My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

"I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills," William Wordsworth


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Chocolate Cake ~ firm family favourite

 

This image of the 1950s Edmonds Cookery Book is part of my cooking heritage. My mother, like many New Zealand women, referred to the recipes in her battered copy to bake a range of goodies for daily morning and afternoon teas. Sadly, we no longer have her copy of this particular edition that my sister and I used when we helped Mum in the kitchen during busy times on the farm feeding workers and visitors. Over the  years, we modified the recipes and adapted ingredients.  Classic Edmonds recipes that we used in the 1950s have stood the test of time.

Mum’s great-grandchildren love eating the same goodies we enjoyed as children – and this chocolate cake never fails the yummy test. 9-year old grandson, owner of an Edmonds Beginner’s Cookbook reprinted in 2015, is proud of his baking efforts. Chocolate cake baking tradition lives on.

Ingredients One-Egg Chocolate Cake

  • 50 grams butter
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup standard plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • few drops vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup milk

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 190ºC.
  • Prepare one 20cm cake tin. Line with baking paper. I often prepare a muffin tray to make 12 mini-cakes
  • Melt butter and syrup in a small saucepan.
  • Put melted ingredients into a bowl. Add egg and sugar. Beat well.
  • Sift cocoa, flour and baking powder together. Fold sifted ingredients and vanilla essence into egg mixture.
  • Dissolve baking soda in milk. Fold into egg mixture.
  • Pour the mixture into cake tin.
  • Bake 30 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.
  • Leave cake to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes.

Decorate to suit

  • Quick chocolate icing. Mix 1 to 2 cups icing sugar, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon softened butter, vanilla essence and a small amount of warm water to get a smooth consistency. Spread icing over cake. Sprinkle desiccated coconut threads over icing.
  • Cake could be split into two halves so that a filling of whipped cream and sliced fresh fruit e.g. strawberries can be added.
  • Top of the plain cake could just be lightly dusted with icing sugar.


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Chocolate Truffle Cake ~ glorious, rich and decadent

The first three weeks of March have been very busy. Family occasions involved five birthdays, two wedding anniversaries and Easter. This meant time spent in the kitchen, baking and cooking.

Sixty years set them apart, and Himself and two grandsons had a date to blow out candles together on a birthday cake. 12-year old Grandson in particular, is a chocoholic and Poppa is a diabetic. Athletic and fast-growing into teenage-hood, Grandson designated himself as his grandfather’s deputy to eat Poppa’s slice of birthday cake, chocolate in all its glorious richness, decadent it had to be. Chocolate Truffle Cake it would be.

Measurement of ingredients is typically a ‘roughly about’ thing when I cook. I understand very well the intricacies of baking special cakes, but it is not an everyday practice. Precise measurements were a must for this recipe. Care and attention must be paid to time when working with couverture chocolate, cream, egg yolks and sugar. Assembling the elements was to be my new chocolate cake experience. Getting a glossy and smooth coating was my challenge. I trusted Australian food writer, Donna Hay’s instructions.

Ingredients Truffle Cake

  • ½ C plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/3 C caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 80 gms butter, melted

Ingredients Truffle Filling

  • 450 gms dark couverture chocolate
  • 2 C single or pouring cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/3 C caster sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.

Sift the flour and cocoa three times and set aside. Place the sugar and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 8-10 minutes or until pale and thick and tripled in volume. Gently fold through the flour and cocoa and then the butter.

Line the base of a 20 cm springform tin with non-stick baking paper. Pour in the mixture and bake for 25 minutes or until the cake comes away from the side of the tin. Cool in the tin.

While the cake is cooking, make the filling. Place the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until melted and smooth. Place the egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat for six minutes or until thick and creamy. Fold the chocolate mixture through the egg mixture and beat for six minutes or until cold. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

To assemble, remove the cake from the tin and cut in half horizontally. Place the bottom layer back in the tin and pour over half of the filling. P lace the top layer on the cake and cover with the remaining filling. Refrigerate for five hours or until set.

