On to the plate

Experimenting with flavours, colours and style of food served at our place


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Mum’s birthday afternoon

Mum's birthday cake.

Mum’s birthday cake.

Mum’s birthday was mid-week and today we had a family get together afternoon tea.

I had made the cake a few weeks ago, having to stop in at Natalie’s to get some fresh ground coffee which I don’t have, or would need for later. I drink water and tea and coffee have no appeal. I know, weird right?

White Mocha Cake. Recipe by Cake Paper Party.

White Mocha Cake. Recipe by Cake Paper Party.

I made Summer’s White Mocha Cake. You can find the recipe here. The cake was pretty simple to make, and I used my new cake pans and was pretty happy with how the cakes baked. They were lovely and even, but they did sink during the last 3-4 minutes. But Summer said they would. My MIL saw the cakes and thought I’d goofed the recipe. Ok, so I know I’ve had my share of failures, but not this time.  The cakes rose to the top of the cake pans, settled back down and were roughly 1 1/4″ in height. I did however gouge one of the cakes as I ran the knife around the edge of the cake tin. I thought it might give me grief when it came time to trimming the cakes and layering them for ganaching, but thankfully it didn’t happen. I had visions of having to become a bit of a brick layer and use ganche as mortar and try and piece the bit that I’d gouged back onto the rest of the cake. With the cakes having been in the fridge (from the freezer) they were still firm enough and preparing the cake layers for ganaching went smoothly.

Reserructing the Coffee Caramel buttercream.

Reserructing the Coffee Caramel buttercream.

Now the coffee caramel buttercream on the other than, well that didn’t quite got so well. I had made the syrup the previous weekend (to when I made the syrup) and had it in the freezer. I split the batch because I knew I only needed to fill the layers and not cover the cake. Then last weekend I started out making the syrup. The instructions were not to let the sugar burn. It was taking an age to reach the right temperature and so I stepped away, not for long, but long enough. The house smelt terrible, the smell of burnt sugar filling the air.

Anyway, after making a second batch of syrup (it still never reached the right temperature before it started to show signs of the colour changing) I proceeded on with the buttercream. This is where I didn’t follow the recipe, having assumed the amount of coffee syrup I’d made was all required for the buttercream. Umm, no. I wondered why the buttercream didn’t have that gloriously smooth silky texture of Summer’s cake. It turns out you don’t need all of the syrup (although I don’t know the weight of the syrup). A few days later I whipped up some more butter and slowly started to add my watery buttercream into it. It all came together nicely and it now looked similar (the colour was darker) to Summer’s recipe.

The cake was ganached on Wednesday (I wanted to leave myself a day up my sleeve in case things went wrong and I had to start something over again) and for the most part it went smoothly. Although I am going to have to tweak my method of ganaching (upside down method) because the next morning when I turned the cake up the right way, the cake settled and there was a little dip in the middle. I think I’m going to have to use the two acrylic disc method, or at least I’ll give that a go next cake.

The finished cake. Compare how sharp the edge is of the bottom cake compared to the top (dummy cake without the homemade smoothers).

The finished cake. Compare how sharp the edge is of the bottom cake compared to the top (dummy cake without the homemade smoothers).

Since last Sunday I’ve also been making gumpaste roses. I wasn’t happy with any of the ones I made. Now I know just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean to say that no one will like them, but I just wasn’t that thrilled about using them on the cake.  I started looking at Stevi Auble’s Wafer Paper flowers Craftsy class. I thought I could give them a go and see if anything there came out looking better than the gumpaste roses. Last night I made two ribbon roses and a large open rose (all stylised) and I decided that I liked them better. Not that I knew how many I would use, or where I would place them.

I’d also covered a dummy cake. Partly to use as a practice for another project I’ve got coming up. I’d covered it in pearl white Sugarflair lustre last Sunday and was pretty happy with how it worked out. And I used some wafer paper that I’d cut with craft punches, an edge that I thought complimented the stencil I was using.

I was a bit up in the air about whether to use a “riser”. I was quite keen to see how it looked. I’d ordered a bunch of different sized 2″ cake dummys from DeeSee Creations in Hamilton. They arrived and looked good, I just had to figure how to cut them down since 2″ was too high, but that’s the size they come in. I had tried my craft knife but it really didn’t penetrate the stryofoam and my cake knifes weren’t “cutting it” (pun intended). It was another little detail that was playing on my mind. The design would all hinge on whether I could cut the styrofoam or not. Saturday I got a spare hacksaw blade and thankfully it worked quite nicely. I had expected that had I been able to cut them I’d end up with the discs being wonky and in need of some fine sandpaper, which I’d bought last week in anticipation of needing to sand into a smooth surface. But I was pretty good at lining everything up and they behaved nicely. I used my press ‘n seal for the first time (such a good moment, I’m such a cake geek). I laid the dummy on it and cut around the edge and it all worked perfectly, then I turned the other side and found that the press ‘n seal could be bought up the side as well and it all smoothed quite nicely. The “riser” was now fully covered with press ‘n seal. I used the new glue thingee Mum had bought me a while ago to run around the edge of the riser and then it was a simple matter of covering the sides with 25mm ribbon. Lastly a bit of painters tape held the dummy cake onto the riser. A bit of royal icing was used as the glue to hold the wafer paper edging to the dummy. Yep, I was pretty pleased at how that all turned out. The only thing is the lustre does come off so I had to be careful how to handle the “cake”.

Chopping up a chopping mat to make my own fondant smoothers.

Chopping up a chopping mat to make my own fondant smoothers.

I was in Alexandra on Friday and was debating whether to cover the cake in fondant that night, or wait until Saturday morning. The reason? Thursday night I found the ganache had softened a little to the touch and with the house being warm I figured it was just enough to soften the ganache, it had been perfect first thing in the morning. I didn’t know whether covering the cake in fondant and then rubbing the fondant to smooth it out would be more than the ganache could withstand if it were just a little soft. When I got home I checked and although the fire was going, the ganache seemed to have firmed a bit but not quite as firm as it had been on the Thursday morning. Ahh well. I decided to give it a go anyway because if I didn’t work I could somehow find time on Saturday to start all over again (although this would not have been an ideal outcome!).

During the previous weekend when I had covered the 6″ and 10″ dummy cakes I had found it really hard going and it seemed to take an age to get the fondant to spread out enough. My arms were so sore the following day. I re-read the instructions that came with “The Mat” and decided to follow those instructions ;-) Well I think I just needed a reminder about putting more pressure on the outside edge of the rolling pin and focusing on that part to help roll out the fondant. Needless to say it went a lot quicker but it was still a good workout. I was really hot after doing that, and knowing the ganache was not quite as firm as I’d have liked, I ran my hands under cold water for a while to cool them off.

Friday morning I had taken one of my thin plastic chopping boards that I use to roll out fondant for smaller things I’m working on and I placed my 8″ acrylic round on it and used my craft knife to cut a circle. Then I took my new clear acrylic scraper (for ganaching) and did the same thing. I was trying to get something that would act like acetate to use when smoothing the fondant on a cake. It is also supposed to make it easier to get sharper edges in the fondant. Can you believe I was doing this all before zipping out the door to catch a flight to Queenstown (which was 6:40am – yawn). I am anything but conventional. So feeling pretty happy that I had the right sizes and shapes for using as smoothers I was keen to see how they behaved by comparison to my Wilton fondant smoothers. This was another reason I was keen to get the cake covered Friday night.

I’d coloured the fondant the previous weekend having taken a bit of the fondant (ivory) and intensely coloured that, then added a bit of that to the rest of the ivory until I had the colour I was after. I was very happy with the colour, but I did have to test some of it with the stencil to ensure that the colour was deep enough that you could still see the stencil design.

