For Discoverylover (or anyone else who likes really good hot chocolate)

Great news, Discoverylover – I found the recipe!  (For the benefit of everyone else, a bit of backstory: last time I was up in Wellington, Discoverylover introduced me to an Italian restaurant where the food is good, but the real attraction is their hot chocolates, which are thick and rich and just like the ones I had in Venice.  And recently I stumbled upon a recipe for hot chocolate that, when I tried it out, turned out to be almost exactly like the ones they make at that restaurant.  So sharing it here for Discoverylover, but everyone else should try it too, because it is seriously good hot chocolate!)

For 2-3 servings (seriously, you’ll look at the quantities and think this will only be enough for one person, but you want to serve this in very small cups – it’s incredibly rich!):

250ml milk
65g Whittaker’s Dark Ghana (or other very high cocoa content dark chocolate), broken into small pieces
1 Tbsp soft brown sugar

Heat milk gently in a saucepan, but don’t let it get to a boil.
Once it’s warm, remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it is all melted.
Return to the heat, and simmer (on a very low heat – it should be only just simmering) for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.  It should end up quite thick – not quite to custard consistency, but getting close.
Add brown sugar and stir in until dissolved.
Serve in tiny cups :-)

It does take a bit of effort to make, but it is worth it!  And if you’re just making it for yourself, you can still make the full recipe – just refrigerate what you don’t drink, and rewarm it the next day – it’s just as good :-)

PS. I can’t remember where I found this recipe (it was on one of those websites you get to when you randomly follow a link which leads you to another link which leads you to another link, and then you find an interesting-sounding recipe and scribble it down roughly on a bit of paper, and then months later find the bit of paper again and decide to try it out and it turns out to be magic but you don’t know where it came from), and I haven’t really changed anything (other than converting the measurements to metric, probably), so technically I’ve plagiarised it by posting it here.  Apologies to the original chef for stealing your recipe – if I could remember who you are, I’d give you credit, and link rather than repost – sorry!

Winning all the things

I decided to take a very long weekend this weekend, because (a) all the stress and uncertainty at work has been very tiring, so a break is definitely in order, (b) my leave is again accumulating to a point that HR will soon start sending me friendly reminders that I really do need to get my balance down, (c) the start of semester is approaching fast, and I’m not at all ready to switch my brain into study mode, so another good reason for a break, and (d) and most importantly, general aversion to having to work on my birthday. As a result, I’m in the middle of four days (plus the weeknd) off – Thursday to Tuesday. So far it hasn’t been totally restful, but it has been most enjoyable.

I did end up going into work briefly on Thursday, but only because before I’d decided to take the day off I’d arranged to meet Judy for coffee at one of the campus cafes, and as I was going to be in the area anyway (because I wanted to drop some books off at the library) it didn’t seem worth rescheduling. It was actually nice to have time to talk properly without having to keep one eye on the clock to race back to work.

I carried on next to Riccarton, where I had a few wee jobs to get done. Again, nice to have the luxury of time to just wander around and look at the shops a bit, rather than racing through in a hurry because I’ve got a million other things to do. I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy shopping for its own sake, but in small doses it can be pleasant. It also turned out to be one of those shopping expeditions where all the stars align, because literally everything I wanted to buy turned out to be on sale. And some of the stuff that I thought was on sale turned out to be doubly on sale, because it wasn’t only marked down, it was included in a two-for-one deal (like I got two tops (from a proper reasonably expensive shop, not just Farmers (which is turning into the Briscoes of frocks, in its constant sales (how many more parentheses can I nest here?))) that I thought had been marked down from $50-odd to $28 each, but I got them for $28 total!). I was starting to feel like that scene from the Gilmore Girls where Lorelai is justifying her shopping for Luke by saying that everything was a hundred thousand percent off.

Friday was a cleaning and cooking day. I’d invited a few people round for a birthday lunch on Saturday, and they included a fair proportion of vegetarians and vegans, so I decided the easiest (and most weather appropriate) solution was to make soup. Soup can almost always be converted to vegan, by just swapping out butter for olive oil, and using vegetable stock as a base. So I ended up making two vegan soups (carrot and coriander, and pumpkin and kumara), and one that was vegetarian but not vegan (because broccoli and cheese soup really does need to include the cheese). Plus of course I made a suitably decadent cake (because what’s a birthday without cake?). It worked out really well, because I was able to get everything all prepared so that on Saturday morning all I had to do was reheat the soups, and bake some bread to go with them.

