Monthly Archives: November 2016

Best Christmas Cake ever!

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Deliciousness in a box

This is the best Christmas cake. Ever!

Now that’s quite a claim. Many of my friends have recipe books going back generations and I’m sure there will be a Christmas cake in there somewhere that they will remember as being something special.

But I’m laying claim to this one and ( hopefully) starting a generational thing that will be shared for many years to come. There are many things I would like to be remembered by and this could just be one of them !

It’s a sad sign of the times when most people I know are simply too busy to even think about making a cake at this time of year. Ok, I know it’s not a top priority but that’s the thing. What are the priorities?  I don’t even think it’s the cake that’s the problem. we are all just too busy doing ‘ stuff’ that one more thing to do could just be the step too far.

But tradition is good. It’s a link to our past, our heritage and where we came from. Christmas may be the last bastion of tradition so I for one am keen to keep some of the behaviours peculiar to our family going for as long as I can. And that includes cake.

So, put on some Christmas music, light a candle ( Christmas scent preferable) , pour a glass of egg nog ( ok, wine is absolutely fine as a substitute ! ), switch off the phone and start your own traditions….one slice of cake at a time….:)

Recipe 

 I use a 26cm cake box – lined on the inside and then wrapped in newspaper and tied with string around the outside to ensure it doesn’t cook too quickly on the sides.

  • 2kg mixed dried fruit – raisins, currants, sultanas etc
  • 500g butter
  • 500g brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 125g chopped blanched almonds if you like
  • Brandy  (be generous)
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 500g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • chopped glacé cherries if you like

Put fruit in covered bowl overnight with generous swigs of your chosen tipple until it’s well sozzled ( not a technical term but you get my drift) .The smell is divine and it will take all your will power not to eat it all there and then and forget the cake!

Next day put the drunken fruit, butter, sugar and golden syrup into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to stop the mixture burning ( very important!). Add lemon, spices, salt, chopped almonds and a bit more brandy.

Stirring continuously, simmer for 10 minutes, then add cornflour. Mix well and remove from heat. Leave to cool thoroughly.

Beat eggs. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda, add alternately to cooled fruit mixture. Bake in the middle of the oven at 160˚C for 30 minutes. Then 120˚C for 4 hours. (Cooking times may vary depending on the oven.) Cool in the box, then wrap in greaseproof paper and foil to keep it moist. Put in air tight container somewhere dark and cool.

Bask in the heavenly scent of the cake.

I suggest you make the cake about 5 weeks before the big day and then every week carefully unwrap it and use a skewer to make a few holes to allow a few tablespoons of brandy to soak through it.

Then for the icing. Our family tradition since I was little involved my Dad “making” the cake. Actually what was really the case was Mum doing everything , including making a royal icing but Dad then swirling it on the cake to make snow patterns and placing Santa and decorations on top. His cake 🙂

Whether you have children helping with making christmas biscuits or cookies or whether you gift yourself time to do the whole cake thing in splendid Christmas peace , make time to create and enjoy your own traditions.

Fi

Shaken and Stirred but not Broken

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Minimal damage at our place

 

The earth moves in mysterious ways. Often noisy, threatening and destructive ways.

No one in my part of the world will forget in a hurry where they were at 12.02am on Monday 14th November.

I was naked underneath a door frame.

Not an image I want to linger on for many reasons but most importantly because they broke all the rules for earthquake survival.

The earthquake lasted about 90 seconds. It seemed less. I nearly vomited ( they don’t tell you that in the adverts). The motion sickness stayed with me for two days. We held on as we surfed with the waves and then when it momentarily calmed, we grabbed some clothes and shoes and went to grab the Doodles ( who were fine throughout) ,got into the car and drove away from any potential house or tree collapse. Thankfully that was only a short distance down the drive as we are pretty much on open land.

Aftershocks followed and the car happily bounced around oblivious to the severity of the cause. The sky was white and no birds sang. It was eerie . Almost other worldly.

Elsewhere others were not so lucky.

I used my phone to get radio, as well as get instant texts out to family and friends across the world who would be hearing about the incident very quickly and we could therefore head off their concerns for us and also ensure our communications did not get tied up when we may need it most. The main news source was from callers to the radio graveyard shift and they knew no more than we did. We checked on neighbours and friends.

What we did know was that something of that power had to have done some significant damage. And it did. Our neighbouring town of Kaikoura – 130 kilometres from us-  was suffering .

The following days were weird. News of damage to property came through quickly once the media was able to get amongst the action. Fatalities were small but it only takes one to change many lives forever.