With the fondant all rolled out I checked it for the usual dimples and imperfections that had shown up in past cakes. It looked pretty good so I was ready to hold my breath and cover the cake. I don’t know if this part ever gets any easier. I suppose it does, but the number of cakes I make that are covered in fondant are few and far between and the gaps between means I always worry that it will tear or I’ll have elephant skin or any number of other disasters will choose this time to upset the apple cart. No it wasn’t perfect. I had a small patch that had stretched a bit too much as I had covered the cake and I could see some of the ganche colour coming through. I wasn’t going to panic. I was hoping that by the time I stencilled the cake it would be hard to spot that bit. No point getting upset. I’m not a professional and I’m slowly learning to cut myself some slack. Every cake I make I learn new things so even if everything went haywire I’d still have found the experience valuable.

9 Texan sized muffins this was meant to make. 17 savoury "normal sized" muffin later, plus 12 chocolate. Who's complaining?

9 Texan sized muffins this was meant to make. 17 savoury “normal sized” muffin later, plus 12 chocolate. Who’s complaining?

I pricked a few air bubbles that refused to slip out from underneath the top of the cake so proceeded to start smoothing the sides, spreading the fondant down the sides of the cake. So far so good, even though it wasn’t perfect. Now the time to try out those homemade smoothers. First it was about getting sharper edges along the top of the cake. I have to say they worked better than I expected and I’m sure if I spent a little more time it would be even better, but it was the best I’d done to date so I wasn’t complaining. Next it was to assess the sides of the cake and focus on a bit where I’d bumped it and made a divot in the fondant. At first it wasn’t smoothing out, but then I changed to a circular movement with the rectangle smoother and that did the trick in no time at all. Although it wasn’t perfect I wasn’t beating myself up. I knew that the stencil would detract from the bits that could have done with some more time but I wasn’t sure if the fondant was already starting to dry out and I might actually gouge a bit that I couldn’t fix again because the fondant wasn’t quite as supple. Lastly I took a skewer and inserted it into the centre of the cake. It was now time to cross my fingers there wouldn’t be any ugly bulge to deal with in the morning when I got up.

So much for the delicate savoury item I was looking for to go with the rest of the afternoon tea.

So much for the delicate savoury item I was looking for to go with the rest of the afternoon tea.

As if that wasn’t enough, I spent the rest of the night covering the cookies I’d made the previous weekend (and had in the freezer) with royal icing. I was in two minds whether to then spray them with a subtle pearl gold over a stencil or not, but if I was going to then I wanted the cookies dry and ready the next day.

Then comes the next day where I get up and eye the cake to check for bulges. None! I ran my hands carefully around the cake and was really surprised how smooth it was. The homemade smoothers do a much better job than the Wilton fondant smoothers. I think it’s because there’s more contact on the cake, especially a round cake, from the homemade smoothers.  So that’s a winner. Although I’d already ordered some acetate smoothers from Etsy, I’m quite happy with the homemade ones I’ve got. The other bonus is that I didn’t have to use one bit of cornflour to stop the smoothers from getting stuck. Those thin chopping mats have just enough texture to them that they don’t grab and stick to the fondant.

Close up of the stencilling.

Close up of the stencilling.

I can tell you I was very nervous about using the stencil. I had watched some of the Craftsy class I was enrolled for on Stencilling. And I thought I had it sorted. I used the concept shown of how to wrap the stencil around the cake (that is a brand new knee high that I’m using), and I cut into my expensive stencil to make a slot for the knee high to feed into to secure the stencil around the cake. I wasn’t sure if my royal icing was quite the right consistency, if anything a bit on the soft side, so I stencilled a cookie first. It looked just fine to me. I’ve seen some stencilling where the royal icing was too stiff and it sort of looks like it’s pulled away in jagged bits around the edge of whatever the design is. I wanted my icing to be stiff enough to get the right shape left behind, but for the icing sit nicely and smooth out.

The consistency of the royal icing was just right for the cookie.

The consistency of the royal icing was just right for the cookie.

Let me say stencilling a cookie is considerably easier. Look at what happened to the bottom section of the cake. It’s all smooshed and has lost definition by comparison to the top half of the cake. Again there was no point getting upset. It wasn’t what I wanted but it was what it was. It’s not something you can just wipe away and start again. Because the bottom row of the design was thicker I had to wait longer for it to set enough before continuing on with a repeat of the pattern. It was about 2.5 times of the patter.

If I did this again (and I should really, I love the stencil design), I’d add another .5cm strip of stiff board (something that would bend) to the bottom of the stencil to lift the design up. I really should have had a full pattern at the top and not worried about where it finished at the bottom, especially since I was adding a ribbon to the bottom. Unfortunately the second section of the cake didn’t got any better than the first and the bottom was still thick. Not only that, the pattern didn’t quite line up and being the novice I am, I put royal icing over the last section of the pattern that was used to line up the stencil. I should have taped that off to avoid re-applying royal icing. As I say, I learn something (many things) each time I work on a cake. The last section I thought I was wising up and made more slots in the stencil at the bottom to try and get the stencil to sit flush against the bottom of the cake. That’s what it appeared was my problem. The stencil wasn’t flat against the cake, therefore the royal icing was being pushed through the stencil and each swipe over it to remove some of the excess was pushing more of it into the gap. This time I did line up the pattern better and I didn’t re-apply the royal icing over that section, and I had also used more painters tape to ensure I didn’t go back over the other side of the patter to re-apply where I’d actually started. I was already learning :)  However the icing still smooshed through at the bottom and didn’t appear to be any better for having secured the stencil toward the bottom. That leaves me to believe my royal icing needed to be a little stiffer. I’ll do better next time.

The cakeboard all dressed up. Frill press with brush embroidery.

The cakeboard all dressed up. Frill press with brush embroidery.

The dummy cake was ready, the actual cake was ready, now onto the cakeboard. And here I also learnt something. How boring would this be if I were perfect – haha!  I covered the board in fondant and used my homemade circle smoother which worked nicely to smooth out the fondant. I sort of lifted one side of it and kept it lifted while I went round in circular motions with the other bit. I held the one side up to make sure I didn’t gouge the fondant. Smoothing on a flat surface makes it a little easier to accidentally dig into the fondant. I used my new frilled edge pattern, bought specifically for this project (as was the stencil) and placed a 9″ circle onto the fondant (sadly I didn’t have the forethought to put baking paper under it to prevent it from sticking to the fondant) and then pressed the pattern into the fondant with the ends of the frill butting up to the circle. I really didn’t need to apply nearly half the pressure I was. I really only needed to get enough of an impression as I was going to use brush embroidery (something mum really likes) over the edge. Having pressed way to hard made it more tricky to then pipe over as I ended up with a bit of a trench like surface. I needed to pipe more icing so that it filled the little trench to reach the other side. I know that is difficult to understand, but hopefully you get it. I wasn’t happy with the colour of the icing so when it had dried I then brushed a pearl lustre over it.

More cookies. Using fondant roses and royal icing "flowers" to round out the design.

More cookies. Using fondant roses and royal icing “flowers” to round out the design.

Some stencilled and royal icing transfer cookies.

Some stencilled and royal icing transfer cookies.ay

After dinner I made the wafer paper flowers and finished piping and stencilling the rest of the cookies. I was pretty happy with where things were left for the day. I was tired, it was a full on day with one thing or another, but it meant Sunday I could potter and not be rushing about with last minute things. Everything was ready. Other than cleaning up the lounge. Don’t you find that job always gets done just as you’re about to have visitors. And then it looks so good you wonder why you don’t do it more often ;-)

Lots of food. And there's still those chocolate brioche to come!

Lots of food. Looks like someone already pinched a savoury brioche. Recipe for Brioche by Little & Friday.

We had a really lovely time in the afternoon. I had made some savoury and sweet Brioche rolls (well I was only going for savoury but really wanted to try the chocolate as well – I can’t help myself!) and Natalie had made her dainty meringues and her Russian Fudge. Of course there was too much food, but that’s what you do, over cater. Plus we skipped lunch because we knew we were having an afternoon tea.

Mum finally got her birthday present having had to wait another 4 days for it.

Wafer paper roses with a little petal dust to bring it all together.

Wafer paper roses with a little petal dust to bring it all together.

