Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Milkshake 'n' Honey

"Visa, Mastercard, discovered that I was spent
took my heart, my best jeans, and left me
with paying the rent
A user, abuser, a loser
but I didn't care
I've always been a guy with a sweet tooth
and that girl was just like a king-sized candy bar"
-From Milkshake 'n' Honey by Sleater-Kinney (All hands on the bad one, 2000)

Milkshake 'n' Honey, and the songs of Sleater-Kinney (SK for the fans) in general made up a large part of the soundtrack to my university days. I never had a chance to feel insecure about what I saw in fashion magazines because I was too busy scouring the Internet for scanned old zines and watching documentaries about riot grrrl. I played drums in a band and we chose not to have a bass guitar so that we could be more like our heroes. Having seen SK live is one of my favourite memories of those years.

A photo of Carrie from back then in all its grainy glory. At The Kings Arms.

I had already started baking back then but my technique was sorely lacking and I couldn't afford to buy decent quality ingredients which significantly limited what I could make. I couldn't afford ingredients because I spent all my money at the school pub and the record store. 

The song quoted at the start of this post inevitably sends me off on a tangent of dreaming about delicious things. I think it must be the evocative combination of milk and honey that does it, just like the contrast between Corin Tucker's drawling verses and Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss' too-cool-for-school delivery of the chorus. To me, the flavour of honey makes dairy products taste richer; actual milkshakes made with honey taste like they're made with cream (try milk, feijoa and honey and prepare to swoon), blue cheese and honey is a formidable duo, and this cheesecake that I made with honey and the honeyed sweetness of dried figs is delicious enough to be inhaled. 

This recipe takes minutes to make but elevates simple ingredients to new heights of delight. There are nuggets of dried fig in the crust that add an oddly addictive grittiness, and the filling is exclusively sweetened with honey for a well balanced sweetness and voluptuous mouth-feel. Not quite a king-sized candy bar but irresistible all the same.

Fig and honey cheesecake
made 15cm diameter mini-cake, double ingredients to make a 20cm cake

85g plain biscuit crumbs (I used coconut flavoured biscuits)
3 dried figs, diced
3Tb coconut oil, melted

200g cream cheese, room temperature
1c full cream
1tsp gelatine, soaked in 1Tb cold water for 10 minutes
4-5Tb honey (taste before adding the last tablespoons-worth)

dried figs, honey and whatever else you desire for decoration (I used violas, mint leaves and freeze-dried blackcurrants)

1. Line a baking tray with baking paper and place a 15cm ring mould or a removable-bottom cake tin with the base removed, at the centre of the tray.
2. Combine biscuit crumbs, figs and coconut oil and mix until all the crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs into the base of the ring/cake tin.
3. Place cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl and beat until smooth and homogenous. Add the cream in 3-4 additions, followed by honey, tasting as you go. Continue to beat until the mixture is thickened to a clotted cream/spreadable consistency.
4. Dissolve the soaked gelatin in 2tsp of boiling water. Stir until it is completely dissolved and beat into the cream mixture. Don't let the gelatin sit around for too long after adding the boiling water, as it may start to set.
5. Pour the filling into the mould, cover with plastic and chill for at least 6 hours.
6. To umould, I transfer the cake to a serving plate then use a hair dryer to heat up the edges of the cake before easing it out.
7. Decorate as desired.

Friday, 17 April 2015

April 17 2015

An image shared by a Facebook friend picturing the victims

Yesterday marked a year since the Sewol Ferry Disaster. I thought about posting but really it was too emotional a day to string many words together. Instead I spent a few hours holding a one-person demonstration in Aotea Square and just having a quiet day. 

Me, in Aotea Square yesterday. Photo taken by a friendly passerby.

The events of last night and today, what could be called the aftermath, were almost expected and yet frustrating and heartbreaking. After the memorial concert finished in Seoul Plaza, the families and 70,000 members of the public made their way to Gwanghwamun Plaza to pay their respects at the memorial tent, each carrying a white chrysanthemum, the traditional flower of mourning. The police blocked all the major footpaths to Gwanghwamun Plaza with buses and barricades, then proceeded to use force and pepper spray to prevent people from getting past them. 10 members of the public were taken into police custody. A group of bereaved parents and a number of university students ended up trapped by a ring of police, just outside of Gwanghwamun. 

