No Accounting For Taste

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Some design trends which make perfect sense and become classics (blue and white, for instance, or Tolix chairs*). Others which are everywhere for a while, but look great despite their ubiquity, leaving me wishing I’d thought of it before (currently maps and globes). And some that are initially distracting, but better left in magazines** (Keep Calm posters, bell jars, walls of plates). At least when you live in my apartment.

But there are some fashions in what people put in their houses which I just don’t understand. Leaving aside the slippery slope of taste, money, too much gold*** and far too much clutter, the latest idea that mystifies me is abacuses. One was a curiosity, two was unexpected, but three threatens to be the start of an avalanche.

Picture: Apartment Therapy

There are lots of old, formerly or barely still functional things that I think can look great as decoration. Vintage typewriters. Old suitcases. Telescopes. Heaps of things. But I don’t understand why anybody would want an abacus. Even if it was an ancient Incan artifact, you’d have to think the Incans might have had something a bit more enjoyable that could have been chosen instead. Perhaps it’s that I like my home to be relaxing, and the associations with numbers just don’t seem to be...

Picture: Manolo for the Home

Other sorts of functional things are a vague association with trips to be taken, novels to be written, thought to be thought, and the interesting lives that the items have been through. Abacuses just seem like a bit too much of a reminder of bank statements to be checked, bills to be filed, things to be measured and organised.

Just because it's the end of financial year doesn't mean you have to take it home with you, after all...

Picture: DC by Design

This might be taking the idea of counting things to fall asleep entirely too literally... Just imagine – you’d end up dreaming about numbers... eep!

Picture: Second Storey View

There are just two circumstances I can think of where abacuses might just be OK...

... if they had little sheep on them instead of beads... just imagine...

Picture: via Down The Tubes

... and if there were edible abacuses, with macarons for beads. Like the gourmet / design version of candy necklaces...

Picture: Lovely Lozenge on Flickr (don't they just look like little macarons?)

* There might need to be a whole other contemplation of those...
** Or the undefined Somebody Else’s House.
*** And that might well be any...


Tarted Up

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Picture: Nada Bakery

Maybe it was the Kiwi hedgehogs a while ago (now there’s an interesting mixture of animals... perhaps it is something that falls in your swimming pool but you can never see it... In any case, it would be likely to be full of spikes and claws. It sounds a bit like a flightless jub-jub bird), but I got to thinking about neenish tarts*. Just about any line of thinking ends up coming back to food.

I try to avoid thinking about neenish tarts, as it almost always leads to disappointment. The first ones I ever had appear to have ruined me for all that came after. They were small and neat, with a thick layer of glossy icing and a filling of crème patissiere. And they had the perfect surface-to-filling ratio – not too much pastry, and not too much filling compared to the icing. That, as far as I was concerned, was what neenish tarts were.

Subsequent tarts have been about as appealing as that mysterious Kiwi-hedgehog-hybrid. They are enormous (who started this never-mind-the-quality-feel-the-width approach to baking?). They have acres of thin, insubstantial icing. Some of them even have pink icing. And, worst of all, they are filled with cream. Mock cream. Real cream. Cream with raspberry jam. All well and good, but not, surely not, a neenish tart.

Picture: My Sweet Little House (I know it looks beautiful. With lovely thick icing. I just wish it had custard inside!)

The terrible thing is, you don’t know what’s in them until it’s too late, and the eagerly anticipated tart becomes a sticky disappointment**. And yet so many recipes online seem to be for the proper sort – it’s a bit of a mystery what has happened with the bought ones. I would love to find somewhere that makes the kind I like***.
Picture: From A Sow's Ear (via The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry)... and even though they have pink icing, they are just so cute!

An article I came across while looking for neenish tarts was highly rewarding after all the cream-filled goo. Relating said tarts to the Hunting Of The Snark is a juxtaposition I can only wish I was capable of. The neenish tarts I’ve been finding are definitely more of the boojum variety. Nevertheless, I will continue to pursue them with forks and hope.

Picture: Inapond on Flickr (in a pond? Ina Pond?)... snark-hunting implements*

This is because the best ones I’ve had are from New Zealand. Where the hedgehogs come from. Neenish tarts appear to be up there with pavlova (and occasionally Russell Crowe) for arguments over whether the Australians or the New Zealanders have the original claim and the best version (including disowning Russell when he throws a wobbly).
** Some people I know could take that concept far beyond its actual intentions, and they should know better...
*** Preferably somewhere local; half the time I find baking I like the look of, it comes from New York. Not sure if New York has an unfair number of fabulous bakeries, but it appears that way. I’m looking forward to finding out.