Happy Birthday Mum, love you!


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The ah-ha moment

Neat tricks from Craftsy classes.

Neat tricks from Craftsy classes.

In preparation for a number of upcoming cakes I took advantage for the Craftsy call and enrolled for 3 new classes. I still have classes I’ve not yet had time to watch.

I started by watching the Monogram class by Nicolas Lodge. Nicolas is a Pastry Chef trained in the UK but lives in the US. I reckon in the first 5 minutes I learnt about 5 valuable lessons and it was like a light bulb went on.

I’ve mentioned numerous times the awful cratering problem with royal icing. What I hadn’t really thought about was colours have glycerine in them and that softens the royal icing and also meringue powder only has about (I can’t recall exactly) 35% egg white and is not as strong to use as raw/pasteurised/egg albumen.

I looked on fascinated with putting your royal icing out onto the work surface and using a small spatula to paddle the air bubbles out and to smoosh any bit of icing sugar that hasn’t dissolved properly. Why on earth hadn’t I thought of doing that before?

Look ma!  No craters. And they're nice and shiny

Look ma! No craters. And they’re nice and shiny

Then it was onto using parchment cones and making sure you cut the end off to allow for half of the piping tip to seat into the end to ensure there’s no “leakage” between the paper and cone, and to write the tip number on the parchment cone so that you can tell what you’re using.

Those five minutes were priceless. And last night I put all of it into action and I’m one happy camper with how things turned out. I will say that I still put a bit of tape around the cone and tip because I wanted to be doubly sure.

Nice and neat does it.

Nice and neat does it.

I also tried out a new cookie sugar recipe. I often look at picture of naked cookies and wonder if the author has used some really clever photoshopping/filter to make their cookies look so pale. I don’t know what it appeals to me but it does. Anyway having mucked up my recipe last week I decided I’d give another recipe a shot (it wasn’t the recipe’s fault you understand, I made a boo-boo). This time I turned to Sweet SugarBelle and whipped up her recipe Friday night. The recipe says you don’t need to chill the dough but I wanted to have it ready for baking Saturday and with a long list of things I wanted to achieve this weekend I was making this Friday. I also only added 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

What I will say is the dough cut beautifully. I roll my dough between two pieces of waxed paper and I do it immediately. I then chill the dough already rolled out. The previous weekend I had an epiphany after I’d completing cutting the cookies out. I usually have to use my offset spatula to prize the cut cookie dough from the bottom piece of waxed paper and it can get a bit of a drag. I realised that I could peel back the top layer, place it back over the top, flip the whole thing so the bottom is not the top, peel back the now top piece of waxed paper and the dough would now come away cleanly from the waxed paper without the aid of any other kitchen implement. Yay, another win for me.

A little bit of growth but looking good.

A little bit of growth but looking good.

The cookies did spread a bit, but I expected the would. They were lighter than my usual batch, and I noticed any pointy bit on the cookie of course baked quicker and therefore darkened a bit more. After the cookies had cooled I packed them up into a Tupperware container between layers of paper towel and as expected, this morning when I checked there’s splotches on the paper towel from butter leaking. It something that seems to happen no matter what recipe you use. I wasn’t expecting it would be different with this recipe. No worse, no better. Now the cookies are tucked up into the freezer and will be decorated next weekend ready for Mum’s birthday afternoon tea on Sunday.

My practice piece of wafer paper and a bit of dusting.

My practice piece of wafer paper and a bit of dusting.

What else did I do?  Ahh yes. While in the States I had a couple of Amazon orders delivered to the place we were staying at in San Francisco. One of those orders happened to be a bit stack of water paper. It seems to be quite difficult to find in NZ, but I will say that it’s becoming more popular and more and more of the cake stores are now selling it, though usually in packs of 5, or singularly. I bought a massive stack of 100 (I think). Friday I night I decided it was high time I tried out some of the craft punches I had. When I say some, I mean the two I have. The wafer paper cut so nicely. I was especially thrilled at how well the patterns looked. Tonight I tried dusting them to see how well the paper would take to dusts. It seems it’s ok, but it’s fairly faint, not that they are strong colours, each was a pearl/lustre.

Trying to decide on a colour.

Trying to decide on a colour.

It’s been like a little voyage of discovery this weekend. I’ve done so much, I mean I was on the go all day yesterday doing all sorts of things for next weekend and just getting a few things in my head sorted so that I know what does and doesn’t work for cakes I’m planning. Including covering two dummy cakes. My word I’m out of practice rolling fondant. This morning I’ve woken up feeling very sore. My arms are heavy! I’ve come to the conclusion that Bakels fondant is so much harder to roll than Satin Ice. On that note I’ve bought several 1kg pails of Satin Ice fondant for when it comes time to do Jasmine and Sam’s wedding cake.

Using up the last of the transfer batch of Royal Icing.

Using up the last of the transfer batch of Royal Icing.

So much more has happened but I can’t share all of it because some of it relates to Mum’s birthday cake and I want to keep that until next weekend. And in case you’re thing has gone swimmingly well for me, I will admit to making a caramel syrup where the recipe said not to let the sugar burn, but I did. It was taking forever to reach the correct temperature that I turned my back for a few seconds too long and it was all over. All sorted though, a second batch was made and it worked out in the end.

Another something new. That pearl white is not really all that white in the finish.

Another something new. That pearl white is not really all that white in the finish.

Now, if only I could find enough time in the weekend to watch all those Craftsy classes I’m enrolled for.

 


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Sometimes it goes wrong – chalkboard cookies

Birthday bunting

Birthday bunting. I hand wrote and held my breath all the while.

Someone at work has a rather special birthday on Tuesday. Not that I’d given it much thought, but I decided on Saturday to make some cookies to take in. Dave has had his gallbladder removed so he wont be partaking of any cookies, cake or whatever else you might generally serve for such a celebration. But the rest of the team will be more than happy to have a cookie in his honour.

I made a blunder with the cookie dough, not paying attention. I ended up with twice the amount of white sugar than I should have. I knew that meant the dough would spread and spread it did. Given there’s no raising agents it spread big time. What I was left with was thinner cookies than I would have liked, and in turn that made giggling the cookies to get the royal icing to “melt” and settle in a nice even layer a bit tricky. One of the first cookies actually started to buckle in my hands.

Things were looking a bit funky.

Things were looking a bit funky.

This time I used a painters angled pallet knife type thing to spread the royal icing. Boy that’s a lot quicker than using a scribe took to push the icing out. It took no time to ice the cookies. Even before we went to bed I could see something odd going on with the black cookies. The black had quite a bit of cocoa powder in it to help deepen the colour, but it’s not a new trick for me.

Old wrinkly looking cookies

Old wrinkly looking cookies

This morning the first thing I did was check the cookies and I ended up with these wrinkly looking cookies. Boo. I wondered if it would be possible to scrape the icing off to salvage the cookies. But  before I decided whether to waste my time doing that, I wanted to know if the grey coloured cookies would still end up with a chalkboard type look. I got out my new click ‘n twist brush. It has quite a fat end and too fat to use on a small cookie. I decided to dab my paint brush into the paint that was pooling at the brush end. Phew. The cookie looked just fine. On that note I proceeded to scrape all the black royal icing off and re-ice the cookies with the grey.

Things were looking up. The chalkboard look was a go.

Things were looking up. The chalkboard look was a go.

Since the cookies were freshly iced I could use the “60” royal icing transfers I was doodling the night before. I let them drop and used the scribe tool to better position them, then push them into the icing a bit. I got carried away and decided to use some of the “eyes” as well. I’m going with a scene here, of people hiding in the dark to surprise Dave, shouting “Happy Birthday”. Yeah it looks odd but it’ll appeal to someone.

Practice makes perfect. Finally I had eyes. Not that I have a plan for them.

Practice makes perfect. Finally I had eyes. Not that I have a plan for them.

