Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Huxtable? It was a bit sux-table

Something happened to me on the weekend. Something happened, and I don't feel good about it.

I feel a little bit ..... outraged, to be honest. To be fair, I recognise that I can get outraged quite easily. I'm a highly emotional person. I FEELS things.  

And on this occasion I feel I need to rant about what happened to me. But let me test it with you to see if it's fair. I'll tell you about it, and then you tell me if I've stepped over from "Justifiable Outrage" to "Whoa There Princess" territory. 

Deal? Deal.  So here's the thing. On Saturday night I enjoyed a delicious meal at Huxtable in Collingwood

Let me tell you how I feel about Huxtable. I've been to Huxtable before, and it is good. It is always good. It is better than good. It is wonderful. It is delectable. The food is inventive, and magical, and surprising. The flavours are so intense that I sometimes wonder how they can squeeze them all into the tiny little bite-sized pieces of marvellousness that explode in your mouth. Get the picture? I love Huxtable. It is one of my favourite places to eat in Melbourne.  

We were out on Saturday night, the three of us, and we booked the 6pm sitting because we are all larks and get up frightfully early in the mornings, so we like to eat dinner before our eyelids start drooping into our soup. 

We were advised that while the seating is usually until 8.15pm, tonight they were extra-specially-full and would we mind finishing by 8pm? We would not mind, we advised them. We felt confident that two hours was adequate time to spend stuffing ourselves to the gills on their marvellous food.

So we arrived at six on the dot and sat down to a fantastic dinner. We sat at the bar, which are the best seats in the house as it means you can see the talented kitchen staff working their magic right in front of you. I swear we devoured twice as much food with our eyes as we did with our mouths. A bottle of champagne later, a bottle of wine, and we'd had far more sensational courses than were good for our wallets or our waistlines. 

At 7.40pm the waitress collected the last of our plates and I readied myself for the piece de resistance, the dénouement of the evening .... dessert. 
I must add an aside here so that you can truly understand the enormity of what happened next. 

love dessert. Love it. (You may have noticed this.) Dessert is my reason for being. It is my favourite part of the meal. I do not take it lightly or frivolously. I often plan my meal backwards so that I can be sure my entree and main courses complement whatever I've decided on for dessert. I have been known, on occasion, to order a three-course meal consisting solely of dessert. It's true. There's a restaurant in Newtown in Sydney that tells stories about the time I did that for my birthday. In my own small way, I am a dessert legend. 

So at 7.40 I prepared myself for dessert. And ... and ... (I can hardly get the words out) ... the waitress advised that we could not have dessert that evening AS THERE WAS NOT TIME FOR IT

I found this .... how shall I put it? Gob-SMACKINGLY disappointing.

The waitress explained that the desserts take around 20 minutes to create. When she explained this, I understood. I'm a reasonable person. I've sat at the bar and watched them do it.

But what I CANNOT understand, however - what I cannot understand at any level -  is WHY SHE DID NOT TAKE OUR DESSERT ORDER EARLIER, KNOWING THAT WE HAD TO CLEAR OUT BY 8PM. Sorry for the shouting. I feel very passionately about this. 

Is it just me? Does anyone else agree with this? Surely it is the job of the restaurant to manage its patrons and their ordering so that everything can be fitted in within the allotted time. Was it too hard to appear at 7.20 and ask how everything was going, and mention that if we were interested in dessert, we should place an order now so as to ensure a smooth flow both for the kitchen and for our dining experience?

That seems reasonable to me. We'd have had dessert, I'd have ooohed and aaahed over it, and savoured every mouthful, and exclaimed about the wondrousness of it, and we'd have had a lovely time. I would not be writing this post right now.

But that didn't happen. Instead they just said No, we're sorry, can't be done. They did say we could go and have drinks at some place nearby, but we were not interested in drinks nearby. We were interested in dessert during the remaining twenty minutes of our allotted seating. 

As it was, we got up, we paid the bill, and we left well in advance of their 8pm deadline. 