Some Are More Equal Than Others

Monday, June 28, 2010

Picture: Voltapress on Etsy

There are far too many delicious things to be eaten for me to ever contemplate being a vegetarian (much as the idea has its appeal from time to time). But (and there always seems to be a but) is there a line to be drawn somewhere in terms of what animals can and should be eaten?

For some people, there are considerations about nose-to-tail eating, which seems to be an increasing trend (albeit one that, by its very name, puts me off the idea...). Others don’t care as long as it tastes good (with the occasional proviso of not wanting to know what it is... the answer to this, following a brilliant example set by people-of-people for their kids, is always “special chicken”). However, for me, the answer lacks any sort of logic (and sometimes consistency), and is borne of emotion, coloured by habit.

Some animals are just too appealing to consider eating. For me, this wobbly distinction is drawn along the lines of things found on farms are OK, while things found in forests, fields, under hedges and potentially kept as pets (real pets, not fatten-them-up-and-call-them-Kelvinator pets) are not. So lambs, pigs, cows and so on (however cute they might be able to look), still have a generic “food” tag, but rabbits, hedgehogs, deer and the like are an unthinkable idea. There is a murky middle ground in relation to certain birds. Ducks, in particular, are an issue. It doesn’t feel right to eat them, but when you taste pate before you know where it comes from, problems arise in giving it up. The practical solution (unless you’re a duck) is that if you’re already having it for pate, it would be disrespectful to not eat the rest of it. Preferably in pancakes.

But the thought that occurred to me during the week was what about the animals that I wouldn’t want to eat but where cuteness is clearly not a factor*. Like eels. There is often eel on the menu at Japanese restaurants, but the very thought of it gives me the collywobbles. I don’t think I’d even like to poke an eel, let alone eat one. However delicious it might turn out to be, I just can’t get past the idea of it. There is only one thing that I think eels are good for...

Picture: Pratten

Ultimately, just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you should...**

* And this is completely leaving aside things that shouldn’t be eaten because there aren’t many of them, as that just goes without saying. Although it might be a somewhat vexed question in itself, as rumour has it that there was once a proliferation of dodos...
** Unless it’s Iron Chef, in which case squirming can occur from a safe distance, with a cushion to hide behind should it prove necessary.


A Life Less Ordinary

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Maybe I should be careful what I wish for, but I do love this print...

Picture: Music Philosophy

I discovered this site via the Mint Design blog, and it has some fabulous designs and great quotes. But there are so many others I would love to see...


Do Food Bloggers Dream Of Marshmallow Sheep?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

These little critters are from Choccywoccydoodah, discovered via That Kate's recent Brighton photo tour... With a shop name like that, I was far too intrigued not to go and check it out...

Picture: That Kate

Can sheep actually be critters? Now I stop to think about it, that seems like a term that should be reserved for little jumpy things. Like chipmunks. Not like sheep. Although those marshmallow ones have such expressive faces!

Too much fluffy / woolly indulgence, however, and there is a risk of resembling something I was reminded of while trawling That Kate's blog...

Picture: Ali Molloy on Flickr

... Moomintrolls! Remember those? Now, if this one was just peering in the window of a chocolate shop, it would be just about perfect! I really do seem to be developing somewhat of an obsession with cute rotund creatures, though.


Nominative Determinism

Friday, June 25, 2010

Do pandas eat pandan?

And just when you think that nobody has had that idea before... there is this...

Picture: Not Quite Nigella

Not only does it involve pandas and pandan, but they are tare pandas. How could you want anything more?


Better Than Tossing A Coin

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Indecisiveness (or should that be indecision? Choices, choices...) ought to be my middle name. Blue Indecisive Penguin – has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Perhaps this is the answer to all my problems*...

Picture:Adorapop on Etsy

Much less mysterious than the magic eight ball. Although maybe there’s a need for a pocket one (or a long chain)... not sure it’s wise to be advertising “yes” or “no” on your personage at all times. It might be interpreted more widely than just the matter at hand...

* Well, not all of them – but at least a lot of the deciding-on-things ones.


Building A Better Mousetrap

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dedicaketion – determination to find or make the perfect version of a particular baked item.

Picture: Gourmet Traveller

There is a blog which is just about vanilla slices. That really is just fabulous!

Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t get updated all that often – even the most devoted admirer of vanilla slices might struggle to eat them on a regular basis, perhaps.

Picture: Painter Girl on Flickr

Now, why isn’t there an equivalent site for neenish tarts? Or ginger cake, come to think of it? There is a Tweeter which is only about fudge... now that, I can definitely relate to.