I decided that I might as well carry on puddling about and started to add little embellishments to the cookies. I’m hoping I haven’t made them a bit girly, but I’m sort of thinking black and white movie type era where they used lots of vintage type frames. Meanwhile I’m still trying to find the right font to use so that I can hand paint more messages onto the chalkboard cookies. I’ve also go some rugby balls and two scrolls in which to write a Happy Birthday message. The KopyKake will be used because the font will be a bit too fancy (not pretty, that’s different) for me to freehand.

Using this as a way to practice more piping.

Using this as a way to practice more piping.

I really like the cookies which have a bit of colour. I think being on a black background makes the colour stand more.

Hmm, capers. Maybe not next time.

Hmm, capers. Maybe not next time.

Plenty of spice in this tagine. Loved the dried apricots.

Plenty of spice in this tagine. Loved the dried apricots.

Anyway, aside from baking cookies I made another two Chelsea Winter recipes. Saturday night we had Chicken cacciatore and tonight the Lamb (but I used beef) slow-cooked tagine. Both were really good. That’s a lot of flavour in our weekend but both recipes got the thumbs up by Mr Fussy and he’ll be happy to have either meal again. Just not with the capers. It was the first time I’ve used capers and I can’t really say they wowed me. There was a hint of taste to them but nothing that made me think it really added something special to the meal. So no capers next time!

A bit more work to do but so far so good, given the rocky start to this project.

A bit more work to do but so far so good, given the rocky start to this project.

And in case you’re curious about the rugby balls and aeroplanes, Dave is fond of his rugby and Monday mornings are spent with the lads discussing the various games that were played. He also flies his own remote controlled planes and when the weather is suitable that’s where you’ll find him during his weekend, at the local flying club.


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Father’s Day

Royal Icing Transfers. I need to work on getting the consistency of the RI right.

Royal Icing Transfers. I need to work on getting the consistency of the RI right.

My Dad isn’t really one for all the fluff of a “celebration cake”. In some ways that meant I had an easy job for making something for Father’s Day, but what? What would I make that still looked special but didn’t require chocolate (Dad isn’t a fan) and still looked well presented.

All glazed up. Oma's Apple Tart.

All glazed up. Oma’s Apple Tart.

Having recently received my Chelsea Winter cookbook, At My Table, (it arrived the day we flew out to Canada) I browsed the pages and found something that seemed very much the type of food my Dad would like.

I’m sure Dad would have been quite happy with a block of cheese, or liquorice, or pineapple lumps, instead he got Chelsea’s Oma’s Dutch Apple Cake.

Start with a thin layer of batter

Start with a thin layer of batter

Add the sliced apple. And I added in freeze dried blueberries and some sultanas for good measure. Dad loves sultanas.

Add the sliced apple. And I added in freeze dried blueberries and some sultanas for good measure. Dad loves sultanas.

All ready for baking.

All ready for baking.

While Chelsea has shared a large number of her recipes on her own website, this particular one isn’t one of those. If you search you’ll find someone else has shared the recipe, but for copyright purposes I won’t.

When I phoned Dad to see that he’d be free the Sunday afternoon I ended the call with “tell Ruth she doesn’t need to make anything, we’ll bring afternoon tea”, and I knew those words would mean nothing.

As expected Natalie and I turned up with afternoon tea and Ruth had a table laid out with savouries and slices.

With a good dollop of cream. Pesto and cheese scones in the background.

With a good dollop of cream. Pesto and cheese scones in the background.

All that food was way too much (no surprises there!) and there was a heap left over. I had made far too many cookies so I dished those out and I left the leftover tart with Dad and Ruth to have with their dinner (which was leftover afternoon tea).

Pie anyone?

Pie anyone?

When we arrived home I got stuck into make Chelsea’s Cream Chicken Vegetable Pie. It isn’t a difficult recipe, but it does take a fair amount of time to get it all together, and that despite having prepared the carrots, mushrooms (yuck!), garlic and leek (the first time I touched one of those – had to ask for help how to prepare it!) during the morning.

Big chunks of chicken. I promise I tried to shred the chicken into "bite size pieces"

Big chunks of chicken. I promise I tried to shred the chicken into “bite size pieces”

The pie however was well worth the effort. Despite Mr Fussy’s misgivings about leek (which he’d never had, but on principle that it was a vegetable he didn’t like it) he enjoyed the pie. We did suggest that we might make it without the mushrooms next time. Neither of us are a fan but my MIL likes them so I kept them in, this time.

Dehydrator trays filled with cookies.

Dehydrator trays filled with cookies.

Going back to my cookies, I bought a dehydrator on returning to Christchurch and this was my first time trying it out with the cookies. It certainly helped speed up the drying time, but it didn’t quite eliminate the possibility of craters. You can see a couple of the letters have the tell-tale sign of a crater wanting to break free.

Some of the cookies

Some of the cookies

It was a very busy weekend in the kitchen for me. I’ve made Mum’s birthday cakes, ganache and royal icing in preparation for more sugar cookies to come.

During the week several packages arrived with more cake/cookie decorating things. One of those was a book on using cocoa butter to paint on sugar. The book has a number of different methods of painting and I enjoyed reading it Friday night. Now I’m itching to start painting. I can see a few week nights practicing all these new ideas I have running around in my head. In fact I’ve got so many ideas I’m almost not sure where to start! Better find somewhere.


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Happy birthday Mary

This weekend was my Mother-in-Laws birthday.

12 serves would be better. And it would use up all the Rocher Chocolates!

12 serves would be better. And it would use up all the Rocher Chocolates!

I chose the cake I wanted to bake as soon as I read Summer’s blog post on 7 August. I was only days from having gotten off a plane from our 6 week holiday over the other side of the world and I hadn’t quite gotten my head into the game. I wanted something that would look effective (and taste delicious) without having to drag out all the tools and equipment to create flowers to adorn a fondant covered cake.

Summer’s recipe just hit the mark and I loved how fluffy and light the cake looked.

Last weekend I set about making the cake. I knew it would be a little time consuming because when Summer said “about” a third I knew that I would be doing “precisely” a third.

You can see just how many bowls I used in making sure I had just the right amount of vanilla and chocolate batter to marble the cakes.

Brown sugar in cookies can be difficult to mix in thoroughly.

Brown sugar in cookies can be difficult to mix in thoroughly.

The same weekend I also made a batch of cookies using my new Whisked Away Cutters. I had a new recipe to try. It was a bit of a mish-mash of a few recipes. I really wanted a recipe with a darker cookie. This is a ginger based cookie but it tastes more spicy than it does ginger.

Hmm, what to do with these blank canvases.

Hmm, what to do with these blank canvases.

As I often do, I started flooding the cookies and then wondered how I would decorate them. Of course leaving it this late meant no wet-on-wet. But in the end it worked out just fine. I found stencilling to be so much easier than I’d anticipated. I guess I’d built it up to be a bit of a difficult method but it was super quick and easy. Of course I they’re not perfect but I’ve already learnt a few things in my first attempt and I wont be hesitant again.

Vanilla meets chocolate meets more vanilla. And marble.

Vanilla meets chocolate meets more vanilla. And marble.

I took the cakes from the freezer Thursday night after arriving back from a work trip to Alexandra (so pretty down there during Winter) and Friday I made the frosting. Unfortunately the frosting hadn’t cooled and thickend enough for me to complete covering the cake that night so I covered the mixer bowl and put it in the fridge overnight.

This is how gorgeous the frosting looked Friday night.

This is how gorgeous the frosting looked Friday night.

Saturday we started the day with pancakes (love those buttermilk pancakes) and I took the mixer bowl from the fridge and gave the frosting a poke. Solid. Cold and solid. Now I had something I still couldn’t work with. On the Friday night it was beautifully mixed, shiny and velvety. Now it was dull and hard.

Of course I didn’t really have the patience (or wish to leave it to the last minute) to wait several hours to see if it came back to room temperature in time and would be the right consistency/thickness to work with, so I put the bowl into another bowl with some warm water and slowly started to break it up and mix those smaller solid bits together a bit.