To serve, place a warm tea towel around the tin, which will help to ease the cake away from the side. Carefully remove the cake from the tin and use a heated palette knife to smooth the edge.

Decorating the Truffle cake

Easter pending and staying with the chocolate theme, I used strawberry-filled Easter eggs and a purchased chocolate disc with ‘Happy birthday’ written in white chocolate. I noticed a few rough spots on the coating and thought more truffle filling could have been poured to make a thicker middle layer. Too scared to lift the cake from the tin base, I left it. But hey, no-one cared. Eight grandkids and their Aunts all swooped. It’s chocolate, for goodness sake. What else did you expect! One candle for each birthday boy completed the picture.

Chocolate Truffle Happy Birthday Cake

Birthday cake for Poppa and two Grandsons

Chocolate Truffle Birthday Cake

Chocolate Truffle Cake with strawberry filled Easter egg

 


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Easter Monday evening and “The day is done,”

My mother had a good memory and flair for reciting poetry and as a child it was common to hear excerpts inspired by a moment as she went about her household tasks. How could I not hear Mum’s voice as I shut the hens in their coop tonight and enjoyed the cloud formation lit by the rays of Easter Monday’s setting sun.

When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground,
And the far-off stream is dumb,

excerpt from: Song – The Owl by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The cattle, sated after a long day of grazing grass, languidly bovine and disinclined to poetic gestures, were settling for the night under the Totara trees by the stream.

The day is done, and the darkness
 Falls from the wings of Night,
excerpt from: The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

No Tennyson’s white owl lives in my world. Gertrude clucked her defiance at my attempts to corral her with the other hens in the hen house. Always there is one last worm or one last slater to find. Tastier still would be my Kale seedlings that now must be grown under bird netting in the new raised garden beds.

So I sit in my garden. And I wait for the white hen to go about her routine. After a busy weekend, it is a quiet reflective moment, a chance to enjoy nature’s celebration of Easter Monday evening.

Five visitors stayed overnight so we have had a full house. There were six kids and five adults in all with one extra person who came to dinner on Saturday. The garden hosted the kids’ Easter egg hunt. Kitted out with torches, the sugar-rushed children ventured into the moonlight to explore the night world in their treehut, in the paddocks, under the trees and along the stream.

Eels transformed into alligators, pukeko assumed vulture-like proportions, deep shadows morphed into monsters and grunting possums grrrrd. Oh! How I just love The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree written by Dr Seuss.

 

 


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One Hour to Dinner ~ Lamb Curry

Not feeling like cooking tonight after a busy and tiring day. But put dinner on the table I must – particularly as the Type-II diabetic member of the household must follow a regular and healthy eating plan. The whole family can eat the same meals and everything cooked in one-dish is a quick way to get a meal to the table. By no means an expert, I am now used to making sense of the nutritional numbers on food labels and I make sure there are suitable packets and tins of convenience food staples in the pantry. My garden vegetables and herbs provide that vital fresh green element. It is important to reduce fat, not add salt and to enhance flavour with herbs and spices.

Blood glucose levels are directly affected by the kind and amount of carbohydrate foods eaten. Non-starchy vegetables like aubergine, chilli, onions, pumpkin, silverbeet or swiss chard and zucchini are less likely to raise blood glucose levels. One tip I picked up at at a diabetic dietary seminar was to decide the kind of carbohydrate and then to build the dish around that. Wild and long grain rice would be the ¼ plate serve of carbohydrate. Tonight’s ¼ plate serve of  protein was diced lean lamb.

Tonight’s recipe, if it can be called that, made about 5 to 6 servings. We eat off small dinner plates – a dietary portion control tip. Flavours and quantities were decided at random as I cooked, using whatever was to hand in the fridge and on the shelf.

Lightly spray the cooking surface of an electric frypan with Canola oil. Preheat the frypan.

Sauté 1 large chopped onion, 1 finely chopped yellow chilli  and 1 heaped teaspoon each of crushed garlic and ginger pastes.

