Portrait of a Work-Shy Young Student

As I write this post, I am supposed to be finishing a Powerpoint presentation for the digital photography course I have been doing for the last couple of weeks. But as with many daily functions I perform, the process is fraught with procrastination issues and so here we are, on the blog. Tomorrow we are having an exhibition to celebrate the end of the course, which will be held in the corridor right outside the room where we have been doing the course. I think we’re also supposed to celebrate the photographic art we have all created, but currently it remains to be seen whether the exhibition will bring out those kinds of feelings in anyone. There will, however, be food at the exhibition opening (the whole exhibition is only going to be in existence for about four hours, but it sounds high-brow to say we’re having an opening).

We are each supposed to bring a plate along (so many ‘supposed tos’ to ignore deal with right now) in the manner of the dreaded pot-luck. I have reached a slight stumbling block when it comes to that because my oven seems to have stopped working and I have not the time nor the inclination to sort it out right now. The easy solution to this would be to bring along a salad, a platter of club sandwiches, a selection of antipasti, cheeses or crudites, or a fruit basket or just ANYTHING that isn’t baked, but instead I am going to get out the deep-fryer and fry some dough.

Since making bread is the ideal task for people who prefer long periods of hands-off waiting around to be part of the process, I have plenty of time available to do my Powerpoint presentation. I’ll just finish this blog post first though.

For our exhibition images, we were briefed that we needed to plan and shoot a scene that had to include at least one human and one object. This is just about as broad as you could possibly make a brief, with the exception of saying ‘just go do whatever you want and stop asking me questions’. My strategy was to get a book out of the library and flick through it to find some images that I thought were good and see what sort of ideas crept to the surface. I came across this image of a fisherwoman which I really liked.

RengerPatzsch

Renger-Patzsch, A. (1924). Crab Fisherwoman.

I became interested in how the lives of people of the past have been documented by showing them working at their trade or holding the tools that they used to earn a living and that defined who they were. I then thought that if I were an old-timey working class peasant I would feel so dismal about the fact that my life revolved around (presumably) cooking food and how all the other peasant-y villagers would just know me as ‘that woman that cooks food and eats half of it before she can sell it so her family are always looking scruffy and extra-poor’. So I did a similar thing to Renger-Patzsch, but focussed on a person’s hobby instead of their work, because I think that the things people choose to do in their free time tell something meaningful about them in a different way to their jobs.

Having said that, my model was my husband, who basically goes on camping trips with his buddies for a living, so telling the story of his life in an image that conveyed his chosen hobby was not really that far removed from his professional life anyway. But you get the general concept. We went out to the coast at fuck-this o’clock in the morning to get a good shot of him looking majestically off into the seascape while wearing a wetsuit and neoprene booties and holding flippers and a speargun. He pulled it off remarkably well, mainly because I didn’t get him to wear the snorkel gear and the wetsuit hood that is inexplicably in a small woman’s size (it’s not mine; I don’t tend to go for physical activities much).

10447034_10154266484355364_8405390651873678366_n

So now I own a good camera and have the knowledge to use it, and hopefully the hypothetical villagers will someday know me as ‘that woman who cooks food, writes a completely inane blog about food, takes photos of food, and obviously does little else with her time that doesn’t involve food in some way’.

The doughnuts are ready now. The Powerpoint presentation is not.

Donut

Organising a Wedding LIKE A BOSS. (Or just a really bossy person.)

When I started this blog, I had a vague intention of steering it away from being another twee, mumsy, online version of a recipe scrapbook that the internet is already inundated with, but more of a ‘lifestyle bible’ in the manner of Gwyneth Paltrow’s sprawling Goop empire. Except without the conscious uncoupling and all that kale. I thought I might actually stick to this plan and delve into a few other aspects of my life that are a) interesting,  and b) sort of marketable. Starting first with my ability to plan the hell out of every little detail of something, eg. a WEDDING.

Most brides tend to manifest some kind of, shall we say, ‘bossiness’ as they reach the end of the planning stages of their wedding and I was no different when my time came around. I was a little dictator: but I was the benevolent, kindly type, not the savage despot type. My subjects adored me. I ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove. Having had prior experience in planning events and catering meant that I was armed with all the tools I needed to be incredibly annoying to all who were related to me or had unwittingly become my friend at some point in the last 25 years.

It all began when I was proposed to, one evening under the stars. Well I would have been if we had a sunroof in our station wagon. And it really began about four years prior when I started pointedly wondering out loud whether I would ever be a bride, within earshot of my now-husband. Actually now that I think about it, it was summer, so it was dusk and there were no stars out anyway. I forgot to actually respond to the important question that had been posed because I was too busy wailing unattractively. The proposal is not the point of this post though, so we’ll move right along. After a photo of my ring.

