Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cranberry & Almond Cupcakes

I don't know about you, but I get to a point on a Saturday chained the computer writing a statistics assignment when I just have to bake cupcakes. No? Maybe it's just me then.

Baking always seems to lift my spirits up and refreshes me ready for another evening filled with proof-reading. And cupcakes are the mother of all baked spirit lifters.

Those that know me will be aware that I have a bit of a compulsion with lists. You give me a list, or a book than can be interpreted as a list, and I will aim to complete every item on that list even if it involves a lifestyle choice for several decades.

One of those is the Australian Women's Weekly Bake, described as "the definitive book on baking". Well Women's Weekly, I accept your challenge of 600 pages of Australia's best baking recipes and I've got a little gold star to stick on each and every recipe I get through. Why? Because I can.

This gold star went on their Very Berry Cupcake recipe which was a simple butter cake with dried berries and almonds included. Despite the AWW informing me that "dried berries, especially strawberries, are easy to find in any supermarket", my local Woolies was bereft of any dried berry other than cranberry. I did swing by the fresh fruit section with the hopes of replacing my dried berries with fresh blueberries - but at $9 per 100g punnet I returned to the baking aisle and sulkily collected my cranberries.

This turned out to be the first-worldest of problems as my cakes tasted delicious... but would have been better with fresh blueberries.

Very (cran)Berry Cupcakes

Courtesy of the Australian Women's Weekly


125g butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 cup dried cranberries (replace with whatever berries you like)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup self raising flour
1/4 (60ml) milk

Cream Cheese Icing

30g butter, softened
80g cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups icing sugar

Beat your butter, vanilla extract, sugar and eggs in a small bowl until light and fluffy (butter tip - if it's not soft enough you can grate it so it will beat easier).

Stir in dried berries, almonds, then sifted flours and  milk. Divide your mix across 12 cupcake cases and smooth the surface.

Bake for 35 minutes in a preheated 140'c oven. Turn out on a wire rack to cool.

To make the icing, beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy then gradually beat in sifted icing sugar.

I coloured my icing as I'm trying to learn better decorating techniques. My cake baking usually consists of getting the cakes out of the oven and enjoying them as soon as possible. But I want to become a better cake decorator. With these cakes I was going for a magenta icing to match the cranberries, but ended up with more of a lavender as my blue went a little crazy. But hey, it's all a learning curve :)

What I would do differently next time

I would use fresh blueberries next time and hold the almonds (mainly because I don't really like nuts, so I'm not sure why I put them in in the first place)

I'd also put a teaspoon or so of baking soda in just to get some more rise. These cakes are a little denser than I like my butter cakes.

Enjoy your baking everyone.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Brisbane Staycation - Suitcase Rummage

One of the best ideas I've come across in a long time, the Suitcase Rummage is an urban flea market that takes over Reddacliffe Place in Brisbane's CBD on the first Sunday of each month.

I've had this one on my 'must check out' list for a while and my month of blogging gave me the perfect excuse to tick it off. I love a good market, but an un-tested market can be deadly endeavour.

You never know if you're going to be surrounded by dated handi-crafts that aren't quite retro or you feel like you've just walked into a discount shop filled with imported plastic junk. There's the risk of their being too much fresh produce when you've already done your grocery shop, nothing but second hand kids toys and a handful of bad-smelling jackets or, even worse, it's full of amazing vintage buys but everything is out of your price range.

What makes a virgin market visit all the more intimidating is when you bring a friend along with you and you're responsible for the success or failure of the market outing.

Luckily the Brisbane Suitcase Rummage was a gold-mine of second-hand clothes and hand-made goods. On top of this it has an organic, spur-of-the-moment feel, as all the stall holders bring their goods in suitcases and display them on picnic blankets like a car-boot sale with no cars. This makes a refreshing change from the professional looking fit-outs of gazebos an designer-styled product displays. It took me right back to my childhood of wandering around the Redland Bay flea market with a 50c coin in my hand that I could spend however I wanted. (Usually I came home with some strange ceramic animal that has long since returned to an op-shop somewhere).

The day we visited the stalls were heavily weighted towards second-hand clothes. Most of which were relatively new, though there was a skew towards smaller sizes. There were a few vintage sellers there and a handful of hand-made crafts on offer, but the restrictions of 'bring your stock in suitcases' means you are likely to be browsing clothing if you attend.

I snagged a lovely blue cardigan and a floral button up shirt, but there were many more gems in the piles that I couldn't afford. This makes me sound like I have absolutely no money, which is true until I finish up my university degree. I'll definitely be returning with some more cash in hand to refill my wardrobe next month.

Staycation Summary

What: Suitcase Rummage
Where: Redacliffe Place, Brisbane CBD
When: First Sunday of every month
How much: Free! Unless you want to buy things - but flea market prices, so pretty cheap
Recommended for: Bargain hunters, general browsers, vintage clothes shoppers
note - there is also a Suitcase Rummage in Melbourne at the Thornbury Theatre 

Recommend a Staycation Idea

Have you got a place you love to visit or really want to visit. Let me know in the comments and I'll check it out.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Living Below the Line - Day 5

End of day 5 - the aftermath... I'm not eating that bread crust
It's over!