When I felt the smaller solid bits were small enough I used the mixer to start to incorporate it. I had to keep scraping the bowl and paddle to get the frosting that was clinging to both back into the bowl. The more I mixed the frosting the lighter it was becoming and I didn’t really want a two toned frosting. It took quite a bit to get the frosting to where I thought it was right to work with. What I hadn’t realised until I was covering the cake was the chunks of chocolate. While everything was perfectly mixed and smooth and glossy on Friday, it seems the chocolate decided to make a return to its original state. I hadn’t realised this or else I’d have done something more (I don’t know what) to incorporate things better. Most of my chocolate was 72% so it could be that I just had too much cocoa solids to work back into a homogeneous velvety smooth frosting.

Fixing the channel.

Fixing the channel.

I’d noticed too with the cakes that as they baked, they rose from the edge, then from the middle but they never quite met so I ended up with a channel on each cake.

At this stage I’m putting this down to the cake tins. My cake tins are all 3” and I know that can make a difference in getting the heat into the cake tin. Anyway, I’ve ordered a bunch of 2” cake tins from the USA now, they’re dirt cheap by comparison to what we pay here in NZ, and I couldn’t find any 2” cake pans at all the usual places I buy from.

The other thing that told me these cakes hadn’t baked as they should was the finished height. Summer said they’d be around 1.5” but mine were barely 1” right in the centre. I knew these cakes were unlikely to be quite as light and fluffy as Summer’s cake.

After 6 weeks of being away from the kitchen and having seen the Baking Powder container was nearing the end I suspect that I also need to replace the last of my baking powder.

Little bits of chocolate not quite mixed back into the frosting.

Little bits of chocolate not quite mixed back into the frosting.

As for the cake, it is as Summer said, not sweet but it is rich. That frosting is so yummy, even with the little chunks of chocolate. I had a hard job pulling myself away from the left over frosting. I had to tip the last of it down the sink or I’d have eaten the lot! And there’s a diet already in my horizon (as of tomorrow!! L) That stuff is so good it’s bad.

Marble cake slice.

Marble cake slice. 

Because of those little bits of chocolate I opted not to have a smooth cake. A pallet knife made easy work of putting little ridges in the surface. Then it was just a case of piping a few swirls and placing the Rocher chocolates on the top and job done.

I’m going to have to re-make the cake once my new pans arrive (baking powder is already on the shopping list). I’m keen to see how the cakes bake without such a barrier of a cake tin to work against.

All together now. Happy Birthday, to you!

All together now. Happy Birthday, to you!

The great news is I couldn’t see all those little bits of cake that I’d placed in the channel. Love having a cake that provides it’s own camouflage.

One last comment. This cake can easily got 12 slices. I decorated the cake for 10 slices but only Mr Fussy and his brother could manage to eat an entire slice. It was so rich that smaller serves would have been nicer.

Getting the hang of the stencilling.

Getting the hang of the stencilling.

 


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Overall bits and bobs from Europe

I was intrigued by all the unusual key rings we were given with keys to the various AirBnB apartments we hired. This one from Paris.

I was intrigued by all the unusual key rings we were given with keys to the various AirBnB apartments we hired. This one from Paris.

This post was started while we were still in Europe, we’d just started our journey through Italy. This post is a collection of thoughts I had as we travelled through Europe, of the things I saw that stuck out to me.

Narrow cobbled roads mean nothing to taxis and buses. They actually hoon down the streets.

Complimentary bar snacks that come with your drink. People just bar hope to get the snacks. Saves on going out for dinner.  This is in Milan.

Complimentary bar snacks that come with your drink. People just bar hope to get the snacks. Saves on going out for dinner. This is in Milan.

Standing at a zebra crossing means nothing. I mean nothing! Unlike NZ where if you’re standing at a zebra crossing the traffic, by law, has to stop to allow you to cross, in Europe a zebra crossing might as well not even exist. You take your life into your own hands. A zebra crossing is not a place to rely on for safe passage across a road. You must have eye contact with the driver of an oncoming car before you can be sure that they will actually slow, because stopping is not always guaranteed.

Our Paris apartment's toilet was pretty typical of toilets in buildings. It's like they got to the end and realised they had yet to put a loo in. Where shall we put it?  Oh here's a poky little space that should be just big enough. And so it was done.

Our Paris apartment’s toilet was pretty typical of toilets in buildings. It’s like they got to the end and realised they had yet to put a loo in. Where shall we put it? Oh here’s a poky little space that should be just big enough. And so it was done.

Even the women’s public toilets smell bad.

Italians come in all shapes and sizes. And there’s a lot of them that are really short, I mean shorter than me!

The temperature is bearable here until it climbs above 28 degrees, then it really does sap the energy from you and it’s time to seek shelter.

The sun doesn’t burn, it’s just a really nice warmth (until it’s above 28 degrees).

Lifts are narrow. At all of our hotels we were thankful for the lift, but they only fit our suitcases, and maybe one of us. Some lifts were quite speedy, others so slow feel you can watch the minutes tick by.

Mora Paris. Not just wannabe bakers shop here. Some very respectable chefs come all the way here to shop, or so it says on the website.

Mora Paris. Not just wannabe bakers shop here. Some very respectable chefs come all the way here to shop, or so it says on the website.

Cake decorating is a non-event. Everywhere we visited, that had a department store, sold KitchenAids but they are pricey. Except they have them on sale at the moment. I thought the price was fixed and it was one of those items that you never see on sale (outside of America), but that’s proven not to be the case. The price varies a lot. Geneva they were dearer than NZ at full price, but in Bologna they were doing a really good deal, and throwing in the pasta attachment for less than what you could buy in NZ.

Finding cookie cutters is hard, even when we really thought we were looking in every nook and cranny we often couldn’t see them. The find in Bologna was significant which is why I went bonkers and spent more than €70.

And it's Mora I purchased these. Those tart rings are so very cheap by comparison to what you pay to have them shipped to NZ. Could not pass these up.

And it’s Mora I purchased these. Those tart rings are so very cheap by comparison to what you pay to have them shipped to NZ. Could not pass these up.

Chocolate moulds aren’t too hard to find, in a speciality store, in France. Any other cake decorating piece of equipment is ridiculously priced.

The further into Italy we went the more we spotted stores selling pasta cutters/stamps.

Every restaurant puts out a bowl of parmesan cheese, which tastes significantly better than anything I’ve bought at home (and I think I buy quality), balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

You’ll also find they’ll bring out a little basket (or type of) with bread. I’m not sure if it’s to snack on while you wait, or it’s meant to accompany your meal.

We eat pizza differently to what we’ve witnessed. In Italy we’ve seen people eat a slice of pizza with the crust wrapped in the serviette. They don’t use a knife and fork, and they don’t just pick it up in their fingers. We’ve also seen them wrap the small end of the wedge over (to the crust end) and then eat the slice.

This is the drink that seemed to be the favourite throughout Europe. Orange, White wine and apple. I didn't like it nearly as much as the locals.  This is the restaurant Mr Fussy had his Tortellini and he'd travel all the way back just to have it again. He hasn't stopped talking about it since we've been home.

This is the drink that seemed to be the favourite throughout Europe. Orange, White wine and apple juice. I didn’t like it nearly as much as the locals. This is the restaurant Mr Fussy had his Tortellini and he’d travel all the way back just to have it again. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since we’ve been home. But check out those breadsticks. You could lose an eye!

The drink of choice seems to be a Spritz. We noticed once we got to Paris that many people were having this brightly coloured orange drink. When we got to Modena we asked the waiter what it was and he told us it was a Spritz and was very popular. It’s Orange with Apple juice and white wine. We had one (well I had some and gave the rest to Mr Fussy), it was OK, but not what I’d have chosen.

Milan. Gorgeous decorations from the Designer capitol or Italy.

Milan. Gorgeous decorations from the Designer capitol or Italy. I could see cookie embellishments/designs everywhere.

Unlike our first trip (together) to Europe, this time we’ve noticed the breakfast served at a hotel now includes a good selection of cereal and yoghurt. Previously we’ve seen nothing but cold meats, cheese and pastries.

