean bowl. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then add butter and liquer. Stir and spread immediately.
White Chocolate Cream: Cream the butter, icing sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Stir through melted chocolate with a butter knife.
Spread one biscuit base with chocolate and white chocolate cream, top with a second biscuit. Grate extra dark or white chocolate over biscuits before serving.
March 9, 2011 § 5 Comments
I don’t know if you have ever experienced American college basketball, but that stuff is intense. I’m not talking about the game itself, although that can be nail-biting at times, but the loyalty of the fans goes beyond anything I have ever seen, and I was living with five Englishmen during the latest Ashes series in Australia…
Around these parts worship falls at the feet of the Tar Heels, from the University of North Carolina, and it’s not unusual to see people walking around in team paraphernalia on any given day. Come to think of it, even before I moved to NC I owned a Tar Heels T shirt and repeatedly stole NB’s Carolina hoodie. It’s just the way things are done.
Last Saturday I was thrown into the chaos when the Tar Heels played Duke in the final of the regular season at Chapel Hill and came out victorious 81-67. We had planned to watch the game at a local sports bar but NB and I were running a tiny bit late because we were sidetracked at this super dooper delicious Vietnamese restaurant called Lang Van. PS go there! So when we arrived at the ‘arena’ it was like entering a storm of pale blue and I quickly grabbed the back of NB’s shirt in fear that I would be lost in the swell. There were tables and tables and tables seating Tar Heels fans, drinking from cups big enough to hold three beers and eating wings. People were singing and clapping and ‘ohhhing’ and ‘ahhhing’ and one guy behind me even started crying. My friends, I had found America in all its sporting glory.
Shortly after the victory NB and I made our way out and back into the calm of the night, sharing a sympathetic glance with the woman who’s shoulder the crying man had now occupied.
The next morning we wake to find a pale blue package sitting on our doorstep! Huzzah! NB’s J2B had baked us shortbread biscuits in the shape of the Tar Heels footprint logo. It seems that my celebration feast was just about to begin!