Monthly Archives: December 2012

Sharky Oven Gloves goes on holiday

Signs of life have been rather limited on Sharky Oven Gloves over the past ten days or so, but don’t worry, I’m still very much alive and kicking.  I quite simply haven’t had time to blog – I mentioned in my last post that my mum is visiting me, and we’ve been too busy having a generally marvellous time and enjoying the fabulous weather (sorry if you’re reading this in the northern hemisphere and having to make do with sleet/ice/snow/rain/all of the above).  Anyway, we’re off on a little ten day tour today (in fact, as this post publishes, we should be enjoying a hāngi – the traditional Māori way of cooking meals) and since I’m unlikely to have proper internet access and don’t really feel like attempting to blog from my phone, Sharky Oven Gloves is taking a little break until just after Christmas.

Of course, if I’d been super-organised, I’d have had all my recipe challenge entries sorted and a whole series of posts lined up ready to publish, but the key word there is if…  My general lack of organisation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to most of you though.  On the plus side, at least you’ve got one less blog clogging up your Reader, vying for attention in the run-up to Christmas…  Silver linings and all that.  Speaking of Christmas, have a great one, and stay sane in the final stretch of the run-up!  Unless you don’t celebrate Christmas of course, in which case, carry on as usual!

Anyway, on that note, I’ll leave you with the sunset over the Waitakere Ranges seen from the top of the Sky Tower on Friday evening.

Who doesn't love a sunset?

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!

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Sunday Smiles: Knackered by a volcano

Sunday SmilesSo here we are heading into the second week of December, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened – in keeping with the rest of 2012, December seems to be flying by.  And yet it feels like I wrote my last Sunday Smiles post seems an age ago.  I think part of the problem is that I’m utterly knackered this evening and actually struggling to keep my eyes open whilst I type this post (but I’m still forcing myself to do it, otherwise I’ll end up skipping Sunday Smiles on a regular basis, which somewhat defeats the point).

So I’m going to keep it short, and we’re going to head right in to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • You know what’s great?  When a teabag makes you smile (minds out of the gutter people).  This week, my camomile tea asked me how I was doing.  Or more specifically: “‘Sup brew?”  As groan-worthy as it may be, it actually made me laugh.

Don't judge me for my terrible sense of humour…

  • The hands-down most exciting thing to happen this week was my mum’s arrival in NZ on Friday.  I haven’t seen her (Skype doesn’t count) since I moved to NZ in February, and she’s here to visit me for three weeks.  Even whilst I was waiting for her at the airport I couldn’t quite believe she was actually finally arriving.  Anyway, this was definitely the highlight of my week and probably explains why last Sunday seems more than a week ago.
  • Today we went on a little expedition to Rangitoto Island, Auckland’s most recent volcano (recent as in 600 or so years ago).  The island is made entirely of volcanic rock, but surprisingly has around 200 species of native plants growing on it, many of them apparently quite rare (I’m very much not a botanist, so I’ll believe the guide books on this one).  Anyway, we climbed to the summit, were treated to some truly stunning views, acquired some super-hot backpack tan lines and ended up thoroughly knackered by the time we got home.  If there are any grammar or spelling errors in this post, or if it quite simply doesn’t make sense, then that’ll be why.  I also haven’t had time to upload all the photos from my camera to my laptop yet, so you’ll have to make to with this particular offering from my phone:

Can you spot the Sky Tower?

  • Rangitoto is also home to the world’s largest pōhutukawa forest, and the pōhutukawas are starting to bloom in earnest.  Since the flowers are red and most abundant around Christmas time, the pōhutukawa is nicknamed the New Zealand Christmas tree, and trees in full bloom really are stunning, particularly in contrast to the black volcanic rock of Rangitoto and the impossibly blue sky and turquoise sea that we were treated to today.

Volcanic rocks, flowering pōhutukawas and beautiful sky – welcome to NZ (on a sunny day in December)

  • And finally, I just love pōhutukawas so much that I’m going to leave you with a close-up of the flowers, which are actually made up of a whole bunch of stamens.  I’m sure that these won’t be the last pōhutukawas to feature in Sunday Smiles

Close-up time!

What made you smile this week?

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Pepernoten revisited!

Do you know what today is?  It’s Sinterklaas!  Which, unless you’re Dutch, have Dutch friends or have spent time in The Netherlands, probably doesn’t mean terribly much, and you can read a brief (and minorly sarcastic) explanation here.  I was born in The Netherlands and have lived there for a few years, and even when we didn’t live in NL we had Dutch friends, so Sinterklaas always featured on my calendar when I was growing up.  My favourite thing about Sinterklaas are pepernoten, which are little biscuits packed full of spices.  They’re amazing.  And they’re really difficult to find outwith NL.

I didn't really have any Sinterklaas-themed backgrounds to use, so I went for orange-y for Dutchness.  Flawless logic.

We left NL for the last time when I started uni in St Andrews, and luckily in my first year Keely sent me a massive packet of pepernoten.  But then her parents left NL.  Which meant that my only source of pepernoten was if I made them myself.  And so I turned to my recipe book which contains several different pepernoten recipes pilfered from various Dutch friends, and combined them.  I discovered that pepernoten are actually remarkably easy to make, although rolling all the little balls does make them a little time-consuming (so worth it though, and if you have the time, I’d definitely suggest doubling the recipe from the offset).

This bit takes a while.  But it's strangely therapeutic, too.