But the mass weirdness was something that was felt by many and no one quite knew how to describe it or even to admit to it. It was something I had never felt before.

It was a clumsiness. A sadness. A blackness.

It was headaches, nausea and fear.

It was internal torment of being practical and realistic about what may or may not happen in future, coupled with irrational fear at every minor tremor that followed.

There have been over 4000 aftershocks in 7 days.

It calmed and disappeared in the days ahead and the experience became part of the learning and reflection of what to do if there is a next time.

We have been told to expect another major shake in the next 30 days. Some people will not be lucky. But most of us will again be fine with minimal damage.

Life is back to normal for most of us. Local businesses are desperate to demonstrate that, and it is our responsibility to help them continue trading. People are being kinder and the support for our neighbours who are suffering reinforces faith in the human spirit.

What have I learned? Apart from the blindingly obvious requirements of being able to look after yourself and your family for at least three days should you lose power, contact, food etc – something we ( and most of New Zealand) have been prepared for, for years ;

  1. Don’t sleep naked. Or if you must, keep some clothing nearby!
  2. Have a pair of shoes beside the bed.
  3. Don’t stand in door frames. That’s stupid ( as I now know) .
  4. Drop to the ground and make yourself as small as you can , Cover your head and go under a strong table. desk or bed and Hold on.
  5. Have your phone fully charged. Always.
  6. Use social media. It informs family and friends quickly and preserves your battery for what you may need it for. It also connects you with others nearby and gave me an immense feeling of support.
  7. Be realistic. This is nature at its powerful and destructive best. Respect that but don’t be fearful. Keep everything in context.
  8. Keep a supply of chocolate at hand ( this came from Civil Defence so who am I to argue! )

 

With love from the Shaky Isles,

Fi

Something’s bugging me

Literally .

Although not just something . I know exactly what it (they) is (are).

There were a few things that failed to make it on to the property particulars when we moved to Marlborough and, more specifically, to Paradise.

One was the wind in late spring / early summer. Although we had visited the area many many times, we must have just hit lucky on avoiding the wind. Windy Wellington – your more beautiful and slightly wine addled neighbour across the Strait can most certainly give you a run for your money on the wind front – at least for part of the year.

But that’s not it.

What’s bugging me is bugs.

Not affecting me personally, but there’s most certainly a fleeting possibility of threat for our precious babies budding out in the vineyard.

At a certain time of year (now) , the brown beetles or May bugs ( creatively named after their annual appearance in the northern hemisphere ) awaken from neighbouring paddocks to strike fear into the hearts and pockets of grape growers. The bugs choose to burst into life as the sun sets on beautiful days and, from nearby paddocks, aim for the moon and land on the vines. If they get their chance they will then happily procreate and eat their way through the leaves and buds, potentially causing damage.

My first reaction on hearing about our unknown challenge  was confidence that there must be something that could deter them ( or more accurately blitz them into oblivion). But being organic, with a karma-esque attitude to living things, we have found our options are limited.

So, our ritual now is an enforced walk of the vineyard every night as darkness creeps in. Torches in hand, we inspect the leaves and flick the bugs to the ground, where they can no longer do any damage.

No matter how many times we are told by those who have considerable experience in this : “ you’ll know when you have a problem” – ( thankfully, we haven’t found out so far) – we still spend our time cursing the little bug(ger)s and counting how many we knock off. Although a swarm in the thousands is what we are told will indicate an issue (?!) , we still feel the overwhelming need to protect our babies and that’s where it gets compulsive. We are the equivalent of first-time parents. Anxious to do the right thing but no experience yet to give us any real perspective. Being told that we are probably the only growers paying such attention is little comfort.

Although small numbers of bugs will not cause damage, the very fact they are there ‘bugs’ M & I . So we currently spend our evenings knocking as many off leaves as we can, while acknowledging nightly that we can’t get around every single vine.

But we still try.

A good friend who is born and bred in both the area and the industry and therefore experienced in such matters, not so reassuringly said to me, “ you really don’t have a problem until they’re mating on your eyeballs….” .

Now there’s a less than comforting thought to hold for the next few weeks…..

But. 

And there’s always a but!

This has given us the pleasure of having a nightly walk together under glorious inky skies. The doodles happily chase hedgehogs and whatever else they pick up a scent on. We talk. We appreciate our surroundings. We count blessings.

Welcome to Paradise !

Yours (hopefully) bug free,

Fi

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The little                  brown bug(ger)s!