My creative space…

Occasionally the KitchenMaid steps out of her usual realm and into other domains. This week I’ve gone back to working in an office with other, real life people, for two days a week. This has had its ups and its downs, as I’m sure you can imagine. The ups – leaving the house alone, wearing nice(ish) clothes, having uninterrupted conversations with adults who see me as something other than a mother. The downs – having a bit of separation anxiety, worrying if I have done the right thing, being suddenly answerable to a real life boss. The even further downs of this week – getting home last night to find the gas company had cut the supply, thus no hot water and no way of cooking the Small Girl’s dinner (hello, Marmite sandwiches!), realising that those bites we are all studded with are, in fact, fleas (thank you, landlord’s cat!)

On a brighter note, the weekends we spent digging up a strip of our tiny backyard are paying off, with little lettuces and basil beginning to sprout.

The garden has been a bit of a joint creative space in recent weeks – now we just need some good weather to enjoy it. What’s happening at your place this week? You can see more creative spaces here. In the meantime, anyone know a child-friendly way to kill fleas?

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…

Sweet sweet Friday: Vegan Cupcakes

I’ve been making lots of cupcakes this week – the Boy Wonder took some to work and I froze the rest for Erin the Amazing Babysitter. Erin came into our lives when I started making cupcakes for a local craft market and she became my unofficial tester. I try to have some on hand whenever she comes over, which seems especially important now that we’re leaving town. I asked her mother if we could take Erin with us and she said “No! You’re not taking your daughter and mine away from me!” Oh well. Maybe I can send them some cupcakes from our new kitchen.

Best Ever Vegan-Friendly Chocolate Cupcakes

Once upon a time I had a brief flirtation with veganism. It didn’t last (I didn’t miss meat or eggs, but a life without butter, yoghurt or ice cream? No thanks!) but I discovered lots of my favourite cake recipes were vegan-friendly anyway.
This is my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe. It’s dark, moist, quick to make and freezes brilliantly. The flavour improves the day after baking (if you can resist them for 24 hours).

2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3/4 cup coconut
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups cold coffee (or water)
3 Tbsp vinegar

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put cupcake liners in two 12-hole muffin tins.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and sugar into a large bowl, then stir in the coconut.
Mix the wet ingredients in a jug, then pour them into the dry. Mix well. Pour the mixture in the cake tin, or divide equally between the cupcake liners (I usually get around 22 cupcakes out of it).
Bake for about 20 minutes. Leave in the tin for five minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.
This can also be baked in a 23cm cake tin, for about 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to crack a decent vegan icing – butter is just TOO important! These are fine dusted with icing sugar, but most of the time I use the Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. It’s almost worth the price of the book by itself – a silky, voluptuous frosting that adds a very decadent touch. Just beat 75g very soft butter, 30g sifted cocoa and 200g icing sugar until very light and fluffy (easiest in a mixer or with an electric beater). Add 150g fridge-cold cream cheese and beat until even lighter and fluffier. Try not to eat it all before you get some on the cupcakes.
Have a sweet weekend, everyone!

A Zombie Ate My Cupcake

We get plenty of scary things in the post (our last gas bill was like something from a horror film), but nothing as frightening as this…

Run, don’t walk, it’s A Zombie Ate My Cupcake by Lily Vanilli!

Now, neither sugarcraft or zombies are really my cup of tea. In fact, I’d rather eat cupcakes that look like these ones at LouLovesFood, and I dream of making ones that look as good as these ones at Adventures in Cake, but there’s no denying that Lily’s little cakes have something about them.
Ms Vanilli (real name Lily Jones) is a graphic artist-turned-cupcake-queen from east London (where else?), who has a suitably chic back story. She started from humble beginnings, selling her wares in a little-visited market off Brick Lane, and is now the darling of the cupcake eating set. She makes all sorts of fancy cakes for the rich and famous and even stars in a Levi’s ad. The press release with the book calls her a ‘cake sculptor’, which is a pretty cool title.

But what I like about this book is that beneath the (fake) blood and gore lie some really good cake recipes, like Honey and Almond and Pecan, Nutmeg and Cinnamon, along with more usual suspects like Chocolate, Red Velvet and Vanilla. I’m not about to attempt ‘Zombie Hands’ or ‘Sweeney Todd’s Surprise’ just yet, but Hallowe’en is just a month away…

Hot stuff

Do you remember Space Dust? It was a sherbet-y, crackly sort of powder that fizzled on your tongue and made your lips tingle. Last night we had the same experience thanks to an amazing takeaway feast (even KitchenMaids need a break from cooking occasionally).

We’ve become addicted to the food at a new Szechuan place in town. We’re usually the only non-Chinese in there and the sweet lady behind the counter always looks a bit concerned when we order, asking if “hot is ok?”

Their Szechuan dumplings, silky little envelopes of minced pork drizzled with a sweet, gingery sauce, are a must, but last night we branched out and ordered ‘chicken with Szechuan pepper’.

When we unpacked it I thought there had been a mistake. There were two enormous boxes, filled to the brim with glistening dried chillies and chunks of spice-coated chicken. We tucked into one, searching out nuggets of chicken buried beneath the chillies. It was hot, but not chilli-hot. Instead, there was this weird sensation, a kind of tingling that started on your tongue and spread to the rest of your mouth.

I’d read about Szechuan pepper before, in Fuschia Dunlop’s amazing memoir, Sharks Fin And Sichuan Pepper, but never tasted it. She describes it in the book:

That incomparable tongue-numbing sensation of Sichuan pepper, a fizzing that starts stealthily and rises to a mouth-streaming, breathtaking crescendo that can last for twenty minutes before it slowly, gradually dies away.

During her time in China Fuschia even searched out fresh Sichuan pepper and ate it straight from the tree. In China, it is venerated not only as a condiment and flavouring but also as a medicinal herb and a symbol of fertility. In remote parts of the Szechuan province the peppercorns are thrown over newlyweds as a sort of confetti. Let’s hope no one gets it in their eyes.

Anyway, it’s the most amazing taste sensation. Needless to say, we devoured every last bit.