So that was my dessert experience - or should I say non-dessert-experience - at Huxtable.  And I was mightily disappointed, for all the reasons I've mentioned, but mostly because it left a sour taste in our mouths at the end of what should have been a magnificent evening. 

Huxtable, are you so grand now that you feel you can alienate your clientele like this? This is what you say about your seating times on your website:

seating times for dinner reservations
huxtable has 2 seating times
early - 6pm til 8.15
late - 8.30 til late
our early seating start time is flexible but the 8.15 finishing time is not as we must honour the 8.30 reservations.
thank you for respecting this policy

Huxtable, I just want to say this: I respected your policy. I respected it because you're the restaurant and you get to set the terms. It was not flexible on the night I visited, and you explained that, and I was ok with it. But I also expected that I would get to have an entire meal before being booted unceremoniously out the door. And that's up to you to manage, not me.  
Huxtable, I respected you and everything that you asked. 
But you did not respect me. 

<a href="http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/71/1544313/restaurant/Melbourne/Huxtable-Fitzroy"><img alt="Huxtable on Urbanspoon" src="http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/logo/1544313/minilogo.gif" style="border:none;padding:0px;width:104px;height:15px" /></a>

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Wise Old Owl


Recently, I haven't been sleeping.

It's not a new thing. I haven't slept well for  ... well, months now.  

The getting to sleep is easy enough. At 9.30pm my head hits the pillow and like clockwork I'm asleep at 9.31. 

But then at 1.30am, or 3.30, or 4am, my eyes spring open. I can actually feel it coming. I feel myself bursting up into consciousness, and even though I squeeze my eyes shut tightly, once I'm aware of the darkness hanging thickly around me .... well, that's it for the night. It's like the lava shooting up inside the volcano:  completely unstoppable.

It makes it quite hard to go to work each day, I'll say that. 

And it makes me think: no wonder sleep deprivation is used as a torture device in some countries. And isn't there a disease called fatal familial insomnia where people of a certain bloodline don't sleep for years on end and actually die of tiredness? I was going to say: that would just make me want to DIE. Well yes - precisely.

But there is quite a lot going on at night. There is night shift, and garbage men, and terrible night-time TV. I never want to see another ad for a multi-slicer-dicer with EXTRA attachments for FREE!

I am most definitely not a night owl, that's for sure. 

Speaking of owls ... owls are having quite the renaissance moment right now, don't you think? 

Owls to the left of me, owls to the right of me - owls in front of me and owls behind me.  I'm not sure when the owl craze started, but it's been running for a few years now at least. Perhaps it began during the "woodland creature" phase, when all the homeware designers started putting out ironic deer heads to mount on the wall, and printing fabric with rabbits. It was taken over by the babushka phase, which finally seems to be waning.

I quite like owls myself. This one turned out ok I think, though I should have opened up his wings a bit more, and I've done something weird with his beak, squashing it up there into his eyes. And the coconut covering .... ah, the coconut covering. It took me hours. HOURS! But I got the colours just "so", which makes me happy.

And as a sewing person I've also made my fair share of toy owls over the years. I must have made hundreds by now. Here are a few to feast your eyes on: 

Yawn.... I'm a bit tired. I think I'll finish this post here and stumble off to have a little snoo ....zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Friday, 15 June 2012

I Caked It Myself: the gingerbread man

Friday. At long last.

I had to drag myself out of a warm, cosy bed this morning and haul my sorry self off to boot camp; when all I really wanted to do was fall back into a bottomless pit of unconsciousness with the cat on my head for at least another three hours.

So it's not surprising that I can't find the energy to lift fingers to keyboard today. Instead, I bring you the latest installation in I Caked It Myself: the gingerbread man.

Today's entry comes from long-time reader and loyal fan Kirsten. You'll often find Kirsten in the comments section, which I LOVE. I love her comments. Have I told you all how much I LOVE your comments? I love them. I loving LOVE them. Sorry, the Friday delirium is obviously getting to me.