While yesterday wasn't the hardest day physically, it was definitely the hardest psychologically. On several occasions throughout the day I found myself absent-mindedly getting up to make a cup of tea and having to remind myself I couldn't. I kept thinking, "It's the last day, who will know. What is one more day anyway..." but my resolve stuck and I didn't crack.

I'm also thrilled to announce that I raised $270 towards Live Below the Line, which beat my goal of $250 (of course you can still donate by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post).

I was going to try and use up whatever I had left on the last day, but that would have entailed eating about 10 bowls of porridge which was never going to happen so I'm proud to say I have food left over.

Breakfast - a bowl of porridge with milk (7c)

Mid morning snack - 2 pieces of buttered toast (13c)

Lunch - 2 minute noodles with vegetables and barley in broth (43c)

Afternoon snack - a bowl of porridge with milk (7c)

Dinner - an omelette with zucchini, barley, onion and garlic ($1.25)
This would have been delicious with some cheese, salt and pepper so I'll file it away to try again when I don't have such a strict budget

Not quite Jamie omelette
Day 5 total - $1.95

Week total - $8.36

I learnt a lot this week doing the challenge. I learnt how hard it is to be so strict with what you eat you have to go hungry some days. I learnt that flavour is a luxury that most people can't afford. I learnt that nutrition is also a luxury as I felt drained and fatigued every day of the challenge. And I learnt I can make 1 onion and half a bulb of garlic stretch across 5 meals!

I also learnt that social support is one of the most important things when undergoing a struggle like this. I never would have been able to finish this challenge if it hadn't been for the fact that three of my very close friends were doing it with me. Even though we didn't see each other throughout the week (two being in other states) it made all the difference to get an email or a text message in the middle of the day asking how I was going and sharing their struggles. Just knowing my friends were going through the same thing made it easier.

Finally I learnt that living this way is easy when you know you have a plate of bacon and coffee and oven baked pizzas waiting on the other end of the five days, which is something millions of people don't get. While what I put in my mouth matched living below the poverty line for a week I still had an unlimited supply of clean water. I still had a roof over my head and a safe place to sleep. And if worse came to worse, and I got so sick I couldn't continue, I had a support system there to take care of me.

Thank you to everyone who donated throughout my challenge, seeing the numbers climb each day made living below the line worthwhile. A reminder that you can still donate up to the 31st July so if you haven't yet, please drop some money into this very worthy cause.

Now, if you don't mind, I'm off to eat an obscene amount of bacon.

Please support my effors the Live Below the Line Challenge by clicking here. Even a couple of dollars will make the difference! The money raised goes towards educating children in Cambodia and New Guinea in order to break the poverty cycle

Friday, May 10, 2013

Living Below the Line - Day 4

End of day 4 - I'll be feasting on oats & eggs for my last day

It's the last day of my Live Below the Line Challenge and I'm amazed by how quickly I slipped into the routine of counting everything I ate. That being said, I will be exceedingly glad to put the home brand pasta aside on Saturday and eat whatever I like.

Yesterday was relatively non-eventful. With a full day in the office there wasn't much to tempt me which made it easier. I did long for a cup of tea when I got home though. One more day and it will be rivers of tea again.

I had a much easier day of it today which was a combination of being frugal with my food at the start of the week leaving me much more to eat in the last few days and the psychology of knowing it would be over soon.

Breakfast - a bowl of porridge and 2 poached eggs on toast (65c)

Breakfast of kings!
Lunch - 2 minute noodles with vegetables and barley in broth (43c)

Afternoon Snack - 1 pear (33c)

Dinner - Leftover pasta with zucchini & barley (74c)

Day 4 total - $2.15 (I know, I went over by 15c - but considering I ate under $1.50 all the other days of the week, I'll let this one slide)

With only one day left of the challenge I'm reflecting on how lucky I am that come Saturday morning I can eat a plate of pancakes and bacon. I can drink as much tea as I like. I can pop up to the shops for fresh vegetables and free range eggs and chocolate and coffee. I was lucky enough to be born in a country where an education is easily accessible and my parents were able to put food on the table three times a day.

If you can say the same thing I urge you to please donate to Live Below the Line to help give an education to children in Cambodia and New Guinea and release them from the cycle of poverty. I'm only $80 away from my fundraising goal - if just 8 people donate $10 I will make it.

Thank you to the generosity of those who have donated already. I, and others you will never meet, heartily appreciate it.

DFTBA every body!

Please support my effors the Live Below the Line Challenge by clicking here. Even a couple of dollars will make the difference! The money raised goes towards educating children in Cambodia and New Guinea in order to break the poverty cycle

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Living Below the Line - Day 3

End of day 3 - Looks like I'm going to be fine for the last 2 days

It's officially half way!

The general consensus across all my fellow LBLer's is that Day 2 sucked beyond the telling of it, but it was definitely the worst.

I also came the joyous realisation that I had been rationing my food so severely that I have a metaphorical cornucopia of foodstuff for the last two days of my challenge. (2 eggs for breakfast today!)