When people stop to have their photo taken with something significant, they really pose. I mean pose like they’re on a photo shoot. I watched one women in the Ferrari museum actually move from one stance straight into another and another and another. I mean really. What happened to just being in the picture with the statute or “thing”. Now it’s all flashy smiles and placement of arms etc. Maybe it’s just me and my dislike for my photo to be taken. At that level it just seems a bit gratuitous.

Strolling down the main street in Milan I noticed these grates everywhere. As a woman you'd be picking your path very carefully. You would not want your heels stuck in these.

Strolling down the main street in Milan I noticed these grates everywhere. As a woman you’d be picking your path very carefully. You would not want your heels stuck in these.

I most definitely will not miss hovering over toilet seats, or drinking so little because I had no idea where I’d find the next toilet. The toilets are pretty miserable.

Very few women had wavy hair. Or blonde hair. It’s not significant, just an observation I had. Still it’s hard to know if we were seeing tourists/visitors or they were locals.

The closer we got to Rome the easier it felt being a non-Italian speaking tourist. But despite it getting easier, there was no better feeling than arriving back on UK soil and knowing that 90% of the time you spoke the person you were speaking to knew exactly what you meant.

Some more typical breakfast items seen this journey. This from our motel in Modena.

Some more typical breakfast items seen this journey. This from our motel in Modena.

I already miss the paramsen cheese. I was at the supermarket last night and wanted to buy some. I just coulnd’t face the paramsen cheeses at the supermarekt. I’ve been ruined.

Also our balsamic vinegar isn’t nearly as special as I had thought. After having balsamic vinegar on every table we dined at, I’ve come to know that the thicker the syrup the better the quality. Ours seems like it’s thin dirty water. Again, ruined!

Gelato is very addictive. Or perhaps knowing I’d find it difficult to come by anywhere else I practically gorged myself on it. I’m paying for it now of course and the “D” word is on my lips. Too much dining out and gelato has taken its toll.

Again in Milan. Just another place you can grab a bike and tootle around. Find somewhere to drop it back and you're done. Great idea and commonplace in Europe.

Again in Milan. Just another place you can grab a bike and tootle around. Find somewhere to drop it back and you’re done. Great idea and commonplace in Europe. This is actually the train station. It was such a beautiful building inside and out.

The water is so different that it made my hair feel so soft and almost limp. But then by the end of the day my hair felt really gungy. The pollution does that to it, but during the day you’re not aware of the pollution so it took me a while to realise the cause of the thick not straw-like feeling was from the pollution.

The buildings are stunning. The architecture, the detail, the materials. Just mind-blowing. But the buildings lack colour. Again as we travelled further through Italy colour started to to appear. It wasn’t until you saw a building with some colour that you realised you’d been deprived of it for days and days.

Exotic cars aren’t so exotic in Italy. Where you’d be gazing off into the distance looking after a Ferrari rushing past you here in NZ, it’s just so common place in Europe that it’s barely worth a second glance.

Public transport is so incredibly good. There’s plenty of options, the cost is minimal and it runs so smoothly.

Love love love the doors. Just amazing.

Love love love the doors. Just amazing.

Homeless people. We have homeless people in NZ and it would be wonderful if every New Zealander could meet their own needs, but somehow in your own country it feels safer. I wonder if it’s because we understand our laws, our medical system, our government agencies that have been set up to assist the homeless. When you’re outside your own home it feels scray. It put me on high alert all the time.

For all the differences, the unsettling times, the puzzlement, the frustrations, I’ll be back. Never again to Paris, but we’ll be back to spend more time in Italy that’s for sure. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever tire of the history, the scenery, the people and customs. There’s so much to learn and so much to learn about yourself when you travel to other countries.

 

 


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Rome: In a day (Day 3)

Well they say Rome wasn’t built in a day (and that’s no joke), but that’s all we had left to see parts of Rome.

The myth about how Rome came about from a she-wolf who suckled  Romulus and Remus.

The myth about how Rome came about from a she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus.

Clearly we needed a plan since we had to spend our time wisely.

We (or I mostly) chose The Colosseum, The Pantheon, Old Rome – Circo Massimo (which was right outside our door and Mr Fussy hadn’t seen it during his previous visit), the “Best” Pizza and the “Best” Gelato as told by our Segway Tour Guide, Massimo and Mr Fussy insisted that I see The Trevi Fountain.

So many apartment complexes had their own fountains. This one was from a pretty swanky looking place. And probably why the fountain is a bit extravagant looking.

So many apartment complexes had their own fountains. This one was from a pretty swanky looking place. And probably why the fountain is a bit extravagant looking.

I would have liked to see The Vatican too but we knew it would be unlikely and rather than be really disappointed we couldn’t squeeze it in, it’s earmarked for a future visit to Rome (and we’re already planning – I’m writing having been at home now for almost 2 weeks).

I suggested that we may need to use Taxis to get from one place to the next so that we could cover the distance needed, but in the end we walked almost everywhere, and it was still stinking hot.

The alarm had been set early so that we could get to the Colosseum for 8:30 when it opened. I’d booked our tickets the day before so we expected to pretty much march in there. But no. Things had changed in recent weeks, and despite having booked our tickets, we still had a line. A separate line, but we still had to go up to the counter to have our email confirming the purchase checked and exchanged for paper tickets.

Hot already and it was only about 9am. We'd just begun our visit at the Colosseum.

Hot already and it was only about 9am. We’d just begun our visit at the Colosseum.

Having tickets in hand we proceeded through the gate to pretty much have to return to the same cubicles to get an Audio Guide. What I hadn’t known was that without having booked the audio guide, I was required to leave my passport or other ID with a photo at the counter. There was a great deal of unease on my part about walking away from my passport. It pretty much ruined my use of the audio guide and believe it or not I only really started to listen to it as I was lined up to return the audio guide some hours later.

We made our way up to where the audio guide starts. I was so confused because the map we had showed something like 6 places for the audio guide. I didn’t understand how somewhere like the Colosseum could have only 6 points of interest and though the map was therefore for something else.

We learnt a lot from reading these signs. Not all the reading was of fairytales.

We learnt a lot from reading these signs. Not all the reading was of fairytales.

These stairs didn't look to be all that comfortable. I can't imagine wanting to sit here for too long.

These stairs didn’t look to be all that comfortable. I can’t imagine wanting to sit here for too long.

I stood and tried to take it all in. I recalled several movies I’d seen of Roman times and conjured up the sounds and images. It sure does look and feel very different when you’re there. Reading the boards where accounts of activities or descriptions of what we saw was an eye opener. Strange how being a part of the Colosseum made those descriptions seem more barbaric than how you feel when watching a movie portraying the same things.

I wished we had booked a guide, I know there is so much more to the place than what we read, and what I heard when I was listening to the audio guide.

Looking down to what were underground passage ways that animals and slaves were brought up to provide the entertainment.

Are you starting to get an appreciation for just how large the Colosseum is? Look how tiny the people are.

While it had been cool inside the Colosseum when we’d been in line, being out in the open was very hot and so when we decided we had to move on (we could have spent so much more time). We had to walk past The Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus in English) to get to the apartment and we’d pretty much expected we would go there on our way, but now there was a very long line. With the heat of the day at 11am we decided to return when it was later in the day and instead head off to the best Pizza place in Rome. We’d been told to arrive there around 11:30 – 12pm so leaving the Colosseum at 11am meant we should arrive right on time.

We swapped a few things at the apartment before heading on. I’ve got to say it was so welcoming being in the apartment with the air con going that it made it difficult to go back out into the heat.

And every day life continues. Despite the Colosseum being a ruin, there's still maintenance and upkeep going on.

And every day life continues. Despite the Colosseum being a ruin, there’s still maintenance and upkeep going on.