Add 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, cardamom, dried coriander flakes and ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Stir and continue to sauté for about 1 minute.

Brown about 500 grams of diced lamb that has been trimmed of excess fat. Stir in about 2 cups of peeled, diced pumpkin and 1 medium diced aubergine.

Add 250ml no-added salt vegetable stock. Stir and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Dice 1 large zucchini and shred several leaves of silverbeet or swiss chard. Add to the meat mixture and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in and gently heat through 165ml coconut cream (no additives).

Taste and adjust flavours as desired.

Microwave pre-cooked wild and long grain rice according to instructions on packet.

Serve and enjoy.

 


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Scrabble is addictive ~ be warned

The local Scrabble Club is a group of very sociable players who go into meltdown if they cannot play Scrabble at least once a day. I learned that playing online gives a temporary fix, that club day is a big buzz, and that tournaments are the ultimate rush. Keen to play face-to-face games, I signed up to this madness in 2012.

Every story has a prequel. In the pre-internet era, I was always a scrabble board player with the family. Himself no longer plays because he says I used too many big and suspect words and that the dictionary was wrong!. Immaterial to Himself that it was the Oxford Dictionary. Unaware that Scrabble Clubs existed, I did, and still do cryptic crossword puzzles. Work and family commitments left little time for leisurely pursuits.

Seeing patterns or paradigms when doing cryptic crossword puzzles helps when thinking abut making words from scrambled letters. Four years ago when I joined the local Scrabble Club, I never imagined I would use way out words, ever play in tournaments. I certainly had no idea about the scope of the competitive nature of the game.

Play evovaes in your next game of scrabble. Wait for the challenge. “Is that a real word?”

Himself thinks Scrabble players are a sad lot to get excited about creating a vowel-dump word out of a rack of impossible tiles. Even when it is pointed out to him that the game is also about strategy, calculation and tile tracking, he remains unimpressed even though many top players have mathematical and computing backgrounds and think in logical fashion.

Late one evening early in 2013, while playing online scrabble and watching a late TV show, I forgot about the time. Eldest grandson was coming next day to do jobs to earn money for his school’s work day fundraiser. This 16-year old expected freshly made chocolate cake but I could not decide whether to bake before I go to bed or play another game of scrabble. Never did make the cake. I felt guilty early next morning and as I needed to make a pavlova for another occasion, I doubled the recipe. As teenage boys do, he ate most of the pavlova without complaint. Was that an early warning sign scrabble was interfering with my life?

When euoi, tranq, eejit and u-less Q tiles plagued me, I search for a hook to dump such vowel loaded words? Yes, they are legal. Should I change those tiles and hope to pick up higher value letters? Think! In 2014, I grappled with the strategic  intricacies of the game. It is cut-throat competition for points against the clock, of playing without a dictionary, of tile-tracking, of challenging phoney or obscure words, of being challenged, of national and international ratings, and of course the nice bit, recognition with a prize.

When my name was inscribed on the MINP trophy for the most improved new player, I probably was hooked. Competitors of all ages, from diverse backgrounds from all over New Zealand competed in the two-day tournament hosted by our Scrabble Club. A caterer did lunch and club members provided morning and afternoon teas. I made the sarnies, incidentally a 7-letter word + 50 points for a bingo, or sandwiches to non-scrabblers.

It was an easy drive north to the Hokianga Harbour in  March 2015, it with twelve Scrabble Club members and one player from an Auckland Scrabble Club for an unrated round-robin tournament. That weekend, we ate overlooking the upper reach of the harbour, wined, winged about rotten tile draws, laughed and played scrabble. Four New Zealand rated players played and I managed to beat three of them to achieve second place. Dumb luck really, the tiles fell my way, but I took full credit.

A bonus was the restored historic house we stayed in was New Zealand author Jane Mander‘s childhood home, moved from the Port Albert where area where her novel The Story of a New Zealand River was based. Jane Campion based her film, The Piano, on this novel.

