Mistakes are th…

Mistakes are the portals of discovery.
JAMES JOYCE

I would like to say I made a mistake once, but I was mistaken.

Just joking. I’ve made loads of mistakes. No doubt I’ll make many more.

I wish I could say I’ve never made the same mistake twice, but I have. Sometimes I’m a slow learner. At some point I seem to discover that I’m getting is the same result over and over, but I wouldn’t call that a great discovery.

Oh well. I’m happy to benefit from other people’s discoveries which have come about because of mistakes. Chocolate Chip Cookies were actually invented by mistake, by Ruth Wakefield when she ran out of baker’s chocolate.

I don’t know if that was the kind of discovery James Joyce meant, but it works for me.

 

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel

Some one I used to work with gave me some career advice once. He said, never start a new job without knowing what your next position is going to be. I had just moved from years of working in retail (behind a counter serving customers) into the corporate world.

He was right. If you are ambitious, you need a career plan.

I’m about to start a new role and am feeling confident about my ability to do the job (and I can learn what I don’t know), however, the environment I work in is a bit of a boy’s club, and I don’t want to be the token female. In order to make the most of the opportunity which has just come my way, I read Lois P. Frankel’s book, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office for tips.

The sub title of the book is ‘Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers,’ which is self explanatory, although I know a few men who could learn from this book also.

The mistakes are divided into chapters which make perfect sense, for example; How You Act, How You Look and How You Brand and Market Yourself. One hundred mistakes are discussed and Frankel explains why each will hinder you in your career. She also gives great examples on how to change your behaviour and how to make difficult situations work to your advantage.

There are several changes I’m going to put into practice right away. Some are so obvious, I can’t believe I’ve never noticed that I’ve been doing them.

For example, mistake # 47 is not using your whole name when you introduce yourself or answer the phone. I’ve been guilty of this one for quite a while now. Coming from a retail background, I’ve been answering the phone with an enormous spiel, “Good Morning, [the name of my company], this is Rose,” but I won’t be anymore. My boss answers the phone with his whole name and no spiel, and that is what I’ll be doing too, (using my whole name, not his).

Skipping meetings is mistake #37. In the past, I’ve used the time while others are in meetings (which are long and boring and I thought of no use to me) to plough through my work in peace and quiet, but from now on, I’ll be attending meetings, sitting next to the boss (which according to Frankel makes you appear be important and in the know) and speaking early.

Mistake #27 according to Frankel, is feeding others. I love to bake and often bring in surplus to work. However, I’ll stick with this mistake, as the environment I work in is one where other staff bring in excess fruit and vegetables from their gardens, or share sweets. I will to continue to bake and leave my biscuits and cakes in the lunchroom, as a strategy which strengthens my relationships with my colleagues.

I intend to read this book again in a few months as a revision and then guess what? My boss had better watch out, because I’ve got his job in my sights for my next position.

White Chocolate and Pecan Biscuits

You know how sometimes you read through a recipe and you’re not sure if you are going to like how it tastes, but you make it anyway?

That’s what happened to me here.

I was flicking through a recipe book that I bought ages ago from an Op Shop (second hand goods charity shop) and stopped at the picture for these White Chocolate and Pecan biscuits with cream cheese. I’ve never made biscuits using cream cheese before, and I don’t usually make biscuits that need to be cut or pressed, as I haven’t had much success with them in the past. However, I still have loads of white chocolate in the cupboard to use up, which is now just past its ‘best before’ date (but as everyone knows, chocolate doesn’t really go off – see my earlier post for White Chocolate Chip and Ginger Biscuits for the full story of how I come to have so much white chocolate in the pantry), so I decided to give this recipe a try.

Usually when I make biscuits I ‘sample’ quite a few while they are waiting to go into the oven. With these, I tasted one and the rest were safe.

So, you ask, did the cooked biscuits pass the taste test?

These White Chocolate and Pecan Biscuits are not sweet enough for my taste, but since I can eat brown sugar off a spoon, what I like doesn’t suit everyone. If you like a biscuit which is not terribly sweet, but has a subtle but interesting flavour and texture, you will probably like this recipe.