The parents are still there. The police ring is too. Reports from social media accounts of those presents say that parents have not been allowed access to food, water or toilet facilities. Furthermore they state that the parents are currently having to make do, using a plastic box as a make-shift toilet, while police cameras film them. Amnesty International Korea has already condemned this as a violation of the parents' human rights, and rightly so.

It is so frustrating that the parents have to fight for their right to be heard, let alone be faced with this level of persecution from the State. All I can do from here is send my prayers and help spread their message. Below is the translated version of a statement that the parents trapped by the police released earlier today (pictured).

Appendix 3. A year since the Sewol Ferry Disaster, an appeal from the Sewol mothers and fathers after spending a night trapped in Gwanghwamun Plaza by the police

It has already been a year since I saw my son. I was headed from Seoul Plaza to Gwanghwamun with a flower in my hand, to see my son’s portrait but I was stopped by the police. I was let dumbfounded once again. Our son. It was the same feeling I had when the accident happened last year, I still don’t want to remember… I heard that the other parents were staging a sit-in on one side of Gwanghwamun Plaza, and with much trouble I managed to get past rows and rows of police to where the parents were. We had the help of some university students and the night passed. I had a lot of time to think while waiting for the dawn to break. Our child… Last April was extremely cold too. Our son. Our children. How cold and scared were they at the time of the accident? When I think about the children, just the thought of those rascals reduces this cold and this suffering to nothing at all. My beloved son, I miss you very much. This road may be long but as your mother I will walk down it.

When our rising fury forces us to go forth, they misconstrue it. When we look back at the past with a sense of longing, anger piles up in front of us. In the moment that we hesitate, unable to go forwards or backwards, the sorrows of our children are unending and the parents who should wipe away those tears don’t even have a chance to dab at their own before their hearts are broken yet again. In this broken heart, the fury, wailing and despair never cease and the blowing winds of deception only make things worse. I try to fight against the forces of evil but end up resenting myself for being so small and weak. But it’s what we have to do in order to be a bit less ashamed when we see our beautiful children again, in the future, in a better world. The sun will rise and fall on another day of anger, sorrow and remembrance. Citizens of the nation, please come and meet our families. Come together around this land. Let’s build a safer country and discover the truth of the Sewol together. Shouldn’t we create a better country to live in and pass down to our children?

Yesterday, on April 16, the President, no Park Geun-hye, deserted the nation, just like she buried our children at sea. We cannot tolerate this any longer. The person who claims to be the president of this country deserted the nation in its greatest moment of sadness and hardship. We will not recognise her as president. We cannot even recognise her as a member of the Republic of Korea. Please do not set foot on this land again. We revoke your citizenship.

We were everyday mothers and fathers, we have no power. We simply want to know why our precious children had to leave us in such a devastating manner. However, the world keeps trying to isolate us until it feels as if we have become a single, small island. The waters surrounding the island are strangling us, just like the black waters that swallowed our children. We want to live. Help us. Please help us.

Much of the Korean media is biased towards framing the Sewol Ferry Disaster from a perspective that supports the political rhetoric of the ruling party. From what I have read, a number of prominent English-language media outlets are simply transcribing these coloured accounts. All I want to do is to shed a little light on what the families are going through and saying. As the bereaved mother in the above document state, "it’s what we have to do in order to be a bit less ashamed when we see our beautiful children again, in the future, in a better world."

Image from Twitter featuring the names of the victims of the Sewol Ferry Disaster.

Monday, 6 April 2015

I daydream of banana cake

Occasionally I get the chance to bake for a special occasion and also get free reign over what to make. This usually means I spend days daydreaming/planning about which ingredients I have readily available, whether there are any techniques I want to try and the sort of event it is going to be. Figuring out how to combine different flavours and textures, and dreaming up my ideal version of a dish, is some of the best fun one can have for free. Over time, I have come up with my own way of approaching this little exercise with a number of criteria for any particular type of dish.