Kirsten has a few tips for young players in her submission. She writes:

I was bound and determined to have the Gingerbread Man cake, after failing to win the comment competition (flickettysplits: sorry Kirsten! But look what heights of creativity it spurred you on to!). Given that I'd had my heart set on it, I decided to make it myself, with the assistance of my trusty Baker-in-Chief (4 yo daughter Laura) and Supervisor-of-All (9 mth old baby Ian). He turned out really well, and tasted fabulous to boot!

Laura and Ian - so cute!
A few comments after making it, upon things learned and observed: 
-how on earth do you get sprinkles or chocolate or coconut to stay on the sides of the cake? It looked like he was moulting. I went through an entire packet of chocolate sprinkles just trying to get decent coverage. (flickettysplits: I SO get you about this. That stuff is the bane of my cake-baking existence. I've discovered you have to do it a tiny bit at a time, and sort of pour the sprinkles down the side while mashing them in at the same time. It's a delicate process, to be sure.)

-the Book said that to make royal icing, you should beat the egg white with a wooden spoon till stiff (flickettysplits: wooden spoon? really? Did they not have electric beaters in the 80s?) , while adding the egg white. In the interest of finishing before the baby graduated from uni, I used electric beaters. I imagine that this changed the texture, but it still worked well.

- speaking of changing texture- I used up all my butter on the gingerbread and chocolate cake, and for the Chocolate Vienna Cream ended up using my Weight Watchers Canola Spread. Tasted great, but had very very odd texture. (also used Weight Watchers Apricot Fruit Spread for the jam on top of the gingerbread, which tasted fantastic.)

-one egg yolk was not nearly enough for the gingerbread. I think I may have had the wrong size eggs (failure to check with the Book!) and used two, which was perfect. (flickettysplits: I am all in favour of extra egginess. I find it gives the cake added moisture and makes it richer.)

-this meant, of course, that I had two leftover eggwhites. I managed to forget this when making the royal icing with them, and was wondering how on earth I was using up so much icing sugar and still not getting the stiff peaks. I felt like a fool when I realized, and had enough royal icing for five Gingerbread Men. 

-rather than have leftover royal icing cluttering up my fridge, I reasoned that they were merely eggwhite + sugar, and baked them as I would a meringue. Densest meringues I have ever made; you could have used them for a rockery. 

I took the completed Gingerbread Man to Mum's Group, where half of him was devoured by the ravening hordes (aka the four year olds.) The mums had some of him too. The rest was slowly eaten over the next few days. We'd started from the feet up, and he looked more and more macabre. The last bit of him was eaten after dinner, with Laura clamouring "I want the eye! I want the eye!" Gruesome child. (flickettysplits: Laura and I are kindred spirits. She will grow up to be a forensic pathologist investigating death scenes a la CSI. Or a mortician. I adore her.)

I've attached pics. Hope you enjoy them, and thanks for providing such inspiration!

I am eyeing off those little gingerbread biscuits to the left of the finished product .....

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

What I Did On My Long Weekend .....


Ah, the Queen's Birthday Long Weekend. An opportunity for a weekend away in the country, with flowers, chocolate and beau. A weekend for, ahem, "sleeping in". A weekend of slow days, late rising and far too much red wine.

Or in my case, an opportunity to finish reading the ridiculous and yet somehow strangely compelling Fifty Shades Of Gray and then clean out the pantry. Glamorous! What an exciting life I lead.

I don't know what's worse - that I read Fifty Shades Of Gray, or that I cleaned out the pantry. Or that I enjoyed both?

But you know what's even sadder? It's the amount of time I spent opening and closing the pantry door yesterday once it was all finished, just so I could gaze upon the wondrous organisation therein.

Seriously, you should see my pantry. It is magnificent. Someone should write a poem about it.

This was no ordinary pantry clean-up. There was chucking out. Ruthless chucking out of outdated stuff. There was tidying. There was co-mingling of old sauce. There was probing of hidden, dusty corners, and extraction of ancient jars. There was de-spidering and people, there was Spray N Wiping.

I felt such a sense of smug satisfaction that I immediately wanted to do something totally irresponsible and stupid, just to restore balance to the universe.