The most crucial part of pepernoten is the spice mix, and in NL you can buy a specific spice mix for them.  I obviously don’t have the special spice mix, but it’s easy enough to make using spices that you probably already have in your spice cupboard.  Incidentally, these are technically called kruidnoten, but most people just call them pepernoten, myself included (so no need to get all pernickety with me).  I make pepernoten every year now and attempt to spread general enthusiasm for Sinterklaas amongst whoever happens to be around to eat them.  Although I don’t go the whole hog and dress up as a Zwarte Piet and throw them at people…  (Although I’m sure the perplexed reaction would be highly entertaining, if awkward.)

Spices: the key bit of a biscuit that's all about… wait for it… spices.

This year my poor labmates fell victim to my general over-enthusiasm for Sinterklaas.  To be honest, they were pretty willing victims because all it involved was scoffing pepernoten.  Which is a remarkably easy task since they’re bite-sized and utterly moreish.  I’ve actually posted about pepernoten before, in my very second post.  I had a look at said post the other day and you can definitely  tell I was new to blogging.  Not that I’m any kind of expert now, but I like to think I’ve improved a little since then (although not in the conciseness department).  So I decided I’d repost the recipe, this time with slightly more detailed instructions, an indication of how many pepernoten it actually makes and perhaps a few better photos.

Those three pepernoten didn't last very long after the photo was taken…

Pepernoten

Makes about 170 pepernoten
Adapted from various recipes in my recipe folder

I’d suggest just doubling the recipe from the offset because these are bite-sized and moreish – a dangerous combination!  Dark brown sugar would probably work well instead of light brown sugar, but would result in a slightly more pronounced treacle-y flavour, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Pepernoten are all about the spices, so feel free to be liberal with the quantities.  The aniseed is optional – I’m not a huge aniseed fan so tend to leave it out, because I know I won’t use the rest of the jar, but the aniseed flavour itself doesn’t come through very strongly.  These will keep well for a week or so in an airtight container (they would probably keep longer, but they’re unlikely to stay uneaten for more than a few days anyway).

Ingredients

175g light brown sugar
110g butter
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp black treacle
275g self-rising flour + ½ tsp baking powder OR 275g all-purpose flour + 3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp ground aniseed (optional)
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground coriander
2 pinches of salt

Directions

1.  Butter a couple of baking trays.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C.

2.  Add the brown sugar, cubed butter, milk and treacle in a saucepan.  Melt together on a low heat, stirring.  Remove from the heat once smooth.

3.  Mix together the flour, baking powder and spices in a large bowl.

4.  Once the treacle mixture has cooled a little (because enthusiastically plunging your hands into hot treacle just off the stove is not a smart idea.  Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything, ahem), pour it into the bowl and knead together until it forms a smooth, fairly firm dough, adding pinches of salt during kneading.

5.  Pinch of little bits of dough and roll them into small round balls about the size of a marble.  Place them on the prepared baking trays leaving about 1.5 cm space between them.  Bake for 12-15 mins until risen and golden (it’s normal if they look slightly cracked).  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely – they’ll harden as they cool (I find that the pepernoten tend to slip through the wires on my cooling rack, so I usually place one over the top of the other, but perpendicular so that the wires cross over each other and stop any pepernoten from falling through).

Eet smakelijk and happy Sinterklaas!

Pepernoten everywhere!

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Sunday Smiles: Hurrah for science!

Sunday SmilesIt’s December you guys, and you know what that means?  No more bah-humbug, it’s time to get excited about everything Christmas!  The facebook shark fin icon in my sidebar even has its Santa hat on (hey, don’t judge, that took me a long time to draw last year – graphic design is not my forte…).

So, on to this week’s Sunday Smiles:

  • You know what else December means?  It means the end of Movember, which is very popular here in NZ.  And the end of Movember means goodbye to those moustaches, many of which were just plain creepy.  Don’t get me wrong, Movember is a worthy cause, but I’d be significantly more enthusiastic if there had been more Poirot moustaches.  Because those are awesome.  Paedophile-esque moustaches, not so much.
  • You know what really warmed my heart this week?  Reading about the Sesame Collider, which is a science collaboration between several different countries in the Middle East, including …, Iran and Israel.  The project is providing opportunities for academics to work together, even though their respective countries have more or less vowed to obliterate each other.  Definitely a win for science.  And dare I say it, could it be a tiny, tiny, little glimmer of hope for the Middle East?
  • How amazing is this idea of filling balloons with coloured water and freezing them?  I wonder if you could make swirly patterns with the dyes – you’d probably have to flash freeze them in a -80°C for the water to freeze quicker than the dye evens out (if that makes sense).  Anybody ever tried flash freezing a water balloon?  You know what else would be fun?  Adding glitter.  (Image source)

Oh my gosh awesome!  Can we add glitter?!

  • I really enjoyed these photos of ballerinas in NYC – the incongruity of the ballerinas in their surroundings is what makes the photos really interesting.  That said, I think the last one (which is probably the least incongruous) is my favourite, because of its serenity.  Sidenote: I wish I had even half the grace of a ballerina.  Further sidenote: why is there a car parked on the pavement in the sixth photo?
  • So you’re probably all utterly sick of Gangnam Style, but I came across a Dutch version a couple of weeks ago, and since it’ll be Sinterklaas on Wednesday, I think it’s time to share it: Zwarte Pieten Stijl.  By the way, if you’re not familiar with the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, I realise that this paragraph probably didn’t make much sense, and the video probably just came across as completely bizarre.  You can read a bit about about Sinterklaas here, if you’re interested.
  • And finally, now that it’s December, it looks like the Sky Tower is all excited about Christmas, too!  Yay!

Sky Tower all dressed up for Christmas!  (At least, I'm assuming that's why it's red and green…)

What made you smile this week?

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