My ideal cake, for example:
-Is light and finely-crumbed without being dry. 
-The flavours are interesting and harmonious. 
-Contrasting textures are allowed but a mouthful of cake should melt away without too much effort.
-If there is a frosting, it is not too sweet and forms an indispensable part of the cake, rather than acting as an ornament.
-Is either simple to make or complicated but phenomenally tasty.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an end-of-summer barbecue that I was asked to bring a dessert to. I wanted to bring something impressive but simple and crowd-pleasing but still interesting. Those conditions, in addition to having bought a surplus bunch of fair-trade bananas was enough to steer me in the direction of a gently embellished banana cake. I had used this recipe from the blog Orangette a couple of times before and loved how delicate the crumb was when compared to the standard densely moist banana cake. I decided to add a few different elements to the cake based on my daydreaming and love for fluffy cream cheese frosting. 

The end result was a delightful combination of light yet richly-flavoured banana cake, studded with dark chocolate and topped with a good 2cm of smooth, fluffy cream cheese frosting. It is interesting but not excessive and manages to be reminiscent of a combination of banana cake and cheesecake without feeling over the top. All-in-all, the kind of creation that makes you want to high-five yourself in a fit of self-congratulatory goodwill. Please give it a go if you are looking for a slightly different take on the common banana cake.

Chocolate chunk and caramelised banana cake with whipped cream cheese
one 22cm cake, serves 16 modest slices
Banana cake adapted from Orangette

2c plain flour
1/2c white/fine raw sugar
1/4c brown sugar
1tsp baking soda
3/4tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
2 large ripe bananas, cut into 2cm chunks
1/2c full cream
2 eggs
1 1/2tsp vanilla extract
115g and 30g softened butter (as separate amounts)
1/2c chopped dark chocolate, plus extra for decoration

250g cream cheese, softened
1/2c full cream
1/4c white/ fine raw sugar
1/2tsp vanilla extract

About 1/4c granola

1. Caramelise the bananas: place the brown sugar and 30g of butter in a small pan and heat over a low flame until the butter has melted. Add the banana and increase the heat to medium, cook until the banana chunks turn soft and translucent - about 5-10 minutes. Leave to cool - the mixture should be warm, not hot.

2. Butter and flour a 22cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher. Add cream and beat until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again to combine.
4. In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add the softened butter and about half of the banana mixture and beat together briefly. Add the remaining banana mixture, scrape down the bowl and beat again to combine. Stir in the dark chocolate.
5. Pour into the cake tin and bake for 35-45 minutes, checking with a toothpick for doneness. Remove the cake from the oven, let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn it onto a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Once the cake is cool, prepare the frosting. Beat the cream cheese in a medium-sized bowl until it is smooth. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat again to incorporate them into the cream cheese. Add the cream in two additions, beating at a low speed. Once the cream is incorporated, increase the speed to medium and continue to beat until the frosting is smooth and fluffy.
7. Spread frosting on the cake, decorate with extra dark chocolate and granola.

Cake is best eaten the day it is made. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Another quiet classic

In my mind, no baked good is as representative of Australia and New Zealand as the ANZAC biscuit. If I wanted to read to much into the cookie's significance, I would go on about how its unassuming appearance, wholesome ingredients and quiet flavoursome nature were a reflection of the characteristics of the two countries. That might be an interesting point to discuss when I am feeling a bit more verbose.

The biscuits are of historical significance, still popular and ridiculously easy to make. Oats, coconut and golden syrup, along with plenty of butter come together and bake up into a crisp and substantial accompaniment to a cup of tea. The biscuits can also keep (when stored properly) for an impressive length of time - 2-3 weeks, making them perfect for cookie jars everywhere. 