But there wasn't much time left in the day, and I'm storing up my irresponsibility and stupidity for something REALLY good. Please send your suggestions to my email address. All entries will be properly considered.

So instead I made the snail cake.  His shell is not quite the right colour.... it's a little bit too much yellow and a little bit not enough apricot. And you know what? I decided I wasn't going to fix it.

My, how rebellious of me!

(I do not know why Blogger has insisted on putting this photo sideways.  Perhaps it is rebelling too.  I am sorry.) 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Hey Diddle Diddle, It's Time For A Full Moon Party!

Readers, it's Friday. The day I limp towards each week, the way a woman dying of thirst limps towards the oasis in the desert. At long last, I've arrived. And it's turned out to be a mirage, just like in the story.

My exhaustion levels on Friday usually mean posting someone else's efforts in the "I Caked It Myself" series ... and I'm kind of doing that (hang on, it's coming).... but I am also delighted to surprise you this week with an extra cake from The Book!

You may remember that Melanie won my 100-Facebook-followers competition. Melanie who recently had a second baby and STILL managed to get up five minutes later and bake her two-year-old son a batch of cupcakes. Whoa. Respect.

Well, we've been corresponding, and I am newly in love with her. Not only is she clever, and funny, but she requested a cake for THIS WEEKEND, and didn't hang onto her prize for six months and then ask for a cake in the middle of the Christmas holidays or something. Which would be my worst nightmare. Thank you Melanie!

So today I am hand-delivering the Hey Diddle Diddle cake to her. She even has the grace and consideration to live just around the corner from my office. Seriously, could she have made this any easier? Best. Winner. Ever.

Melanie chose the moon cake for her daughter's full moon party tomorrow. It's a Chinese tradition to hold a party when a baby turns one month old (maybe because in the olden days babies didn't always make it to a month? Is that too morbid?).

The baby undergoes a host of rituals and then there's lots of blessings and gifts, and traditional food such as red eggs and special cakes (which is where I come in with my awesome moon cake, of course. Ignore the orange dots in the icing, they're little bits of gel food colouring that I COULD NOT get to mix in properly. Sorry, Melanie.)

Melanie writes: we aren't very orthodox and sort of follow traditions vaguely according to what my mum sort of thinks it might be.  And google.  But there will be eggs and special cakes, although I have no plans to shave the baby's head, mostly because she was born with an awesome head of hair and I think she should get to keep it having obviously spent so much time in utero pushing it out of her scalp.

I endorse that decision, Melanie. If I was a baby in Melbourne in winter, I would want to keep ALL of my hair. And possibly grow some more. All over my body. And then I could prowl around in my house and scare my parents who would have no idea that they'd given birth to a were-baby. With teeth. And red eyes. Who was out for their blood. Hang on, I'm getting carried away.

Perhaps it's the effect of the moon.... hooooooooowwwwwwl .......!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Gazelle Eats Mouse

Every Tuesday morning I go for a run around the Tan with the gazelle.

To be more specific, it is the gazelle who does the running. She is built for it, with long slim legs that she stretches out across the track, and she is ever so light and easy on her feet, and she makes it look so completely natural and effortless, like she's just sort of floating along on the air thinking happy thoughts and singing la la la to herself while bluebirds flutter and chirp in the air around her.

I hate her.

I do not do the running. I do the staggering. I pound along next to her, like an overweight elephant on a treadmill that's going too fast, with my heart in my throat and a band around my chest and my lungs feeling like they're on the cusp of exploding into a million bloody bits of tissue that will fly out of my mouth in a revolting vomit of bile and bronchioles that covers everyone in front of me (the Tan gets crowded in the morning).

People would run away screaming. There would be news reports. In death, I would be famous as the woman who burst while taking her morning exercise.

Too graphic? That's how running makes me feel.

I can knock out 7.5 kilometres like this, and at the end I am broken. Stinking, dripping in sweat and purple in the face. The gazelle trips off lightly to her car while fairies brush her hair.