I'm also feeling particularly enthused as I submitted a major assignment last night and am now proceeding rapidly towards the end of semester.

Food for Day 3...

Breakfast - 1 bowl of porridge (getting used to the lack of sweet-stuff on it) (7c)

+ a glass of boiling water (which tastes nothing like tea, but is free)

Boiling water ≠ Tea

Mid morning snack - 2 pieces of buttered toast (13c)

Lunch - noodles and vegetables in broth  (29c)

Afternoon snack - 1 pear (33c)

Literally the best thing I've eaten all week

Dinner - a much better version of pasta where I wasn't so impatient and cooked a nice pasta sauce with fried zucchini and pear parley (74c)

It could still do with some cheese - but much better than the last pasta effort

Day 3 total = $1.56

In just two days I'll be able to eat whatever I want, but there are people the world over that don't have the luxury. Please donate to Live Below the Line to help children in Cambodia and New Guinea break out of the poverty cycle by getting an education.

You can sponsor me in my Live Below the Line Challenge by clicking here. The money raised goes towards educating children in Cambodia and New Guinea in order to break the poverty cycle

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Living Below the Line - Day 2

End of day 2 - and there still some frozen vegies in the freezer

The morning of day 2 was probably the worst I've felt so far. I felt extremely tired and light headed. I was having trouble concentrating and keeping my vision in focus. I felt so bad I wondered if I was able to go on at all. After speaking to another friend doing the challenge she assured me it would be okay to have a cup of tea and then see how I felt. So I did, and I did feel better. The rest of the day picked up from there.

Breakfast - 1 bowl of oats and milk (8c)

Mid-Morning Snack - cup of tea with milk and sugar & 2 slices of buttered toast (15c)

Lunch - 2 minute noodles with frozen vegies in broth (29c)

Dinner - the left over horrible pasta from the night before :( (71c)

Day 2 Total - $1.23

After the morning slump, yesterday was easier. I didn't go to bed hungry and I got a good nights sleep. Today is the last of the uphill climb so whatever happens I know it will be over soon.

I can't imagine how awful it would be to go on for the rest of your life living like this, and not having the opportunity to do anything else. Live Below the Line is not just donating  funds to buy people food. They are aiming to break the poverty cycle in Cambodia and New Guinea where peoples choices are between sending their children to school and going hungry or sending their children to work and having a meager amount of food on the table.

By donating you are helping to educate children in these developing countries to break out of the poverty cycle. If you can skip your morning coffee today and donate the money instead that will make a difference.

You can sponsor me in my Live Below the Line Challenge by clicking here. The money raised goes towards educating children in Cambodia and New Guinea in order to break the poverty cycle

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Living Below the Line - Day 1

End of day 1 - the pile is reducing scarily fast!

I was going to post this last night but after I ate dinner I was so tired I just went to bed.

Day 1 was very hard. I'd like to think that was the hardest hill to climb (shock to the system and all that) but I think that would be naively optimistic.

The first few hours were okay as I usually eat a late breakfast anyway. I managed to con myself in thinking I was having comforting cups of tea by drinking boiled cups of water. It seems to have worked to some extent as I am drinking one right now as I type this.

Breakfast consisted of a poached egg and two pieces of toast with butter. It was tasty, but didn't fill me up as much as I would have liked.

Poached egg on toast - 39c

By 10am I was starving again so I made a bowl of porridge which was possibly the most uninspiring thing I've ever eaten as I couldn't but anything on it. But it filled me up quite well.

Tasteless Porridge - 8c

I was trying to make it until 2ish until I ate lunch but only got to 1pm before I cracked and made my 2 minute noodles with some frozen vegetables thrown in. I left the broth in and slurped down every last drop. This was quite a satisfactory lunch.

2 minute noodles + vege in broth - 29c

Dinner was... sigh... dinner was horrible. I love my pasta, but I just couldn't love this pasta. Dinner was a combination of various factors that mixed to make the most disappointing dinner ever.

Disappointing pasta - 71c

Recipe for the worst pasta ever

  1. Take home brand pasta and mix with a sauce created out of only tin tomatoes, onion and garlic.
  2. Of course, you don't have any oil so you use a little butter to fry the garlic and onions with but that burns off so quickly your onions start to stick to the bottom of the pan.
  3. You are both not wanting to waste your precious onions and are so hungry you can't wait for anything to cook properly you tip the can of tomatoes in there.
  4. You taste the sauce like you would normally and are saddened to discover you can't taste any garlic or onion, just tinned tomato (and we all know how 'great' they taste).
  5. Dump the frozen vegetables in and basically just wait until they thaw.
  6. Now add your pasta and stare longingly towards the fridge where you have some cheese that you absolutely can't grate on to the top of it.
  7. Serve and scowl at your horrible dinner that you also have to eat tomorrow night because you cooked up two batches.

Then I curled up on the couch thinking I should attempt to get some of an assignment that is due tomorrow done, but felt so weak I just went to bed.

And it's only day 1!

Day 1 total = $1.47

Please support my effors the Live Below the Line Challenge by clicking here. Even a couple of dollars will make the difference! The money raised goes towards educating children in Cambodia and New Guinea in order to break the poverty cycle