One of the things I especially admire among the food bloggers is their perseverance to find – or, more impressively, develop – the perfect recipe for something. Whether it is cookies or coq au vin, their quest for perfection tends to result in recipe hunts now occurring via the rss reader, and not so much via the recipe book when there is serious intent to cook*. I wish I had the stamina to do multiple versions to refine things, but so far, am just finding my feet in modifying recipes at all without ending up with an undercooked puddle (much as I like cake batter). Hopefully it will get there one day...

* For idle musings and hungry thoughts, on the other hand, the recipe books aren’t at risk of being replaced... it’s a bit like the allure of glossy magazines...

PS: I am mystified by pink iced vanilla slice. Almost anything is better with pink icing (well, within reason). For some reason, I had never included vanilla slice on that list... But once you start looking, they are everywhere!


Continuous Loop

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Since I very first heard it when I was (much) younger and (slightly) more foolish, I have loved History Repeating (you know, the Shirley Bassey / Propellerheads track). It will always have associations with crazy dancing and misspent youth, and there are quite a few times when it’s felt like the soundtrack playing in my head.

Which meant that when I came across this (entirely while having fallen down a rabbit hole, looking for a chocolate wrapper. As you do), I could scarcely contain myself...

It's called History Reheats...

Picture: Angus Wood (via Coffs Harbour City Council)

And it made me think of those weeks where there is that discordant combination of baking, but eating frozen dinners (yes, it happens. Largely so I have the energy to bake, and so I can justify licking the bowl).

It also reminded me of Stephen Fry’s Twitter stream a few days ago. I read it just before going in to an exam, and it made me laugh so much it got rid of (most of) the nerves... woo hoo!


One Step Closer To...

Monday, June 21, 2010

If I had much more of a thing about custard, I might be risking falling into a Tom Holt book...

Picture: Food Makes Me Happy (custard, in particular, makes me very happy!)

If custard isn't the fifth element (and that would account for a lot), it should at least be the fifth food group. Which is why my recent discovery of a new kind of pastry is exciting...

Picture:Paris Patisseries

Because it’s not just crème patissiere... it’s flavoured crème patissiere...

Picture: ThomasBui7 on Flickr

They are called religieuses, and are a relative of the éclair . The intriguing name is apparently due to their original colour resembling a nun’s habit (which was unexpected, as I was sure it had to be to do with the shape).

Picture: Sifu Renka on Flickr

Think I am in need of a religieuse experience*....

Picture: Laduree via The Kitchn

* Arguably, I’m in need of any kind of experience that puts a stop to the awful puns.


A Penguin In The Morning

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Penguins are not always good in the mornings. They can even have bad hair days. Even the blue ones. Especially the blue ones...

Picture: Penguin EEKA on Flickr

Today had a very early start. On a Sunday. Eep! Still, it was well worth it...

I just discovered the artist who did this picture a couple of days ago on Flickr and, while it sadly hasn't been updated recently, it has some of the best penguin illustrations I've ever seen. They're just so wonderfully penguin-like, and also quite different to anything else... think they will be making some further appearances.


Never Too Much Of A Good Thing

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Prompted by a friend's birthday, I decided some baking was in order. Chocolatey baking. Preferably of a portable-without-getting-squashed variety.

It takes a special type of perversity to have an exciting new Kitchenaid* and new cupcake wrappers, and to decide to bake something that requires neither. This was described as a slice, but might be more accurately thought of as a brownie with icing.

One of the things I liked about this recipe is that it uses cocoa rather than actual chocolate, but still has a very rich, chocolatey taste in both the slice and the topping. It also doesn't give so much of that over-indulged feeling after eating it (although it might if you had several pieces in one sitting!).

The recipe was from the Australian Women's Weekly Mix cookbook. I doubled this quantity** and used a combination of soft brown and dark brown sugars, but other than that, didn't tinker around.

For the slice
125g butter, melted
1 cup (220g) firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
1/4 cup (35g) self raising flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup (45g) dessicated coconut
For the icing
1 cup (160g) icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
10g butter, melted
1 1/2 tbsp hot water, approximately

Preheat oven to 180°C / 160°C fan forced. Grease 19cm x 29cm slice pan; line base with baking paper, extending paper 5cm over long sides.

Combine butter, sugar, egg and extract in medium bowl. Stir in sifted flours and cocoa powder, then coconut. Spread mixture over base of pan.

Bake slice about 30 minute of until firm (mine, in the evil Smeg, took 22 minutes for a double quantity, staying nice and moist in the middle).