White Choc and Pecan

White Chocolate and Pecan Biscuits

200 gm butter

125 gm cream cheese

3/4 cup caster sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups plain flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/3 cup pecans, finely chopped

100 g white chocolate, chopped

1  cup pecans, finely chopped, extra

Beat the butter, cream cheese, caster sugar and vanilla until light and creamy.

Stir in the sifted flour and cinnamon using a metal spoon, then mix in the chocolate and  1/3 of a cup of pecans.

Knead the mixture and divide into two parts. Roll each part into a log about 30cm long, then wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the logs in the remainder of the pecans to coat them, before cutting them into slices about 1 cm thick.

Bake at 160 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes (should be lightly golden). Let the biscuits cool on the tray before placing them on a wire rack. Makes about 60 biscuits.

(So why can’t the recipes I love make 60 biscuits? Oh that’s right, because I eat too many of them before they make it into the oven).

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron

I’m a Jane-ite. (For those of you who require translation, Janeite’s read and enjoy Jane Austen novels over and over again, read her letters, read books about her writings, her life and her times, and soak up every other bit of trivia that can be linked to her. We watch movies based on her stories, read novels by other authors who use her characters, or who modernise her stories and so on and on and on). As Jane Austen might say, “It is a truth universally acknowledged” that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Some of the books inspired by Jane Austen’s novels are dreadful. Some have zombies. Some have racy scenes that make me cringe with embarrassment (Jane Austen knew that some things are better left to the imagination). It is the same with the movies and television productions based on Jane Austen’s works, some are disappointing and some are wonderful (in my opinion the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Jennife Ehle and Colin Firth falls under the particularly wonderful banner).

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron, falls under the wonderful banner also.

The book is written as if Jane Austen herself is narrating the story, which is a murder mystery that she finds herself involved in while visiting with her brother, Edward Knight.

The characters in Jane and the Canterbury Tale are as familiar as if they have stepped out of a Jane Austen novel themselves, while others characters are based on her family and members of her community. The references to actual events and family members delighted me. One especially funny conversation has the character, Jane Austen, discussing her novel Pride and Prejudice with a disapproving reader, who was unaware she was the author. The wit in Jane and the Canterbury Tale is as enjoyable as in any of Jane Austen’s novels.

To be honest, murder mysteries aren’t really my thing, but Stephanie Barron’s character of Jane Austen was so believable that I didn’t care. I had a feeling about who the murderer was from the beginning, which turned out to be correct, and that didn’t bother me either. The story of the murder and the subsequent sleuthing was enjoyable, but the absolute delight in this book came from reading about Jane Austen and her family and where they lived and what they did and said and felt.

Reading Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron made me really happy. Knowing that Stephanie Barron has written another ten novels in the voice of Jane Austen makes me even happier.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Biscuits

Chocolate Peanut Butter Biscuits

I love the combination of Peanut Butter and Chocolate. This is the second peanut and chocolate biscuit recipe I have posted, and guess what? There will be more.

These are very soft biscuits, which have a ‘melting moments’ type of texture.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Biscuits

125 gm butter

1/3 C crunchy peanut butter

1/2 C sugar

1 C plain flour

1 Tblspns cocoa

1/2 C bicarb soda

Cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar together until light and creamy.

Fold in the sifted dry ingredients using a metal spoon. Roll teaspoonfuls of mixture into balls and place on baking trays. Flatten with a fork.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 165 degrees Celsius.

Cool the biscuits for a few minutes on the tray before placing on a wire rack. Makes approximately 35 biscuits. (The recipe would make more, but I can’t resist eating the dough).

Essential Ingredients

There are a number of ingredients that if I haven’t got in the pantry, I get anxious. I like to be able to make a batch of biscuits or bake a cake at any time without having to make a trip to the supermarket before I start (this is a silly worry, as I am only a ten minute walk to the shops from home).

