Musical Monday: It’s a heartache

A heartbreaking song of staggering genius (sorry, Dave Eggers) from my new (old) hometown. I used to live just up the road from Deluxe Cafe (featured in the video) and can definitely vouch for their pies…

Sweet sweet Friday: Spicy parsnip and pecan cakes

Sacha is supposed to be having a baby today. She’s been expecting him for two weeks (as a former newspaper photographer she knows all about deadlines). But last night she sent me a text saying that the baby had to stay put until Monday, because she’s shooting a wedding tomorrow and she doesn’t have time to have it today!

When the Small Girl came into our lives the thing I appreciated most was people bearing gifts of food. I felt really bad when I realised we would be gone before Sacha’s new baby came, so I made her a double batch of cupcakes and some other, more wholesome, baked goods for her freezer. She laughed her head off when I told her they were for when the baby arrived. “Do you really think we can wait that long?!”

If he knows what’s good for him, little Reed will do what he’s told and stay inside for a few days longer. In the meantime, hope you all have a sweet, sweet Friday. If you’ve got a friend in need, bake them a batch of these spicy parsnip and pecan cupcakes, topped with a caramel cream cheese frosting. Or you could make them for yourself!

Spicy Parsnip and Pecan Cakes
This recipe is inspired by one I copied out of a Julie Le Clerc book when I was a bored personal assistant with time on my hands. I’d carted it around in my notebook for years, but didn’t make it until just before the Small Girl was born (when I also had lots of time on my hands). I’ve changed the spices, swapped brown sugar for white and added nuts, but Julie’s recipe is pretty much perfect.

1 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
4 cups grated parsnip
1 1/3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup chopped dates
3/4 cup pecans (or walnuts), roughly chopped
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp grated nutmeg (optional)

Preheat oven to 160C and either grease and line the bottom of a a 20cm springform cake tin, or put cupcake liners in about 18 standard-size muffin pans.
Beat the sugar, oil and vanilla together to combine, then add eggs one at a time, beating until mixture is creamy. Stir in pineapple, then sift in the dry ingredients. Stir to mix, then add the grated parsnip, dates and nuts. Pour into the prepared cake tin(s) and bake for around 80 mins (cake) or 25 mins (cupcakes) – or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Ice with generous amounts of the following frosting:

Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting – inspired by the Ottolenghi Cookbook
Beat together 100g soft, soft, soft butter with 75g soft brown sugar (or that lovely dark, sticky muscovado sugar, if you can get it) and three tablespoons of golden syrup. Then beat in 200g cream cheese (room temperature) until you have a satin-smooth mixture. Eat this out of the bowl with a spoon, then make another batch to ice the cakes with. I went down the piped rosette route for Sacha, but this icing looks lovely just slathered on with a generous hand.

In my pantry…

Clever Debby, who blogs at Cooking Up A Storm In A Teacup, has started a brilliant meme looking at pantries (and their contents). Her post about it is really beautiful and the photos of her pantry are enough to induce fits of jealousy in the most well-mannered of KitchenMaids. As Debby says, “Don’t you just love nosing inside other people’s cupboards?”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s in our cupboards lately, because we’ve had to start from scratch due to moving house. I keep opening the pantry and realising that, damn, we don’t have any cinnamon/orzo/cornflour. Then, this morning I left the pantry door open and my little kitchen helper discovered a bag of icing sugar… she sat there happily (and so quietly) for ages, like a little cocaine addict getting her fix (and was quite cross when I vacuumed it all away!)

So when I’ve restocked properly, I’ll invite you back to come and have a look. In the meantime, take a look at what Caz has in her pantry. Have you ever seen such an impressive line-up of breakfast cereals? Go on, why don’t you show us what’s in yours?

Memories of Makiri

Makiri, my great aunt with the dazzling blue eyes and wicked grin, has died. She was 97 and for the last few years lived in the horrible twilight of dementia, but her death still feels like a terrible loss. Makiri, who grew up in a remote rural area in New Zealand, was named after a Maori princess. She told us amazing stories about her childhood, such as the tale about their pet pony, Pocket Edition, who was allowed to come in the house and sleep in a real bed. Retelling this story to someone else recently it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t entirely true – but as a child I would believe anything Makiri told me.

She and Uncle Jack were like fantasy relatives from books. Uncle Jack had a booming laugh and would burst into song or dance at the drop of a hat, while Makiri carried a solid navy handbag from which she could dispense barley sugar sweets whenever a parent wasn’t looking. When they came to stay with us she would make pikelets in the shape of cats and choux pastry swans. When we went to stay with them, she would have a collection of specially chosen library books and I was allowed to drink ginger ale from a crystal tumbler.

Yesterday in honour of her memory I tried to make cat pikelets for the Small Girl. I need more practice – like everything Makiri did, it’s harder than it looks – but they still tasted great. Next stop, choux pastry swans and a pony who sleeps in a real bed.

Perfect Pikelets
Every Antipodean has a pikelet recipe, handed down from generation to generation. Here’s mine, adapted from the trusty Edmonds Cookbook. The first pikelet, like the first pancake, is always a disaster. Gobble it up and keep going.

1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup natural yoghurt

Beat the egg and sugar together in a bowl, then sift in the dry ingredients. Stir to mix, then add the milk and yoghurt and mix gently to combine. Lightly grease a heavy frying pan with a little butter and place over medium heat. Drop dessertspoonfuls of the mixture into the pan (hold the spoon vertically to get a perfect round). Cook until bubbles appear on top, then flip gently and cook for a few minutes more. Best eaten warm from the pan, or cold with lashings of butter and raspberry jam.

Guilty Pleasures: Fish fingers

The Small Girl is going through what child experts call a developmental phase. In other words, she is turning into one of those children that kicks, screams, wails – and refuses to eat. I know it’s not about me, but it breaks my heart when she pushes away the things I’ve made for her, even if it’s a piece of toast. Actually, toast is one of the few things she will eat. Toast, plain penne, peas and crackers. Her attitude to food reminds me of a sign I once saw above a racecourse cafe: “If you can’t fry it, don’t buy it.” Now I know why people end up feeding their children Turkey Twizzlers and McDonalds, because they are emotionally ruined by years of tantrums at dinner time.

But before Social Services come and take me away, I want it on record that the empty fish finger packet in our recycling bin is not a sign of my unfit mothering. No, I bought fish fingers (‘Simply Natural Oat Crumbed Hoki Fillets’) because I genuinely love them. I KNOW they’re only 50 per cent fish and that the crumb coating is nothing more than a cellulite enhancer, but there’s something about fish fingers that I find inherently comforting. They have to be crumbed though – I haven’t fallen so far that I’ll eat those vile faux tempura ones. Anyway, every now and then we have them with the Boy Wonder’s home made oven chips and my new favourite invention, Yoghurt Tartare Sauce. It makes me feel less guilty about my culinary failings and momentarily distracts me from my maternal ones.

Yoghurt Tartare Sauce
Pour about a cup of natural, unsweetened yoghurt into a pretty serving bowl. Add the zest and juice of a lemon, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a tiny clove of garlic (crushed with some salt), a tablespoon of capers and a few finely chopped gherkins (about 1/3 of a cup). Stir gently to mix, then taste for seasoning. Good with fish and chips, even if they’ve come out of a packet.