On Shaky Ground

It’s been nearly a fortnight since my last post.  

For the most part, the silence has been for good reasons. But the days of shake, rattle and roll leading up to and following Sunday’s M 6.5 quake, have left even this earthquake hardened Wellingtonian shaken and wondering if 80 litres of stored water will see us through if it gets really serious.

The last post marked the beginning of the school holidays. Since then:-

I’ve been asked to leave another restaurant, this time because of a fire alarm. I’m developing a complex.  One might have thought that the sight of all those firemen would have provided some compensation for the inconvenience, but sadly no.

We’ve had friends around for that civil German institution, Kaffee und Kuchen.

Encouraged by the success of the honey and goats cheese profiteroles we made at Food Night the other week, I’d decided to confront my nemesis, choux pastry, once again in the hope of producing a tray of light, crisp-cased, cream filled, Belgian chocolate-smothered eclairs.  Who doesn’t want to wolf one of those with a cup of coffee of a cold, bleak Sunday afternoon?

Until now, pate a choux and I have rubbed along OK, but the results were never quite right. Instead of persevering with tweaks to the recipe that has always got me 95% of the way, I made a last minute and deeply regrettable decision to try a different one, the recipe Francesca brought home from her afternoon at Le Cordon Bleu, no less.  

They rose promisingly at first.  Then half way through, they just stopped.  I was left with hard, thumb shaped stubbs of dough. Simply put, there was no Wind in my Windbeutel.

Thankfully, long time friends Kristina and Jeremy are understanding folk.  My mother, whose mantra is “always make ahead” knew better than to say anything as we watched the scene unfold (or not) with horror.  My father gave me a hard time as always, but, just as predictably, seemed happy to do his share of damage to my newly re-fashioned cream and chocolate topped pastry fingers.  They still tasted OK, but you all know how little comfort that can be.

In the circumstances, I hope you will forgive the absence of photographic record. Admitting to one’s mistakes is one thing, being confronted by pictorial evidence quite another.

More on Kaffee und Kuchen another time, perhaps even with Kristina’s delicious Black Forest Cherry cake recipe.

I owe thanks to Vladimir Petkov for introducing me to Finnish band Apocalytpica. As a woman whose musical tastes often lean towards the young-angry-male end of the spectrum, I often hear a riff on the car radio and wonder how it would sound on my cello. Now I know.

Apocalyptica1

Unlike Perttu Kivilaakso, I have no immediate plans to perform clad only in leather trousers, my hair thrashing wildly. Leather trou don’t come in my size, and if I play with my hair out, some almost always gets caught between fingers and fingerboard, making for very painful position shifts and unwanted distraction from the purity of artistic expression.

Frankly I don’t know how Pertuu and his mates do it, but I bet they wear pony tails when nobody’s looking.

Here is a link to some of their early material, a cover of Metallica’s, Nothing Else Matters. Avoid it if you take either your metal or your strings too seriously, but it put a smile on my face.  String players my also be amused by their master class satire Cello Lesson # 1.

Continuing on a Nordic theme, Small Acts’ Jennifer Duval-Smith, also shared this very enjoyable clip. Three Swedish fishermen sing Seal’s, Kiss from a Rose.  Perhaps not my favourite Seal number, this one still goes a long way to prove my theory that good things happening around kitchen tables.  If I’d had these boys when I was running the local Russian Orthodox choir, things would have been very, very different.

We had a couple of nights of sleepovers, then took off for a few days holiday with my parents.

We stayed here:

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The Mountain House, Stratford, with the Summit of Mt Taranaki 

Visited places like this:

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Lighthouse, Cape Egmount

Did stuff like this:

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And of course, this:

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Last Saturday we got home relieved to find that nothing had moved in Friday’s earthquake. Since Sunday it’s been a different story.

We were on the road when the M6.5 hit and didn’t feel a thing, which was a mercy because our elder two girls, especially Francesca who was just old enough to understand what happened in Christchurch and Japan, were already anxious enough.