Meanwhile, make chocolate icing. Sift icing sugar and cocoa powder into medium bowl, stir in combined butter and water until spreadable.

Spread hot slice with chocolate icing; sprinkle with extra coconut. Cool in pan before cutting.

I was quite happy with both the look and, more importantly, the taste of these (and the batter was good too). It also gave me the chance to try out some cute new plates I've recently bought (a set of four, each a different pastel colour) and, at last, I've acquired a daylight bulb to hopefully improve the photographic efforts from my night baking stints. At this murky time of year, there's no guarantee there'll be great daylight on the weekend anyway, so it was becoming an increasing necessity. Especially looking back at the old, badly lit photos.

* I know it was a few months ago, but the novelty is far, far from wearing off!
** The other penguin looked somewhat concerned that I might take all of the end result for birthday purposes, so it seemed an idea to make a large batch...


Stating The Obvious

Friday, June 18, 2010

I would not be a success in MI5. This has been pointed out to me by my dad, born of many years of observing my mum and I furtively whispering, usually about something entertaining being said, done or worn by somebody close enough that they shouldn’t be being gossiped about*. Which is a shame, especially as it puts paid to my idle dream of getting around like Catherine Zeta Jones in Ocean’s Twelve**.

Picture: via IMDB

Similarly, I’d be a terrible poker player. The full gamut of emotions tends to be readily apparent, frequently against my better intentions, and occasionally to my detriment (and others’ amusement).

So, for me, there is no need to wear my heart on my sleeve any more than I already do. But if I felt tempted to labour the point, I’d be drawn to these earrings...

Picture: shanblan on Etsy

It would be handy if they came up with a male equivalent as well. The idea just doesn’t translate to cuff links, for obvious reasons!

* The idea of not gossiping at all is just utterly impractical...
** This is probably more a goal of having my hair look like hers in the film, rather than necessarily chasing after various geezers and such.


Thinking About Being Daring

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Maybe it was all the recent Daring Bakers, but I was thinking about profiteroles... maybe thinking too much...

Picture: Citrus and Candy

Profileration – the collective noun for profiteroles.

Picture: Spicy Icecream

As opposed, potentially, to...

profitalliteration – when your description of profiteroles becomes very selective in its choice of words... the perfect, plump, purple profiteroles, for instance.

Which is entirely different to...

profitomatopoeia – which encompasses a range of sounds, from the crunch-squish of the first bite, to the crack-whoomph-anguished-howl of a collapsing croquembouche.

Picture: La Fuji Mama

I love the thought of trying the Daring Bakers challenge, although I think it might be a little way off, still!


Wake Up To A Penguin

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I love these coloured lamps... they're like glowing penguin jelly babies...

All pictures: Slide Design

Although classic black and white is also very appealing...

And they also have these...

You could have a row of them all lined up. Like gummi bears. Although then you might wake up hungry...


Arguing With A Bear

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Picture: East Of Allen

There is an expression in my family that “bears are always right”. Directions given when navigating follow this rule... you never turn right, only bear right. Over time, it has also acquired somewhat broader usage, and can come in quite handy when looking to get the last word in a disagreement*.

My mum told me that it had begun on a holiday in the US, where it appeared that every road sign indicating a right turn instructed “bear right”. It stood out as something that we didn’t see at home** and, perhaps because we were travelling quite a bit through areas where bears actually lived, it started to catch on. That, and the family tendency to interpret things in the other way than intended if there is any ambiguity.

If bears were always right, turns always appeared to be left. I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to this, but others felt quite sorry for all those poor terns that nobody wanted***. Perhaps they should go into partnership with the shags on rocks – what is it with those abandoned sea birds

Picture: Snaxx on Flickr

It’s recently occurred to me that, as well as bears being right, they’re also repeating. Not just repeating any old thing, mind. Only those things that warrant it.

Perhaps the bears’ repeating is how they get to always be right – like studying for exams.

Picture: TADA's Revolution on Flickr

* While never strictly applicable, it’s something very hard to find a suitable comeback for, so can come in handy when in one of those debates that’s going downhill fast (or was just silly to start with). There are lots of those in my family...
** Just another one of those quirks that you come across (and mostly barely register), like “restroom” for toilet, or “yield” instead of give way. Not like aluminum for aluminium, which is a whole other bowl of penguins.
*** That level of literalism never occurred to me. The only humour (not that unwanted terns should be a source of mirth) to be previously found in terns was to “take your tern. But always remember to return him later on.” Which is quite a different outcome for the tern, if you think about it. Hmm... now I understand why I get told I think too much!