My essential ingredients are:

Self raising flour, plain flour, bicarb soda and baking powder.

Butter, eggs and milk.

Caster sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, golden syrup and honey.

Cocoa, chocolate and white chocolate bits, chocolate and white chocolate melts, dark chocolate blocks (can be dangerous if I want something to nibble and there is no other chocolate in the house).

Cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg and ginger.

Vanilla extract (I’m going to be picky here, always extract, never essence).

Coconut, peanut butter, walnuts, pecans and almonds.

Sweetened condensed milk, mixed fruit, raisins and glace cherries.

I usually have apples, lemons and bananas in the fruit bowl too.

Ginger Banana Cake with Lemon Icing

Banana Ginger Cake

Ginger Banana Cake with Lemon Icing is my favourite way to use up old bananas. The hit of ginger is tempered by the golden syrup, so the flavour isn’t overpoweringly ‘gingery.’ I usually make this recipe in two loaf tins, but it is also works in a round or square cake tin.

Ginger Banana Cake

90 gm butter

2 Tblspns golden syrup

1/4 C caster sugar

1/4 C brown sugar

1 egg

3 bananas, mashed

1 and a half Cups self raising flour

1/2 tspn bicarb soda

2 tspns ground ginger

1 Tblspn milk

Grease and line two loaf tins.

Cream the butter, sugars and golden syrup until fluffy. Beat in the egg and then the bananas. Stir in the flour and bicarb soda using a metal spoon, then mix in the milk.

Pour the mixture into the tins and bake at 160 degrees Celsius for around 45 minutes (do the skewer test to make sure the cake is cooked). Stand the cakes for five minutes in their tins before turning them out onto wire racks. Once cool, ice the cakes with lemon icing.

Lemon Icing

1 and a half Cups of icing sugar

30 gm butter

2 Tblspns lemon juice (approximately)

Mix all ingredients together, using more juice if required.

Letters From Our Heart edited by Jennifer Campbell

‘Letters From Our Heart’ is a book which will twist up your heart and squeeze out tears, some of happiness, some of laughter, and a great many tears of sadness, as you empathise with those whose correspondence shows their grief for their loved ones.

I had tears running down my cheeks reading the first letter in ‘Letters From Our Heart,’ and on reading more letters, I quickly found myself at the gulping stage, trying to hold back sobs. Eventually I just grabbed a box of tissues and outright howled as I read.

‘Letters From Our Heart’ is an apt name for this collection of letters which were collected by The Australian newspaper and edited by Jennifer Campbell.  The 100 letters in this book tell the stories of the lives of Australians through their correspondence from Australia’s past. 

A mother’s letters to her small son, telling “My Darling Geoffery” to be a good boy while she was dying in hospital had me bawling like a baby.

One beautiful letter was written by Alfred Deakin, Australia’s second Prime Minister, and was a love letter to his wife. His letter begins; ” Dearest of sweethearts & sweetest of wives.” Someone who received such a letter from her husband would be a very happy woman, in knowing how dearly she was loved by him.

In another section, there are letters written to children from their parents who were away from home, funny little stories about things happening at home and how much they missed their mothers. A letter from a homesick boy at boarding school begging his parents to take him home made me laugh, although the poor little fellow’s misery was dreadful. “O do take me home,” he wrote. Unfortunately the book didn’t say if his parents took pity on him or not on receiving his letter.

Others were written by early settlers, telling those ‘at home in England’ about their new lives in Australia. There were heart-rending letters from Aboriginal mothers and fathers, pleading with the authorities for the return of their children. Another love letter was by a convict, who was about to be executed. He asked his lover not to forget him “when I am far away and my bones is all moldered away.”

There are letters from soldiers describing their adventures in foreign countries to their sweethearts and families at home in Australia, a letter a father must have hated writing, in which he gave his son permission to enlist in the RAAF, and a sorrowful letter from a son at the front to his mother, telling of his sadness at the loss of another brother in the war.

One terribly sad letter from a soldier told grieving parents of how their son, “poor old Percy,” was killed.  The soldier who wrote this letter told went on to tell them of their son’s bravery and of his “decent burial”.