The trip home involved chucking together a shopping list for the emergency supplies we should have got around to laying in but never quite had, finding an open supermarket, avoiding both motorway and tunnels, checking in on my sister (there were power cuts in her neighbourhood), calming the children and preparing ourselves in case the glass in our conservatory kitchen had met the same fate as many windows downtown.

Well, we were pretty damn lucky.  Not much damage at all. But doesn’t perspective change quickly.

Getting rid of our old rusty barbecue in the Residents’ Association annual large rubbish collection (an excellent service for which our ever-loving City Council has naturally withdrawn support) had seemed like good housekeeping.  We were de-cluttering, I thought smugly.

Now I just think that if we lose the mains gas and electricity, we’ll have no alternative means of heating food or water.

There is an old plug in phone.  In the attic. Somewhere.  We think.  Along with a pile of old quilts and blankets.

I bought a torch-radio that runs on a dynamo after the second and calamitous Christchurch quake.  That was thought to be in the garden shed, along with spare loo paper, tarpaulins, spades and the firewood.  Said torch is now resident on the hall table. We are are possessed of multiple tins and packets, all of which I hope we will never need.

The choice of cinema for the obligatory school holiday movie trip became a matter of which building was most recently constructed and closer to home in an emergency.  In the end Tuesday’s three family outing was postponed to a time when I can go into a public building without wondering how close the nearest exit is and what is likely to fall on my children and my car on the way out.

There was, however, no reason for the children to miss their cookie baking and sausage making classes at Moore Wilson on Wednesday.  The diminishing severity of aftershocks boosted our confidence, besides it is unthinkable to me that anything really bad could happen to you at Moore Wilson.

For years there’s been talk about Wellington, nestled as it is where the great Australian and Pacific plates meet, being overdue for The Big One.  Here, I thought, perhaps a silver lining?  Had we got it out of the way? A relatively big quake, with relatively little damage. Perhaps in the same way one might have hoped that the massively traumatic Christchurch earthquake would have been enough ruin for one generation to behold.

No, says the New Zealand Herald, because the quake wasn’t triggered by the Wellington fault line and when that one goes, we can expect an M8.5. Not much point keeping the china and lamps on the floor, because when that one comes there are going to be bigger things to worry about.

Well I’m not moving any time soon. Apparently the Wellington Fault last did it’s thing between 200 and 450 years ago.  It’s a 500 to 1000 year event. I’m 44 and I’ll take my chances.

And besides, the Herald is an Auckland paper.

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Not by Bread Alone: Schubert and Cheese Scones

Shirley Verrett

A quick review of my posts and you could be forgiven for thinking that this is another food blog.  And I suppose it is.

A Life Lived Lavishly is about leading a full life, but this is not the same as a life of being full or being chained to a stove. So why so much food talk?

Is it that between cooking and blogging, I don’t get time for much else?  It’s more than that.

Is it that all this blogging coincides with the beginning of the family birthday cycle, Matariki and the Winter Solstice?  That’s part of it.

To me, time with family and good friends is the foundation of a truly lavish life. Show me the time or culture where sharing food has not been a fundamental of social interaction, and I’ll show you a sad and messed up people.

Preparing food involves working with colour and texture, it gives us permission to play like so many preschoolers enjoying finger-painting. Cooking can satisfy our creative side. But so can many other things.  Check out my friend Jennifer’s blog and her 100 day painting project on Small Acts.

And then it’s winter, time to turn inside.  The warmth of hearth and stove draw us close. The nurturers among us like to dispense comfort in the form of warm food and drink.

Take Friday afternoon.  It was really cold and wet when the kids were coming home from school, so as soon as the baby was finished nursing, I got a batch of cheese scones into the oven and the hot chocolate underway. I’m no domestic goddess.  I don’t often bake, but soon my parental leave will be over and I won’t be home waiting for them any more.  I wanted to be able to make my children a simple after school treat while I still could, to play at being the mother I wish I could be all the time

But food is not the answer to everything. That Friday also brought some bad news.  Nothing I won’t get over, but a disappointment nevertheless. You can’t cure everything with a cheese scone, not even a really good one.