“Okay. It’s only a 40-minute drive and it is only a one-day tournament. Right! I’ll play. It’s good to support smaller clubs.” That was my side of the conversation in November and what a day. A personal best score that included 250 bonus points from five 7-letter words.

Scrabble Tournament Nov 2015 PB Score

Scrabble Tournament Nov 2015 PB Score

Never go to an Annual General Meeting if you do not want a job. Earlier this year, I forgot this cardinal rule and left as President of the Scrabble Club. Too slow to say “no, thank you”, I mumbled that I would do the job for one year.

Last week, it was all credit to Himself, he agreed to go to Rotorua for a few days so I could play in a Scrabble tournament there. This city has long been our weekend escape place. We love soaking in the thermal mineral pools. The trip also meant we could catch up with my brother and Aunt who still live in the Matamata area, location of  Hobbiton, Lord of the Rings film set.

The tiles fell my way again. I will play in the NZ nationals in Rotorua in June. Thinking to be helpful, I suggested he dust off his fly rods and do some trout fishing. Himself sighed – pleased, but resigned to joining the Scrabble widowers and widows club that operates on the fringes of tournaments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Jemima duck waddled into my garden

Jemima seemed most fitting to name our latest feathered friend. She waddled into our lives one morning about three weeks ago. Shy, yet trusting and friendly like Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle Duck, she has let us hand feed her and even give her a cuddle, and she stops, holds her head in a way looking at us that suggests she is listening to us chat to her.

We think she is an escapee, that being from our neighbour’s duck pond across our stream where hundreds of ducks of different breeds live. Bruce happens to like ducks and geese. What child has not loved listening to Beatrix Potter’s stories about garden and farmyard animals being read to them? When they were little, I used to take my grandsons to scatter grain at feeding time. It is fun to stand in the middle of the noisy rush of quacking and honking birds, like a big city rush  hour which I no longer  miss..

In the  relaxed way things happen here, one day, we will wander over to Bruce and ask if he is missing a duck. His answer will be laconic and he will not know or even worry that Jemima has herself a new home. Bruce took on six ducks recently because their owner could no longer care for her pets. Jemima is probably from that small flock. She is earning her keep and is doing a great job scooping up the bugs and slugs in my garden. For now, Jemima can sleepover at our place and be one of the poultry girls.


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Cookery class at school in 1958

In 1958, we were given a small textbook, Home Science Recipes when we were taught cookery in Standards 5 and 6, or what is now called Years 7 and 8. Words and phrases used then make me smile now.

“all parts of the dominion”, “domestic instruction”, “helpful to the small family”, “young housekeeper”, “apron”, “never waste anything”, “Housewifery and Laundry Work”

Wordy echoes of strong colonial and emotional ties to England, preparation of girls for marriage and motherhood, and always, a vivid memory of want and hunger experienced by our parents’ generation during the depression and war years. New Zealand as  a country grows food well. This text was compiled by a generation of educators intent on building a nation of self-sufficient citizens and healthy families.

The ingredients then reflected the predominant farming and small country town lifestyles we lived in the 1950s. I shudder now at the thought of using animal fats of “lard”, “dripping”, “suet“. Beef and mutton were staple foods. Home killed meat roasted in a fat was common.  Dad would butcher a sheep about once a week. I recall how my brothers, sister and I lined up as he did so waiting to grab the knucklebones so we could play the game. No sentimentality then. That is how it was.

My mother and mother-in-law always kept a bowl to store the dripping from roasted beef. My grandparents and parents all loved spreading dripping on bread in preference to butter. They had  lived through food rationing. As if that was not enough to fill growing large baby-boomer families,  New Zealand mothers served baked goodies for morning and afternoon teas and  puddings. All recipes used great quantities of animal fats and sugar. Unpasteurised, creamy milk collected as the cows were milked was drunk daily. Thank goodness our outdoor lifestyles meant we were physically active and hardworking compared to present day.

Essentially, we their daughters in the school cookery classes, were cementing household practices of generations before the 1950s. Incidentally, the Window Cleaner recipe in  Cleaning Materials, still works a treat and is cost effective.