The lunch was great – everyone enjoyed the soup, we had an excess of cake (because Rosalee brought along a vegan chocolate cake (which was good (and also much tastier than I’d expected) because I still haven’t figured out how to achieve cake without using eggs, so I hadn’t managed to provide cakey-goodness for the veganly inclined), and Lytteltonwitch brought a cake as well, and played many extremely geeky board games all afternoon (and long into the evening – the Gwilks and Lytteltonwitch stayed for dinner (of leftover soup) so we could have another game or two (or three…)). And best of all, Lytteltonwitch stayed and helped me clean up afterwards, so this morning was blissfully free of major cleaning operations. Life is good :-)

I’d said no presents, but Lytteltonwitch passed a bookshop on her way here, and couldn’t resist buying me a colouring book of “cool cats” she spotted in the window. They certainly were cool, and the book got passed around a lot during the course of the afternoon, identifying cats (and a few people :-) ) they recognised in the drawings. I’ll have to scan some of the pictures and post them here as I colour them in.

In other news, I won a prize in Tartankiwi’s In Flight quilt-along! She has a draw every month or so, and enters the names of everyone who’s sewn that month’s birds. And I won this months’ draw! My prize is some fabric and a few of her patterns – very exciting! She’s added three new birds to the quilt-along – too late for me to add them to my quilt top, but they look really cool, so I might make them anyway, and either put them on the back of the quilt, or on some cushions. Though of course with semester 2 looming I might not have time to get them done for the actual quilt-along – they might have to wait until the summer.

And in other other news, I have a job interview on Wednesday morning. It’s for that job I mentioned that I applied for as a backup, and which I’m not entirely sure I want. So my next few restful days might not be quite as restful as I’d hoped, because I’ll have to prepare for the interview (and worry about what I’m going to do if they actually offer it to me!). I haven’t had a job interview for years – better brush up all my answers to those stock “where do you see yourself in five years?” questions…

Finally, a couple of pretty pictures:

At the Steampunk fair in Oamaru there was someone selling pictures printed onto old book pages. I bought these two, an Alice in Wonderland and a compass printed on dictionary pages (which of course appealed to me :-) ). On Thursday I finally got round to buying frames and mounted them on coloured corrugated card. The colours don’t show up very well here, but one’s burgundy, and the other dark green. They turned out really well, so I’ve now got them hanging in my hallway by the entrance to my study.

Distraction

I was planning on doing some more work on the next bird today (it’s been kind of on hiatus while I was sick, because I couldn’t concentrate well enough), but then I got inspired to make a mug rug as a quick present for Judy, a colleague who’s retiring on Tuesday.  Yeah, you know where this is going – me and quick projects just don’t go together.  I couldn’t find a pattern I liked, so I ended up combining two different patterns together, and time got away from me (not to mention that I spent a chunk of the afternoon making a hare casserole (because I cleaned out the freezer yesterday and discovered I still had some of the wild meats Brother gave me last year, so thought I’d better start using it up before it gets too old) and a fruit sponge pudding (to use up the last few peaches that Harvestbird gave me)… yeah, I think I’m finally over my cold, seeing as I’ve suddenly got all this renewed energy for cooking and cleaning), so I’ve only got the top done.  If I want to give it to her on Tuesday I’m going to have to get it quilted and the binding put on tomorrow night.  Could be a busy night (good thing I can just heat up some leftover hare for dinner :-) ).

Looks quite good so far, though (if you ignore the slightly wonky top on one of the cups):

Bloggy party

The Christchurch Bloggers Christmas party was tonight, which means I can finally show you the project I was working on when I attempted to cut my finger off:

Such a simple little bag, you wouldn’t think it could have caused so much trouble, would you? The recipient was really pleased with it anyway, and with the wee bits and pieces I filled it with (a jar of home-made chutney, a Christmas garland made from those clay stars I made a while back, and a cross-stitched bookmark).

The party went really well. Illness and other life stuff meant that only three people turned up in the end, but that was ok – we had a lovely evening anyway, and the small numbers just meant that we could have a good conversation.