Which brings me around to another of the great pleasures and comforts in life.  Music.

Don’t ask me what kind I like. It’s not about genre. It’s something I can’t define.  Some music connects with you in ways nothing else does.  It’s the reason for sacred music, the reason that boys make girls compilations, the reason that some music makes you laugh, some makes you cry, and some just makes you want to dance.  And it’s very, very subjective.

I thought that now and then I might share a link to music that speaks to me.  See if it speaks to you too.  If you don’t like this one, don’t give up on me.  The next one might be quite different.

Friday I caught the tail end of 1998 movie The Governess. Whether or not the film is your cup of tea, I was reminded that the soundtrack included a particularly poignant Schubert Lied, the kind of music that sometimes makes me feel that was born out of my own time.  I can’t find the Ofra Haza recording of Ständchen from the movie, but this Shirley Verrett recording from 1965 should see you right.

In case Schubert is not your thing, here’s the recipe for the cheese scones:

Proper Cheese Scones

Not all cheese scones are created equal.

You may have come across one of those tragic specimens so often touted in supermarkets. You will know it when you meet it.  It is made on the same bulk dough as the rest of the scones and is therefore oddly sweet tasting, it contains very little butter, too much raising agent (giving it a nasty aftertaste and unpleasant mouth feel), it is dry and the only cheese involved will be on top of the wannabe scone.

That we allow this to go on, that we allow our culinary traditions to be so flagrantly dishonoured, verges on a national scandal.  The boys and girls at the EU have the right idea with the TSG scheme.

TSG-Logo

The Traditional Speciality Guaranteed Logo

This recipe is for a real cheese scone, the kind you can serve your mother-in-law in confidence.

The key to a good cheese scone is generosity.  Cheese scones are not meant to be a health food.   If you want to strip out the hard cheese and the butter, I strongly suggest, no, I beg you, find something else to bake instead.

  • 4c plain (all purpose) flour
  • 4 level tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • a generous grinding of black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper or hot chili powder, optional
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard powder, optional
  • 100g (3 1/2oz) of butter, softened but not melted
  • sharp cheddar (or a combination of edam, tasty cheddar and parmesan) about 150 to 200g (5 1/2  to 7 oz) or 3 to 4 cups grated
  • enough milk to bring together a soft very moist dough, about 1 1/2 cups

1. Preheat your oven to 220 C or 430 F. Line a baking sheet (cookie tray) with non-stick baking paper.

2. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, cayenne and mustard powder into a large mixing bowl.  This step is important as it helps to incorporate air into the dough.  The higher you hold your sieve the better.

3. Using only your finger tips (you don’t want to overwork the flour), rub the butter into the flour mixture.  Keep your hands high and let the mixture fall back into the bowl (more of the air thing).

4. Stir in the cheese(s).  Now add enough milk to give you a very soft dough. Bring the dough together using a wooden spoon then working briskly with your hands (again, not overworking the dough).  Aim for a dough that is wet as possible, whilst still allowing you to handle it with well floured hands. If your dough is too dry, your scones will be dry too.

5. Tip the dough out onto a well floured bench or board.  Pat it into a rectangle about 5cm or 2″ deep.  A rolling pin is unnecessary.  If you push out the dough too thin, you’re scones won’t rise well. Think a couple of grades better than cheese flavoured hardtack.

6. Cut the dough into square or rectangular scones.  They can pretty much be as big or small as you like them. Arrange on the baking tray with a good inch between them.  Brush them with milk if you care for a more glazed look, but consider first whether they will last long enough to warrant the additional labour.  You can also sprinkle a little more cheese on the tops, but if you’ve put enough cheese into the dough this step is pretty much redundant.

7. Bake near the top of your oven until golden brown on top (about 12 to 20 minutes). They should be slightly crusty with a steaming centre.  For maximum enjoyment eat while still hot, split and with butter melting into each half.

Now that’s a cheese scone.