P1020468

My husband works for the Department of Conservation. If our government symbolised a cross-section of our society (odd concept, I know) then DoC would be the alternative-lifestyle commune living in a tent village in the woods. For that reason we chose (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘me’ and will continue to do so for this whole post) to have the wedding at Orokonui Ecosanctuary, a  protected wildlife reserve with a fancy sustainably-built visitor centre, in the hills outside of Dunedin. We chose a ‘native birds’ theme to tie in with the setting of the venue, and because they are cute and pretty and feminine. My husband was all for this choice of themery and was heavily invested in the decision-making process every step of the way.

I made my own wedding stationery, because I had the skills required and I thought it would be cheap that way. It really wasn’t. I drew a pair of paradise ducks, which are native ducks that mate for life. They formed the basis for the stationery along with a similar drawing of a feather that we used for the design on the R.S.V.P. cards and ‘thank you’ notes. The female is the pretty one with the white head and the more regal, dignified posture.1261_10152937659385364_154969259_nOnce we had gotten the invitations out, we had to start really thinking about ALL the other stuff we had to do in order to pull together a respectable nuptial event. Because we had chosen to have a cocktail-style reception, it cut out a lot of the details that would be fun to design but also expensive and difficult to organise when I was not getting the wedding catered by a company but by my foodie friends and some of my chef-lecturers. We wanted the cake to be one of the stand-out parts of the decoration, because the venue itself was so stunning in a simple way and it had huge windows showing the bush and coastal scenery so it needed very little in the way of decoration. I asked my friend Robyn to make the cake as a wedding gift. We decided on a naked cake; don’t worry, it’s just a cake that isn’t enrobed in fondant, so you can see the layers of cake and filling. We had picked out a pair of china birds to be the topper for the cake and opted for some fresh flowers to match my bouquet. People don’t eat the flowers made out of icing anyway, and I hate fondant because I think its like being forced to either eat plastic or peel it away from an otherwise delicious food item, so this was the ideal cake for me us as a couple.

361

My mum and I chose my wedding dress about a year before the wedding, so I had to undertake some healthy and controlled weight management to make sure I would still fit into it. Because I am completely awful, I abandoned this concept shortly after coming up with it and instead opted to do some dodgy crash-dieting near the end-zone. If you mashed together the South Beach, Atkins and something similar to Paleo but with a lot more Diet Coke, you’d be irresponsibly punishing your body in much the same way I was. I started running again, having once said I would no longer bother running unless something or someone was chasing me. But I didn’t have time to lie on the couch and eat cinnamon buns anyway, because I don’t ever do that, and because I still had HEAPS of bride things to do with only two weeks to go. Guess who was hanging out in their little tent village in the woods with their alternative-lifestyle buddies while all this was going down?

At this point, the food had still not been organised. I think I went a little bit insane. Something to do with the lack of delicious carbs affecting my cognitive processes. Six days before the wedding I called in the only person that could help/would tolerate the situation: my friend Amanda. We spent a whole day shopping in every single location that sells food in the greater Dunedin area. I am only exaggerating a little bit. I redefined Amanda’s understanding of the concept of a shopping list. I glimpsed true fear in her eyes when she saw how much food she had to help prepare in the coming days, but I chose to ignore it.

For almost the entirety of this time that I was agonising over all manner of final details, my mum was busy sewing the bridesmaids’ dresses and my stepfather had been enslaved enlisted to make us an adorable little birdhouse which we would use like a letterbox, for the guests to put cards into when they arrived. I don’t know what I was expecting (mainly just a box with a roof and a hole for the imaginary bird to fly in), but it was not this masterpiece of craftsmanship. For a humble, retiring kind of guy who declined to do a reading or a speech, it was a different testament to the effort he put into the wedding and has put into looking after me for most of my life.

358

With everything planned out and everyone issued with their personalised wedding schedules and SO MANY lists ticked off, there was nothing else to do but try not to panic, wait for my fiancé to wander out of the bush and pick up his suit and tie from the rental place, and just let it all happen.  Be sure to tune in for the concluding instalment, in which I actually get married. SPOILER ALERT: I did panic.

 

Catching Flies

One of the things I have learned in the beginnings of my career as a purveyor of delicious foods is that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But I’m talking about people, not flies. And being nice to them and respecting them in order for them to respect you, not catching them. If you arrived here because you Googled how to catch flies or people, please move along. There’s [another] old saying: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’, which is the topic of this post. I’ve already gone off-message in the first paragraph but we’ll see how it pans out.