‘Letters From Our Heart’ ripped at my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much reading a book. The people who wrote these letters and those who they were addressed to were real people and their letters create a fuller picture of Australia’s history than reading about dates and places. Their emotions were real and no different to the emotions of people everywhere today.

 The book also made me realise how lucky I am to be an Australian living at this time. The hardships of those who come before me have allowed me this wonderful life. This book should be required reading for every Australian.

Gingerdead Men

Gingerdead men 1

The weather has been way too hot in Melbourne lately to turn the oven on, with most days over 30 degrees Celsius and quite a few over 40 degrees. It has been hot for so long that we have run out of home made biscuits and had to open a packet of biscuits bought from the supermarket (oh, the shame of it all).

To make matters works, I recently bought a Gingerdead Men cookie cutter and have been busting to make gingerbread.

A few days ago we had a cool change, perfect for baking at only 25 degrees Celsius. I was so cold I had my slippers and a jumper on.

125 gm butter

1/2 C brown sugar

1/2 C golden syrup

1 egg, separated

2 and a half Cups of self raising flour

3 Tblspns ground ginger

1 tspn bicarb soda

Beat the butter, sugar and egg yolk together, then stir in half the dry ingredients with half of the golden syrup, then repeat with the other half of the dry ingredients and golden syrup.

Knead the dough on a floured surface, then halve the dough, and roll out between two slices of baking paper to 6mm thick (around 1/4 inch). In hindsight, at this point the dough should go into the fridge for half an hour. My recipe didn’t say to do this, and while the biscuits taste great, the dough was very soft and tore easily when I was cutting out the shapes. Next time I’ll put the dough in the fridge.

Use a cutter to cut out the shapes and cook on baking trays at 180 degrees Celsius for around ten minutes.

Once out of the oven, let the biscuits cool down on the tray.

Gingerdead men 4

Eventually I ran out of patience cutting the soft dough into shapes and rolled out the mixture into a funny looking shape, cut it into bite sized squares and popped it all into the oven. Funnily enough, these pieces turned out to be the nicest of all, probably because I rolled them a bit thicker than the Gingerdead Men.

Gingerdead men 3

Icing the Gingerdead Men was trickier than I expected. This was my first time piping and things didn’t go smoothly (you can see this for yourself in the next photo). I made Royal Icing using pineapple juice as I didn’t have any lemons, which actually tasted really good with the gingerbread.

Royal Icing

1 and a half Cups of icing sugar

1 egg white

1 Tblspn pineapple juice (traditionally lemon juice is used).

Whisk the egg white and juice together until thick and frothy, then whisk in the icing sugar gradually.

I have no advice to give anyone regarding piping, except to say that with practice, I will probably improve.

Gingerdead men 2

When in Doubt, Add Butter by Beth Harbison

Sometimes you know you’re going to be up all night reading. While I was reading ‘When in Doubt, Add Butter’ by Beth Harbison, I was in a lovely fantasy-land of romance, cooking and good times.  

The heroine, Gemma Craig is a capable woman in her late thirties who earns her living cooking for her clients. Her clients range from the weird (fussy eaters who are equally difficult people), to the wonderful (clients who become friends and saviours), the frightening (Russian mafia) right through to Mr Right (likeable, funny, successful, handsome, falls in love and lust with the heroine in seconds – need I say more?)

Gemma has her ups and downs but needless to say, there is a happy ending.

I always know I am going to enjoy novels with pictures of food on the cover. ‘When in Doubt, Add Butter’ has a cover with pretty cupcakes decorated with pastel coloured swirls of butter cream icing that made me happy just to look at them. There is probably a name for Chick-lit with food themes and while I don’t know what it is, the style works for me.

A bit like ‘The Bride Hunter’ by Amy Appleton (see earlier post) I’m not going to remember the storyline in years to come, but that doesn’t matter. I’ll look for more books by Beth Harbison and expect I’ll enjoy them just as much as this one.