When Life Hands You Lemons

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Every path has its puddle"

This is not the most wildly optimistic sentiment, but appeals to me on a number of levels. Some of those levels are a little more literal than I might like, given Sydney seems to have been somewhat awash over the last month or so. And sometimes you just wish you could walk round the puddles, rather than that step-splash-swear combination I've been specialising in, which results in very wet feet.

And then I came across this... and it renewed my enthusiasm for the puddles. Somethimes, walking through the puddles can actually be fun. And if I had funky boots on, and the prospect of a tasty cupcake to look forward to, I'd be splashing through those puddles...

Picture: Sweetie Pie Rebecca on Flickr


Denial With Your Coffee?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Picture: Amazon

And all this time I thought it was just for entertainment - oh no!

That'd be the thinking by the way, not the coffee...


Making it Up As You Go

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lots of the things I cook are things my mum taught me. When I first had my own place, one of the best and most helpful things (and there were lots) that my mum did was to give me a folder of all the things she makes that I would be likely to want to cook as well (without her being there to advise, or her impossible number of cookbooks to refer to*).

Pictures: me (enjoying the novelty of the new camera!)

Over the years, though, there are some things that both of us cook that have ended up being, if not completely different things, at least quite distinct variations on a theme. A lot of this is because neither of us tends to be great recipe followers (except when baking, when inventiveness so frequently leads to stickiness and squashed things that we tend to stick to the rules. Bah!). Especially with recipes that have been cooked many, many times, the temptation to try something slightly different just because we can occasionally takes hold. This includes a recipe for one of my favourite salads**, which began as an idea from a magazine, and turned into something entirely different, but with only about two ingredients in common.

This means that if, when visiting, I volunteer to cook (the temptation of the enormous, well laid out and amply provisioned kitchen is large), my dad inevitably puts in a request for something I am convinced is utterly boring. This is done so that he gets the variety of “my version”. One of these is bread and butter pudding (mine is mostly different due to adding sugar and eggs with abandon). The last time I was there, the recipe evolved a bit more than planned.

After deciding there was to be a bread and butter pudding (something I’m always happy to eat when visiting, as it tends to get mystified looks when I eat it at home, and no volunteers to share it with me), there was the discovery that there wasn’t any white bread, or any raisin bread, in the house. Lacking the convenience of a 7-11 underneath the house (how do people manage without a shop within a five minute return trip?), and having anticipated pudding for a chunk of the afternoon, defeat was not an acceptable option. Consideration fell to a large bag of hot cross buns...

This was the result of the unplanned hot-cross-and-butter pudding. I think I would make it again (it’s definitely something different to do once you get sick of hot cross buns, which, given they appear earlier each year, grows ever more likely, improbable as it sounds), although the consensus was that it was too rich to eat as much of in one sitting as the normal recipe.

This was how they were made:
Four hot cross buns
Butter (preferable) or equivalent spread of your choice
Sultanas (yes, extra ones)
One large egg
3 dsp caster sugar
2 dsp custard powder
500 ml milk
1 dsp caster sugar
1 tsp custard powder
200 ml milk
Demerara and soft brown sugar, to taste

Quantities are very much an approximation and down to personal preference.

Slice each bun into three and spread with butter. In individual bowls (high-sided noodle bowls work well – individual serving dishes mean people can have theirs as squishy or crunchy as they like), layer sultanas and bun.

Combined egg, sugar, custard powder and milk. Pour over the buns (varying the amount per bowl according to the preferences of the eaters) and set aside while finishing cooking whatever is preceding the puddings (if anything), or around 20-30 minutes. This allows time for the bread (or bun, as the case may be) to absorb the mixture. Making them in a hurry is never as tasty.

After resting for 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Just before you’re ready to cook the puddings, Combine the remaining caster sugar, custard powder and milk and pour into the bowls (so there is some liquid which hasn’t been absorbed by the buns, making the puddings moist. Or squishy, if you’re my dad).

Sprinkle liberally with sugar – mostly Demerara, with a scattering of soft brown.

Before baking

Bake for around 20-30 minutes (it varies a bit depending on amount of liquid and your squishiness preference), or until the tops of the puddings are crunchy and golden.

Serves three gannets, or several ordinary people. Yum.

I think it would also be good with panettone. And marmalade. But next on my list might be a nutella version...

* Although, in a few short years, I appear to be amassing quite the collection. Most of which get used, rather than just admired hungrily...
** It involves cheese. To have a favourite salad without having turned into something insufferably scary requires at a minimum that cheese be involved. Most things do...


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