And, to be totally show-offy, I was very pleased with how Christmassy and welcoming I had everything looking. When you’ve got people you don’t know well coming to your house, it’s always a confidence boost to know the house looks really good :-)

And a gratuitous food-pron shot just because:

Dumplings and things

As predicted, winter has returned with a vengance.  A freezing cold day, followed by icy rain and wind tonight (luckily I managed to make it home just before it started).  So Parsnips has got her wish – the fire is roaring, and she is comfortably ensconced in front of it (as I will be too as soon as I’ve written this – it’s way too cold here in the study!)

I had a cool surprise waiting for me when I got home tonight – a parcel in my letterbox, from MeganH.  It was obviously a book, so when I opened it I expected it to be something off my wishlist, or maybe some bookring I’d signed up for ages ago and forgotten about.  So I was confused to find it was Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Winged Lion.  Weird, why would MeganH send me that?  And then I opened it and looked inside, where I found a post-it note from Antof9 (now there’s a name from the past!), congratulating me on having registered 1000 books!  It turns out the book was part of a bookbox Newk put together way back in 2004 in honour of my having achieved that milestone, and finally, 10 years later (and after my total has gone well over 5000), it’s made it into my hands.  Seriously cool!

Our team was invited to join the college office staff this evening to learn how to make Chinese dumplings.  They’d arranged for someone from the Confucius Institute to come and give lessons, and we all had a go at folding them (and then eating way too many – I think there were about 200 dumplings between a dozen of us!)  It was a fun way to spend the evening, and to get to know some of the college office people a bit better – even though we share a corridor with them, we don’t have that much to do with them, other than vague pleasantries in the tearoom or waiting for the photocopier.  So nice to have a chance to socialise with them, and making the dumplings was a lot of fun, too – we got given a printout of the recipe, so I’ll definitely have to make them myself sometime now that I know how.

Bunnies and books

Rabbit is a very pleasant meat to eat, but it smells disgusting while it’s cooking, especially when boiled.  Same goes for hare.  I’m currently cooking meatballs made from some hare mince my brother gave me, and even though I know they’ll taste fantastic once they’re done, I’m trying to avoid spending any time in the kitchen as they simmer away in their chilli-tomato sauce, because all I can smell in there is boiled rabbit (brings back memories of boiling up rabbits to feed the cat with when I was a kid – our cats never got jellymeat, not when there were hillsides crawling with rabbits out there to be shot!).  So I have retreated to the study, just making occasional forays into the kitchen to stir.

I made an exciting (re-)discovery today: I found a book voucher lurking in the depths of my desk.  I was given it months ago as a thank-you for some work I’d done for someone, but I was in the midst of essay writing at the time so had put it aside until I had time to think about such frivolous things as reading actual books, and had completely forgotten about it.  So at lunch time I went to the university bookshop and spent much time in contemplation of all the wonders it could purchase, eventually buying Emma Donoghue’s new book, Frog Music, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  Add those to the book which arrived from Lytteltonwitch at the weekend (another Emma Donoghue, Astray, which I’m really enjoying), and the book I splurged on in Scorpio’s the other day (Madd Addam, the last of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy), and I am feeling surrounded by riches of excellent books.

I need about a million more hours in the day to do all the reading and crafts and everything else I want to do!

Dinner

My brother and SIL were in town again this weekend for another wedding, so they popped by yesterday morning to drop off some bits and pieces from Mum (mostly random kitchen items I’d been eyeing up from a pile she was clearing out last time I was down there – most exciting being a decent sized stock pot that I can use for bottling), plus a chilly bin full of venison and rabbit.  Some of it was in the form of back steaks, which are the most tender part of the deer, so I decided to try my hand at actually cooking one up as a steak (rather than the slow-cooked casserole which is my usual approach to wild meats).  Steak is something I’m yet to master the technique for (I know the theory, it’s just getting it to work properly that’s the problem – probably because I cook it so infrequently that I haven’t had much practice), but apart from it being a little black in places on the outside, it actually turned out pretty well.  Definitely wasn’t tough, which is the main thing. And I found a nice recipe for a boysenberry sauce to go over the top (actually, the recipe was supposed to be for a blackberry sauce, but who has blackberries just lying around?  I reckoned boysenberries were close enough…).  Add in a fancy roast potato and some salad, and dinner was definitely a cut above my usual Sunday night throw something together :-)