As we headed to the pizza place we found ourselves walking down a very narrow “road”. All of a sudden the buildings become shop fronts and we were walking past shoe and clothing shops. We walked past one place I wanted to visit if we had time. They had a number of sort of crocheted type tops that I was interested in. I could see wearing them over a singlet type top allowing me to look a bit smarter but still stay as cool as was possible.

One of the many stalls at the market.

One of the many stalls at the market.

Almost immediately past that shop we entered a Piazza and here by day it was a Market place in full swing. I recalled Massimo had described this during our Segway tour. Not that I knew where we were then at night, but now I knew.

We made our way to the Pizza place and were pleasantly surprised that there was no queue at all.

I asked permission about taking photos of the "Best" pizza place. This is just part of their display case.

I asked permission to take photos of the “Best” pizza place. This is just part of their display case.

Lots more than pizza.

Lots more than pizza.

No way you'd go hungry here.

No way you’d go hungry here.

The Pizza place is a walk in only. They weighed the pizza a bit like we’d experienced in Modena with the Focaccia, then you take it up to the counter to pay. We couldn’t see anywhere we could sit but decided the edge of the fountain would do. Ordinarily in that heat I’d welcome the little bit of splash we got but not when food is sitting around. After enjoying our pizza we wandered into the Market to check it out. Mostly there were scarves and other ladies items and fruit stalls. There was on that sold lollies and several that sold spices. We made out way to one of several that had plastic milk shake sized/shaped containers filled with fruit. We’d been craving fresh fruit. We paid for one filled with cut strawberries and the one I got had pineapple and grapes. Then the staff sort of pointed and gestured to join another line. The cups of fruit were cut for the purpose of making into pure juice. In our best English (haha) we in turn did our own gesturing to explain we just wanted the fruit to eat. We got the usual daft looks. We spent the rest of the time it took to eat the fruit wandering about. I bought a couple of square shawls the headed to the shop I spied on our way into the market.

Mr Fussy's lunch. This was potato and onion. Lunch was eaten just as it was packaged up, like a sandwich.

Mr Fussy’s lunch. This was potato and onion. Lunch was eaten just as it was packaged up, like a sandwich.

Another of the stalls from the Market.

The Market was a busy place.

Having bought much more than I had expected (that elderly shop owner was shrewd!) I consulted Google maps to plan out our path to the next destination, The Pantheon.

The sun makes it seems like this is a painting.

The sun makes it seems like this is a painting.

So much detail. It takes my breath away.

So much detail. It takes my breath away.

All around the inside of the Pantheon are little alcoves with some statue or painting.

All around the inside of the Pantheon are little alcoves with some statue or painting.

Another impressive building. You feel so insignificant, like a little ant.

Another impressive building. You feel so insignificant, like a little ant.

The Pantheon was pretty impressive from the outside and I really wanted to stop and take photos before we got inside the building, but it was so hot. I really didn’t know what the Pantheon was. I was pretty naïve about so many things. But I know better now!

I couldn’t believe it was free to enter this place. There was a lady in a booth but she was there to ensure you were reasonably dressed to enter. I had to put on my shirt over my top, but I had carried it for just such occasions.

It never ceases to amaze me just how serious people are about their religion. The place was filled with people gawing in amazement but there were the faithful seated in quite reflection, some clearly praying, those kneeling in front of the alter and crossing themselves. I really did feel like I was intruding. Every so often a voice would come over the speaker system reminding people this was a place of worship and to keep quiet. Even whispering, as most were, it was very noisy. As per usual we found a seat, more that I needed a rest from walking all day. It was good though to sit and look around an just absorb the atmosphere and try to understand what draws people to a place like this, or what reasons they had. Some were there simply to take professional photos. Others seemed to move about quickly, having somewhere else they had to dash off to. I like to people watch. There was just too much to see. I wish we had more time. I’d love to spend an hour or so to just soak up all of the paintings and sculptures, to think about what it was like to build a place like this, what it must have been like to live in those times and how life was so different, responsibilities, priorities and status having different meaning to today. I bet it was as hard for them to see into the future and understand how the building would be received and used as it is for me to think back to the time in which it was built.

How does he do that? Trickery or otherwise.

How does he do that? Trickery or otherwise.

We headed to the Trevi Fountain but would pass the “Best” Gelato shop to get there. We were almost at the Gelato shop when we saw a crowd of people looking at something. We weren’t sure what it was until we go much close, but there was a guy levitating. Now I’m not usually one to belive in such things, they seem to be best suited for magic shows (which I’m also sceptical about), but I couldn’t see anything going on that could disguise any sort of ledge or wires. This guy truly appeared to be levitating. He much have been so hot all kitted out in full garb, but then if it’s to hide “things” that are needed in his “act” then I guess you have to put up with it.

The "Best" Gelato store.

The “Best” Gelato store.

The Gelato store wasn’t just gelato, they had chocolates and pastries and savoury items as well. I joined the queue waiting to get into the area where the Gelato counter was when it dawned on me that we had to pay first before we got there. Instead of sending Mr Fussy to pay, or to take my place, I left the queue and paid for the gelatos and rejoined the queue. Then after a few moments the lady at another counter said there’s no queue and to move away from and into the gelato area.

It didn’t take me a moment to begin walking and then shuffling about to try and get a position. The thing with being vertically challenged is that I don’t get seen if the counter is lined with say cones, serviettes and chalkboards describing flavours. I desperately looked at Mr Fussy who understood that in order to be noticed he was going to have to jockey for position since I seemed wedged right in the spot you wouldn’t see anything! There were about 6 men serving and they just took the ticket from whoever waved it in their direction. We were in front of the side of the counter where all the gelato was made from fruit rather than milk based. That suited us just fine and I wasn’t worried I couldn’t see the flavours from the other counter. Mr Fussy had champagne and I can no longer remember the other flavour, I had mandarin and again, the other flavour escapes me. Both were intense and refreshing, but as for the “Best”. Mr Fussy still remembered our very first Gelato in Milan being his favourite.

I had read reviewed on Yelp that explained that once served you had to move outside, past the tables. Some people in the past had been “yelled” at for sitting at the tables. In Europe they really are serious that if you sit at a table there’s a service fee. So you move right on outside and line the narrow street and gulp down your gelato that is melting furiously because it’s so hot.

Shut up shop. We probably missed this by a couple of weeks tops. A bit of a disappointment.

Shut up shop. We probably missed this by a couple of weeks tops. A bit of a disappointment.

Next we set off for the Trevi Fountain. I had recalled Mr Fussy talking about the fountain when we was recounting his Contiki trip. Did I know what it was or what made it so famous/popular? No. I just knew that people threw money into it. So imagine our surprise when we came across the place and it was completely engulfed in wire fencing and EMPTY. Wikipedia has some details about the restoreation. While we were there I saw no way we could walk over the scaffolding and knew nothing about a pool of water from the fountain you could throw your coins into.

Feeling a bit disappointed the fountain was empty and nothing like Mr Fussy had remembered we decided we’d head back to the apartment, ditch the goodies we’d bought and see if the queue to Circo Massimo had lessened. Sadly the heat of the day hadn’t.

This was the one time we got a taxi during the day, and it wasn’t exactly easy. As we walked to the taxi rank one taxi was being loaded up and on its way. There was another taxi there but it was empty. We couldn’t see the driver. Another person who was also waiting managed to flag down a taxi. Wolf whistling really does get the job done. But as for us we just waited and eventually a taxi pulled up. Initially I thought he was getting out for a rest but when we asked if he was free he got back in and away we went.

How to feel really small.

How to feel really small.

Walking to the entrance of Circo Massimo was exhausting. The wasn’t a queue and we were soon loaded up with a map and decided on a direction to head. I’m afraid I was so hot that even getting my phone out to take photos was becoming too much of an effort. I walked around trying to imagine what the place was like thousands of years ago when it was the city. In some parts the ruins were so insignificant that you could have missed the place as being something of importance, but other structures still stood large and foreboding. We took shelter and rest wherever we could, and were thankful for the numerous fountains which we could fill up our water bottles. It was a scorcher of a day, even by Roman standards. Okay, now that I’ve gone looking for links online, the place we were at is known as The Roman Forum. But all the time the maps showed this as Circo Massimo, and our Segway Guide had called it that too. I’m just a bit confused.