ANZAC biscuits are also ideal for sending in care packages, like the tin of cookies I sent (via my mother) to the Sewol Camp in Gwanghwamun Plaza. I don't put together care packages often but it is a very enjoyable task, and one that I hope to do again soon. Although the Wikipedia page I linked to states that these biscuits weren't actually baked by mothers and wives to send to their men in the trenches, it was with that frame of mind that I made my cookies and packed them into the tin for transport. Like I discussed (sounding very young indeed) in an earlier blog, baking for another person is an act of love and elevates it far above mere kitchen drugdery. 

Photo taken in Gwanghwamun by one of the petition tent volunteers. Clockwise from the top: peanut butter cookies, speculaas, ANZAC biscuits.
The biscuits survived the flight to Korea and drive to Gwanghwamun Plaza and hopefully they will be enjoyed by the families and volunteers who are out there right now, still trying to do right by the victims of the disaster. 

Care package experience 4 out of 4 stars, would care again.

ANZAC biscuits
from It's easier than you think by Jo Seager
26 biscuits

125g butter
2Tb cold water
2Tb golden syrup
1tsp baking soda
1c rolled oats
1c dessicated coconut
1c flour, plus 1-2Tb extra if needed
1c brown sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius and line a baking tray with baking paper.
2. Heat the butter, water and syrup in a small pot over a moderate heat. Once the butter is melted, bring the mixture to a boil.
3. Take the pan off the heat, quickly stir in baking soda followed by the remaining ingredients. Mix well, adding extra flour if the mixture is not coming together due to excess butter.
4. Roll into walnut-sized balls and place on the baking sheet, leaving 5cm between cookies. Gently flatten the balls with the back of a spoon.
5. Baking for 15-18 minutes and cool on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Will keep in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.

Sunday, 1 March 2015


I like my coffee fair-trade. Other than that, it all depends on how I am feeling at the time but I rarely refuse a cup of it. During the summer, cold-brew is our beverage of choice at home. Not at all a purist, my discovery of ca phe sua chua (drip coffee with condensed milk yogurt) in Vietnam was also life-changing.

Ca phe sua chua in Hanoi (I drank one straight after the other)

So when one of my close friends grew a baby, one thing I could definitely feel empathy towards her about was not being able to drink coffee for upwards of nine months. Understandably, when I asked her what I should bring on my first visit with her and the baby, she asked for something with lots of coffee.

That was enough to send me off on a tangent of brainstorming about flavour combinations. Although coffee-chocolate, coffee-walnut and coffee-cream are all lovely, I wanted to come up with a more unique flavour combination. After a week or so of pondering, I ended up with coffee, caramel and cream cheese - slightly different but not jarringly so.

The flavours came together thusly:
-coffee sponge cake
-coffee-vanilla syrup
-cream cheese frosting
-coffee-caramel glaze
-maple-seed granola sprinkle

I made two two-layer cakes

The end result was pretty and delicious, whipped cream sponge cake ensured a light and delicate cake, paired with the lushness of cream cheese and caramel, it is a combination that I day cream about weeks later. It does have quite a few components to it but because I considered it a special project, it was really a pleasure to make.

Oh and the baby was lovely too of course.

Coffee-caramel layer cake
makes 1 20cm two-layer cake

cake adapted from allrecipes.com
granola from here, substituting maple syrup and seeds in place of honey and hazelnuts
caramel adapted from Lotte + Doof

1 3/4c plain flour
2 1/2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp salt
1 1/2c cream
1 1/4c sugar
2 eggs
1Tb instant coffee dissolved in 1Tb of hot water

Caramel glaze
1/2c cream
1/4c brown sugar
1/2Tb corn syrup
1tsp instant coffee dissolved in a small amount of hot water
pinch of salt

Whipped cream cheese frosting
125g cream cheese (softened)
1c cream
3Tb-1/4c sugar
1tsp vanilla extract

Coffee syrup
1Tb instant coffee
2Tb sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2c water

1/2c granola (from the recipe above or whatever you like)

1. Butter and line the base of 2x 20cm round cake tins with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
2. Whip the cream and sugar to soft peaks. Beat in the eggs and coffee-water.
3. Sift the dry ingredients together and mix into the cream in 3 additions.
4. Divide the mixture into the two pans and bake for 20-25 minutes.
5. Check with a toothpick for doneness and transfer cakes to wire racks to cool.