My first kitchen job was in a rest home. Do not let that lull you into getting an impression of a calm, quiet place of work where people are polite and kindly because they’re all either really old, or caring for the really old. The kitchen was off-limits to residents; a) because of food safety regulations and b) because the constant stream of profanity, electronic dance music, loudly enthusiastic discussion on who was banging whom and how they were doing it, and all sorts of other generally hideous interpersonal behaviour was unsuitable for people in their twilight years to be exposed to. It was an incredibly fun environment to work in and it was my first taste of existing within the weird alternate universe that is a typical commercial kitchen. I LOVED it.

My next job was in a restaurant. My mindset of liking my work and feeling happy about my choice of career had a swift turnaround at this point in life. The only thing that stopped me from quitting in the first week was a very fierce sense of pride and determination. That, and my new colleagues had taken guesses as to how long I’d last and they’d all guessed more than a week, so I developed a stubborn streak all of a sudden.

giphy

My new boss’s temper was legendary; I’d even copped a bit of it in my job interview so I went in well-prepared to be subjected to said temper multiple times per day, but the reality of it took a bit of getting used to. I kept my head down and focussed on my work because I felt like less of a target that way; I was already at a bit of a disadvantage in that respect, being the only girl in the kitchen and the new person. I really enjoyed the stuff I was doing, learned a lot from my boss, and quickly found my way to being capable, but a lot of the happiness had died in me and while I was part of a team that I was proud to have earned my place in, I really just felt embattled all the time.

When I left that job, with all bridges unburned and mutual, if slightly grudging, respect between myself and my ex-boss still intact, I spent my time working for a catering company attached to my culinary school and focussing on my study, trying to regain some interest and passion for cooking. It didn’t take long; it’s easy to reconnect with a love of your work when your work is FOOD and the making/eating thereof…

I-Love-Lucy-Chocolate-Factory

I have learned a lot from being on the job in the real world, in many different aspects beyond my formal culinary education. I will always remember my first job, and I will always remember the next job that followed it. I will remember what I loved about the first one, and what I hated about the next one. I will remember how I felt about myself when I was in those jobs, and use what I have learned to try and make a change for the chefs who come after me. If I am ever in the position where I can employ someone, or be responsible for others in a  kitchen (hopefully!), I will remember the lessons I learned and pass them on, and reap the benefits of being a boss that builds their employees up more than they tear them down. I feel that this is especially important for other young women out there like me, who may have the talent and the skill, but lack the stomach for being slapped with a wet tea-towel (or even better, a hand), having sexist profanities yelled at them or having their body parts referred to in conversation instead of their cookery skills.

I don’t want to end on a bum note (pun intended), so I will finish with this: any job where you get to wear pyjama pants and Crocs clogs as your uniform is worth committing to, through good times and bad!

 

 

 

PB & J Ice Cream Sammies

Ice Cream Sammies

I have a really sweet tooth, and also a fat tooth right next to it apparently, but I still have a healthy appreciation for the concept of salty/sugary mash-ups.  The most commonly referenced one of such would probably be salted caramel. You’ve been living under a dome if you haven’t seen at least a few classic caramel-based recipes suddenly appearing with the word ‘salted’ spliced in there all over food blogs, magazines and menus. No one ever says ‘salty caramel’; its always ‘Salted Caramel’. I’m even guilty of it myself and I’m not sorry at all. A popular example of this combination is peanut butter and grape jelly, which I co-opted into an ice cream sandwich which I have already posted about here.

I never used to like ice cream sandwiches; they were always in tedious pink wafers that you would totally do away with altogether if it wasn’t the sole structural component of what you were eating. Just give it to me in a waffle cone, I don’t even care that this vaguely recalls the idea of a sandwich, its not fun and it looks fricking terrible. Well that is what I would have said, were I not a small child who would rather have ice cream in between stupid wafers than not at all.

My recipe replaces the dreaded wafer with thinly sliced Rich Brioche, baked until it is dry and crispy, like crostini. This has the added benefit of actually looking like a miniature bread sandwich as well as tasting so much better than whatever it is that pink wafers are made of.