Such massive columns.

Such massive columns.

I wonder what the building looked like. Amazing that the columns survived.

I wonder what the building looked like. Amazing that these columns survived.

It was obviously the trend to have columns of gigantic proportions.

It was obviously the trend to have columns of gigantic proportions.

With taking a seat where we could often we’d end up with a tour guide with a group talking about what sort of activities took place in the building. It was quite nice to eavesdrop and learn a few more tidbits than we picked up from the plaques outside each site. But at the end of the day it was far too hot to spend more time and so we cut our visit shorter than I would have liked. There was a whole other side that we never got to see. While I’d been impressed by the column structures that we could see easily as we walked from our apartment, now we were in amongst them, and they were larger than I can ever explain. I really do wonder why they built things on such a large scale. I’m not sure what the purpose was, it certainly wasn’t for structure. Again the details and carving in such stubborn materials blew me away. We made our way to one of the exits and headed for the sanctuary of the apartment. I’ve got to say 36 degrees is about 8 degrees too hot to be able to move in. Before we got too far we saw a number of bridal parties up at the Captioline Museum. Again, using any excuse for a sit down, we sat on the stairs and observed the proceedings. There were lots of photos and it was interesting to see part of the celebrations and see how they are not dissimilar to NZ. Apparently it’s very expensive to get married and so it’s all that common, as if getting married should be considered common, I’m just stuck for a more appropriate word. The two parties we saw seemed to differ quite a bit in style, even when you looked at their guests and their behaviour. We sat listening to an Australian accent next to us that would turn to Italian. Mum was explaining to her two young daughters what was going on. One of the daughters was thrilled that the bride had paid some attention to her and given her some flowers. Anyway, having spent a good 10 minutes regrouping we were on our way back to the apartment to gather some strength to soon head out for our last evening meal in Rome, last evening meal in Italy, last evening meal in Europe.

I could look at the detail all day.

I could look at the detail all day.

Such beauty from such a blank canvas.

Such beauty from such a blank canvas.

They sure were extraordinary craftsmen.

They sure were extraordinary craftsmen.

You’re going to laugh. We went to the Pizza where we’d seen the Market that lunchtime, to the place we’d be warned not to go for a meal because it’s too touristy and the food is not so good. But we really didn’t feel like pasta (I can’t believe I reached that point). We sat at a table facing into the Piazza and I had the most glorious green salad while Mr Fussy had a meal that closely resembled a Mexican dish.

Makeshift display tables.

Makeshift display tables.

Back again for another attempt of setting up shop.

Back again for another attempt of setting up shop.

We had a great view, again the people watching was interesting. I noticed a number of street vendors quickly pack up their things and high tail it over the back corner just out of view. After some time they’d slinker back and pull out their make shift tables and set up their wares again. And then they’d scatter and be gone again. It took a few times of this for me to realise that they were probably not meant to be selling what they were and any sniff of police they were gone. Poof, vanished. Well not quite because I could still see them hovering about out the back corner of the Piazza. I checked with one of the waiters and he confirmed they were trying to keep under the radar of the local police. The other thing that was fun to watch was a young boy at the water fountain. He was having a ball putting his finger over the end so that the water spouted out of the hole (meant for drinking from), he was doing it in such a way that it jetted out and wet anyone walking in the vicinity. Occassionally he’d back away and let someone fill up their water bottle, or someone would cup their hands trying to get some water (they really needed to know you could drink from it like a drinking fountain) but then the little boy would return and more hijinx ensued. His Mum, finally having enough, scooted the little boy and his sister away and order was restored, but not before a good many people enjoyed the entertainment and remembered what it was like to be a young child where the simpliest of things gave us the greatest of pleasures. Ok, maybe it was just me ;-)

So much fun to watch this little boy playing tricks on people with the water fountain.

So much fun to watch this little boy playing tricks on people with the water fountain.

Having finished our meal we headed across the corner where the street sellers kept racing for cover and had our very last gelato. Chocolate Mint for Mr Fussy and I have no recollection of what I had, but I suspect it was fruity. We were finally completely satisfied and made our way back down the tiny narrow streets to the apartment to try and do the best we could to get our packing in order.

Thankfully I checked out EasyJets website and noticed our bag allowance was just 20kg each. Suspecting we’d be a bit over that I bought an extra 6 kilo (you can pool your luggage allowance). Feeling like we were all set for our flight the next day it was lights out since we had a very early start of the day.

I’d like to say everything went well leaving Rome, and I guess it did, but while standing in line for bag drop (yes there was a line, another line!) I realised I had entered Mr Fussy’s passport number incorrectly into the EasyJet website when making our booking. I had a horrible fear that it would cost us a lot of money for that oversight. I was trying desperately to get online on their site to update our details and willing the line to move slower. Who ever thought I’d be happy to be in a line after all. Anyway I couldn’t get a connection (story of my life, airports show as having free wifi but in reality it doesn’t exist, it’s just a myth) and just hoped the fine wouldn’t be too awful, or worse that we had to cancel the ticket and buy a new one (I was thinking worse case scenario). When we got to the counter I showed the boarding pass issued on their Android App. The lady spoke really slow like we might not be understanding her, though her English was really good and we, were, well, English speaking. She was taking everything so slowly. She was looking at her monitor, then looking at the weight of our bags and then started to say we were overweight. I explained I’d purchased more baggage allowance the night before and then as if time wasn’t an issue she looked back at the screen and said yes it was showing. It was so strange. Everything in slow motion. Anyway she then gave us a really thorough explanation of passing through security and through to the gate which hadn’t yet been announced. And not once did she notice the passport didn’t match the details saved on their database.

We passed through security without a hitch then my next concern was the airline hostesses might notice when they checked our ticket against the passport at the gate. I started to think logically and realise they didn’t have time to compare numbers, rather just make sure the photo in the passport matched the person in front of them. And so it was.

What I couldn’t understand was the time which the flight was scheduled to leave. We were still standing in a queue waiting for tickets to be checked before getting on the bus to be taken to the plane. Clearly the flight time was taking into account the time it would take to get all passengers to the plane and seated. As it turned out we were sitting on the tarmac for a good 70 minutes before getting underway. There were thunderstorms in London and so we were waiting for the backlog of planes to have landed until there was a gap for us to arrive.

When we finally arrived we made the very long journey to Immigration. I found it really weird the non EU people were directed down a different ramp to the EU passport holders only to arrive back at the same area. We weren’t the only Kiwis on the flight, and not the only Kiwis having sussed out the situation and commented on the extra distance we had to walk in order to reach the same point.

The only reason I’m talking about having now arrived back in the UK (Gatwick airport) is to explain the third degree we got when questioned about our arrival. When we first arrived to London at the beginning of our trip we just breezed in and pretty much were ignored all the way through. Now we were being treated like we might be trying to slip into the country and overstay. I just wanted to show the lady our booked flights. Honestly we were really getting more questions than were necessary. After all, we were a couple, we weren’t young, we hardly looked like we’d be hoping for a better life in the UK. I didn’t think the questions were ever going to stop. She wanted to know which countries we’d visited which I said, then she wanted to write down all the places we’d been, in the end she settled for Milan, Modena, Bologna, Florence and Rome being listed as Italy. What were were going to do with our time, how long we were staying, what address would we be staying at, what was our relationship to them, and then one question I’ve never heard anyone being asked before was whether our leave was paid or unpaid. Clearly we looked like a threat to the UK. I guess this made up for all those times in the past we’ve just sauntered on into the UK without so much as anyone batting an eyelid. But really I thought it was overkill.

Finally being released from the questions we were finally reunited with our luggage and found David (Mr Fussy’s mum’s cousin). Now I felt like we’d arrived, and dodged the thunderstorms. Honestly, they’d followed us all the way through the EU, I was beginning to feel like the Piped Piper, but of thunder storms.

 

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