Caramel glaze
1. Place all the ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 100 degrees Celsius on a sugar thermometer.
2. Cool to room temperature before glazing.

Whipped cream cheese frosting
1. Beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add the remaining ingredients and beat again. Adjust amount of sugar to taste.

Coffee syrup
1. Combine all ingredients in a small pot and heat over a low heat until the sugar is melted.

1. Place the first cake on the serving plate, brush with syrup, top with half the frosting and drizzle with glaze.
2. Top with the second cake and repeat. Sprinkle the granola on top to finish.

Saturday, 14 February 2015


Recently I took part in an interview for a friend who is studying how people define success. During the course of the interview I was asked what I consider to be a sign of failure. This is actually something that I have been thinking about recently, there are some days that make you smile like the Cheshire cat and others that feel very much wasted.

On reviewing the days on which I feel like I had wasted my time, I found a two common characteristics:

1. Days that I had lived only for myself
2. Days where I didn't create or learn anything

There's a lot I could say about that, but for the purposes of this blog, I realised that this was probably why cooking and baking appeal to me so much. Cooking and baking is all about sharing and feeding others, and there is creativity involved in a flurry of icing sugar or the placement of sprigs of parsley. Success is a day when, just by baking up some scones and you get the privilege of brightening someone's day.

This recipe is one I kind of made up in response to a request. The request was for blueberry scones and after studying a few recipes, it looked like it would be very easy to adapt it to be vegan (which I am not but enjoy dabbling in). I also picked up a technique to circumvent the need for a 'light hand' when making scones. Instead of making a thick dough, rolling it out, shaping it, and getting little baked rocks, you make a loose dough, pack it into a cake tin, chill it, cut it and bake up tender little clouds.

This is as close to a fool-proof scone recipe as I have ever come across and the addition of blueberries, coconut oil and cream and lemon zest makes for a delicious and delicately flavoured tea-time treat.

Vegan coconut-blueberry scones
makes 8 large scones
adapted from The Taranaki Daily News

2 1/3c plain flour
4tsp baking powder
1/4tsp salt
3Tb sugar (we only use this sugar at home)
zest of 1/2 a lemon
4Tb solid coconut oil
1tsp vanilla extract
300mL coconut cream and extra for brushing
1c blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1. Grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper. Alternatively you can use a ring mold or a springform pan with the base removed. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
2. In a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until fragrant. Sift in the remaining dry ingredients and stir to combine.
3. Cut the coconut oil into the dry ingredients using a fork or pastry cutter until the mixture looks like sand.
4. Add the vanilla and coconut cream and stir briefly to combine.
5. Spoon 1/3 of the dough into the pan/mold, then scatter 1/3 of the blueberries. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
6. Cover the dough and place in the freezer until it is firm enough to cut - about 40-60min.
7. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Remove the dough from the pan/mold, place it on the lined tray and cut into 8 wedges. Rest the dough for about 10 minutes.
8. Brush tops of the scones with coconut cream and sprinkle with a bit of extra sugar.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops spring back when pushed. Cool on a wire rack.
10. Sprinkle if icing sugar if you want, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Best eaten within a day of making.

Monday, 9 February 2015

300 days

300 days since the Sewol Ferry Disaster and we still don't know why it happened. Show solidarity with the families, sign the petition at <sewoltruth.com> and send your prayers their way.
"Remember 16/04/2014
We will never forget Sewol.
Today is the 300th day since the Sewol Disaster."

If you understand Korean, the official website is: http://416family.org/ which I am very slowly helping translate at the moment.

Seen at a local Japanese restaurant

It's easy to get disheartened and feel that everyone has forgotten that 304 people were needlessly killed without explanation. However, as a Facebook friend wrote recently, the people have not forgotten, only the media has. And given how most major news sources no longer possess any journalistic integrity, that doesn't count for much at all.

Godspeed everyone.