A real charmer

Sshhhhh… I’m not supposed to be blogging, I’m supposed to be having a quick look for a birthday present for the Boy Wonder’s mum and getting dressed and getting organised to leave the house. But then I spotted this charm from the ever-so-lovely Black Dawg Studio and it was too cute not to share. There are lots more, including a very cool coffee-inspired one – but I have to dash!

The winning Juicy Fruit Loaf

The last time I stayed with my in-laws, in their tiny town on New Zealand’s wild West Coast, I nearly caused a diplomatic incident. It was the long, hot summer of 2008 and we were waiting for our visas to be extended so we could return to London and continue tripping about Europe like a pair of Antipodean gypsies. The Boy Wonder was in heaven, playing cricket every day and gambling at the pub with his little brother. I, on the other hand, ran on the beach, reads lots of books and perfected my entry for the local A&P show.
These shows are a Kiwi summer institution, where plants, produce and baking are judged along with animals, flower arranging displays and tractors. There are ferris wheels and candy floss, shy teenagers and ruddy-faced men in tweed hats.

Nikau palms, West Coast, New Zealand

I decided to enter the baking section as a sort of post-modern feminist statement (and because I was really bored). My in-laws were most amused, but not as much as when my fruit loaf beat off all other contenders and I came home with a photocopied certificate. The Boy Wonder’s aunt still laughs at the memory of overhearing two local stalwarts looking at my name beside my prizewinning loaf. “Who’s that?” one asked the other. “Never heard of her,” the other one sniffed.

One loaf to rule them all…

Juicy Fruit Loaf
This moist, tangy loaf has no butter, oil or eggs, but plenty of punchy fruit flavours. Given the chance, it keeps well in an airtight container. This recipe was emailed to me via a forum and I suspect it may be the brainchild of foodwriter Joan Bishop, even though the authorship was never made clear. Thank you Joan, it’s amazing.

250g dried fruit (I use a mix of sultanas, dates and apricots)
120g grated carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
1 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is best, out of a carton is ok)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
zest of an orange and a lemon
3 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, or golden syrup)
2 small bananas, thinly sliced
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda

Grease and line a 6-7 cup capacity loaf tin and preheat the oven to 170C.
Put the dried fruit, carrot, orange and lemon juice and zest and brown sugar into a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and let simmer, uncovered, for five minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then gently stir in the sliced bananas. Sift in the dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon and baking soda) and mix well, then scrape into the loaf tin. Bake for about an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for five minutes, then turn out onto a cake rack.

Musical Monday: Zorbing

Last weekend my sister introduced me to this song, while we lay on her sofa and talked about books and gardens and the latest comings and goings on Coronation Street. Then she had to show me the video so we could discuss the merits of these sweet boys who sing it. See what you think…

Sweet sweet Friday: Caramel Oranges

Last week, on leg one of the great Moving-House-And-Having-A-Holiday road trip, we stayed with my sister in sunny Hawkes Bay. This part of New Zealand, on the eastern coast of the North Island, is renowned for its gorgeous Art Deco architecture and amazing climate. My sister has an incredible garden, filled with flowers and fruit trees and all sorts of things that would never grow anywhere else in the country.

Her two navel orange trees were laden with glowing orange globes and the Small Girl was in heaven. “Balls, balls!,” she shrieked, running towards them.

I ate loads of them, standing over the kitchen sink as sweet, tangy juice ran down my forearms. Later, my sister made Nigella’s Chilled Caramelised Oranges with Greek Yoghurt from Forever Summer. The recipe uses a frightening amount of sugar (it works out to 125g per person!), but the caramel sets hard on the plate and we consoled ourselves that we didn’t actually eat all of it. And surely, all that vitamin C counteracts the evils of sugar…

Now we’re on the West Coast of the South Island and the whitebait are running. Will the Boy Wonder and his brothers catch any? Here’s hoping for a sweet, sweet Friday for you all while we find out…

Settling in

A KitchenMaid’s home is her castle (at least, the top half of one is!)

We are – at last – unpacked and our new house is beginning to feel more like home. We’ve lived in this city before, but never in this particular area, and it feels like an exotic new country. The nice thing though, is that there are old friends here. One even turned up last night, brandishing a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine. Then she spotted a friend of hers walking up the street and it turns out that she’s our downstairs neighbour. So dearest Sally and Jen-from-downstairs sat at the island in the kitchen (I have a kitchen with an island!) and we gossiped and laughed and drank rose while I rustled up a little something to eat.

I did mean to take some shots of the finished product but wine and cameras and old friends don’t mix.

Nigella’s linguine with lemon, garlic and thyme mushrooms has been a staple in our house ever since I bought Nigella Express a few months ago. Actually, it was the main reason I bought the book. It’s dead easy – marinate mushrooms in lemon, garlic, olive oil and thyme, then toss through cooked pasta – and delicious. You can find the full recipe text here – though I usually add some chopped black olives for an extra hit of saltiness. I also boost the mushroom-to-pasta content, otherwise you end up with a lot of pasta and not many mushrooms. Our new house has a tiny clump of thyme growing in the back graden, but you can leave it out or substitute lots of parsley.

Tomorrow we are off on the second leg of our road trip – the one to recover from moving in. More posts from the road to follow!