Rich Brioche Crostini

Ingredients:

Method:

  • Preheat your oven to 130°C.
  • Begin with a well-chilled, or even semi-frozen, loaf. It makes it very easy to cut neatly if it is cold.
  • Also begin with a sharp, serrated bread knife.
  • Slice your loaf into thin slices about 3mm thick. Try to keep them evenly thick otherwise they will curl up as they dry out.
  • Lay out the slices onto a flat tray lined with baking paper.
  • Bake the slices until they are dry and crispy, turning them over halfway through.
  • Let the slices cool down, then store them in an airtight container.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Adapted from a recipe by Brown-Eyed Baker

Ingredients:

  • 250ml Milk
  • 500ml Cream
  • 200g Smooth peanut butter
  • 175g White sugar
  • 6 Egg yolks
  • 5ml Vanilla essence
  • 50g Extra peanut butter for swirling (can be Crunchy style)

Method:

  • Put the milk, sugar, vanilla essence and 250ml of the cream into a saucepan. Heat it until the sugar has dissolved and the peanut butter has melted, and it is slightly bubbling. You will need to whisk it to emulsify the peanut butter into the liquid.
  • Pour the remaining cream into a large bowl and set a sieve over it.
  • Put the egg yolks in another, separate bowl. Slowly pour the hot cream and peanut butter mixture into it, whisking as you pour.
  • Return this mixture to the saucepan and cook it gently, stirring constantly, until it slightly thickens.
  • Pour the mixture through the sieve into the cold cream and stir it in.
  • Cool the mixture down over a bowl of ice, then churn it as per the instructions of your ice cream machine.
  • When the churning process is nearly down, melt your extra peanut butter in a saucepan until it is gooey, ready to swirl.
  • Transfer the ice cream to a storage container, intermittently swirling some melted peanut butter through it.

Gooey Grape Jelly

I strongly recommend using leaf gelatine rather than powder, because the cheap powder gelatine attracts the tannins in the grape juice and makes it go cloudy.

Ingredients:

  • 300ml Dark grape juice
  • 100g White sugar
  • 2 Leaves Gold-strength gelatine

Method:

  • Put the grape juice and sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil, making sure the sugar is dissolved. Let it simmer for 5 minutes or so; it seems to allow more of a purple colour to develop.
  • Bloom the gelatine leaves in a dish of cold water.
  • Squeeze the excess water out of the leaves and add them to the hot juice. Stir to dissolve it.
  • Pour the hot mixture into the storage container you are using.
  • Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then move it into the refrigerator.

Now you have all the components ready to make your own PB & J Ice Cream Sammies!

Sammie Close-Up

 

Light Brioche

Light Brioche

This is the slightly less intense, toned-down version of Rich Brioche. It is good for making burger buns and dinner rolls, and for bread loaves with a bit of subtle brioche-y goodness but less of the cakey characteristics.

Makes 6 burger buns

Ingredients:

  • 10g Dry active yeast
  • 150ml Water
  • 50ml Milk
  • 20g White sugar
  • 5g Salt
  • 400g Hard flour
  • 50g Soft flour
  • 1 Egg
  • 75g Butter, softened and divided into 40g and 35g

Method:

  • Warm the water and milk together to no more than 37°C. Sprinkle in the yeast and a pinch of the sugar portion. Leave it to go foamy.
  • Into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a regular large bowl if kneading by hand), put the remaining bulk of the sugar, the flours, salt, egg and the larger portion of soft butter.
  • Pour in the foamy milk/yeast mixture, scraping any remaining yeast into the bowl as well.
  • Set your stand mixer kneading, using a dough hook attachment. If you are hand-kneading your dough, mix the ingredients until they have just come together and turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.
  • Once the dough has been thoroughly kneaded and has become smooth, add the other portion of butter and let it be worked into the dough.
  • Once your dough has absorbed the extra butter and become smooth and elastic again, place it into a greased bowl and cover it with cling film. Put it in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size. It pays to visualise how much bigger it will look when roughly doubled in case you forget how big it initially was.
  • Once the dough has risen, punch it down and take it out of the bowl to put into your chosen, greased loaf pans or to form into the bread shape you wish to bake.
  • Leave the formed dough to rise again. This is the rising that will trap the air that will remain in your bread and make it light and fluffy, so be gentle and try not to mess it around.
  • Once the dough has proved*, you can wash it with egg or milk and bake it at 190°C, until the crust is dark, golden brown. To know more accurately if it is cooked, you can use a probe thermometer to check if the core is 92°C. You can check free-form loaves by tapping their base and seeing if it makes a hollow sound, but this does not help if you are baking in a container.
  • When you are satisfied that your loaf is cooked, turn it out onto a cooling rack.

*The general rule for proofing is that if you can make a dimple in it with a finger and it pops back again, or if it is roughly double in size, it is ready for the oven.

If you are using your light brioche to make burger buns, you can sprinkle sesame seeds or poppy seeds on top once you have washed them with egg.