Aside: apparently there are two kinds of runners in the world:

  • Attachers, who focus on their breathing and their tempo and their rhythm, and who kind of just zero in on the whole thing obsessively, disappearing into themselves in a kind of meditation. The gazelle is an attacher. (I hate these people. )
  • Detachers, who desperately try to think of anything else they can, in order to distract themselves from the whole running experience. Shopping lists, work projects, relationship issues - anything that is external to the body but allows them to keep running as if they are not experiencing it. I have work colleagues who are detachers. (I hate these people too.)
Me, I am the third kind of runner. I am the runner who, two minutes into an hour-long run, is already desperately hoping the whole thing is nearly up, while my brain screams It Hurts! Omigod, what are you DOING? Stop! Now! This is madness! You are CRAZY! I am going to make you REGRET THIS!!

Seriously, that's the internal monologue I get when I'm running. Sounds fun, doesn't it?  

So when the gazelle had a birthday recently, I seriously considered making her the snail cake, because that's what I feel like when I am running next to (or more usually: quite a long way behind) her. I also considered one of the two elephants in The Book as well, for obvious reasons. 

I'd have made a gazelle if there was one, but The Book is pretty scarce on gazelles. Because their legs are too thin, I think. Not enough cake there to make them worth biting into. Although sometimes the gazelle is so fast that I feel like biting her just out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

But I decided that the cake was not about me, it was about her. And so all those options were wrong.

In the end I settled on Mildred The Mouse, because Mildred is so sweet and lovely that you can't help but want to be her friend. Mildred is cute, and nice, and just downright adorable.

Which is really what I actually feel about the gazelle .... except when we are running. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

And The Cake Winner Is ......

Last week I posted about reaching the magic milestone of 100 followers on Facebook, woot woot! And I promised cake to one lucky Melbourne reader who left a comment either on my Facebook page or here on the blog.

A mere week later and somehow my follower numbers have skyrocketed to 270, so I wish I could make cake for every lovely person who has shared a link, liked a photo or left a comment. You are all wonderful!

But as they say in Highlander : there can be only one.

(An aside: do you realise that Highlander was made in 1986? Can you believe it? But still, Christopher Lambert - still phwoar.) 

"Melanie" is the lucky winner of a cake of her choice! I think her comment embodies a true love of cake - real, homemade birthday cake. Cake that is not prententious with flower water or nut meal. Cake that revels in its sugary goodness. Cake that knows who it is, and what it's for, and isn't afraid to shout about it. I totally get that.

Not only is Melanie a down-to-earth cake lover, I am in awe of the fact that she heaved herself from her post-birth bed after only two weeks, in order to put together a semblance of cake for her toddler's birthday.

I am sure that if I ever gave birth I would require at least six weeks of proper old-fashioned "confinement" in the traditional sense, sitting up in my bed wearing a satin bedjacket and fainting with exhaustion every time the wet nurse brought me the child for ten minutes of patting time before whisking it away to the nursery again.

So in my world, Melanie's effort shows true devotion to the craft. And the family. Which is everything The Book stands for.

Here is Melanie's winning comment:

What I love most about your blog is that it makes me want to eat cake. Not 'adult' cake with nut meals or flower waters in them, but proper butter cream smothered, artificially coloured toddler birthday cakes, with smarties or marshmallows on them. And then, given some time, I usually get my hands on some and eat it, and I wouldn't have looked without the initial prompt. So thank you! You also inspired me to make a proper birthday cake for my two year old last week. Unfortunately for him I'd just given birth to his sister a fortnight prior, so inspiration went nowhere and all he got was a dozen badly iced cupcakes cunningly disguised with sprinkles, but at least I got to eat four of them. Bless you.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who left a comment, or has read a post, or sent a link to friends. Because readers, without you I'm nothing. After all, if a blog post falls in the interwebs and no one is there to read it, does it even exist at all?

And on the apex of that existential question I shall send this post off down the fibre-optic cable, and keep my fingers crossed that you read it. Because when you do, you breathe life into my words.