Alice in Wonderland Party – Red Velvet Queen of Hearts

The person that wrote Alice in Wonderland was definitely cooked off his rocker. But, some of the best things in life are just that: cooked! (Or “Mad”, if we want to go full-on Alice in Wonderland reference)

Mom’s “hat braai” had me wanting to do a real mad-hatter theme party. Actually, my mini steampunk hat made me want to do a Mad Hatter’s party. I couldn’t go straight “Hat”, though – can’t be copying my mother – so I went with the whimsical land of Alice, with all of it’s crazy tea-parties and glam of the Queen of Hearts.

It turned out quite well: everyone was dressed up, and the theme actually lent itself to great decorations. See my Pinterest board for inspiration.

Red Velvet Cupcakes 3

Following the carrot cupcakes of the other day, I needed to make that cream cheese frosting again. Emphasis there on the word needed. It really was that good. The red velvet cupcakes came out so cute as well! I may have left them out in the open for a bit long, however, so they weren’t as moist as they should have been. The flavour, though, was great, really does the iconic red velvet cupcake.

Red Velvet cupcakes

I have to admit that there is a disappointing amount of cocoa in the red velvet mixture. 1 Tbsp? What’s the point!? Either way, apart from some of the random ingredients (don’t be put off by the smell of the mixture or the consistency of some of the ingredients), these cupcakes are really easy to make (mix mix mix everything together!). Though you might not want to eat the cupcake batter, you will definitely want to dig into the finished product (some may argue that there isn’t even a point to making the cupcakes if you can’t enjoy the batter, but bear with me for that little red gem of joy). Again, I used this recipe from One Sweet Appetite, because her carrot cupcakes were so good, there was no doubt that the red velvet ones would speak to me on the same level.

Red Velvet cupcakes 2

Red Velvet Cupcakes - makes 24

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ C cake flour
  • 1 ½ C caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ C vegetable oil
  • 1 C buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp red food colouring
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp vinegar (I used apple cider because that’s what we had, and it’s an acceptable vinegar substitute for most recipes, which is good to note)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC
  2. Prepare your cupcake tin (liners or greased)
  3. Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl
  4. Whisk all the wet ingredients together until well-combined
  5. Mix the wet ingredients in with the dry ingredients until the mixture is of even consistency. Note to self: do not lick the batter spoon
  6. Divide evenly, about ²⁄³ full
  7. Place in the oven on the middle shelf, for 15 minutes, or until the sounds of wet-baking have disappeared, and a skewer comes out the centre of the cupcake dry
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting

 

Cream Cheese Frosting - enough to generously frost 24 cupcakes (and eat the leftovers)

Ingredients

  • 250g cream cheese
  • 5 tsp softened butter (not melted)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 ½ C icing (powdered/confectioner’s) sugar

Method

  1. Cream the butter and cream cheese together until soft (this makes it easier to mix the sugar in, instead of having the chunks of dairy flying around)
  2. Add the icing sugar and mix slightly before beating until well-combined and of a desired consistency (like whipped cream or a solid buttercream frosting)
  3. Pipe onto your cupcakes

Good ol’ G-Spot, EC

It’s been nearly a year since I finished up in Grahamstown. I was rather keen to leave, when the time came, but I miss it now. It’s the same as missing school though. You know, best days of your life and all that.

Now, I wasn’t particularly fond of Grahamstown. I was a city girl, from Johannesburg, and I somehow ended up in one of the most poorly run provinces of the country, in a town that didn’t even have a McDonald’s. Or a Woolworths Food. When people asked me if I was enjoying it, I would tell them how much I like the University, my course and the overall student life. I would explain how convenient being in a small town was because you can literally walk to any destination worth your while in the town. You hardly needed to worry about having a designated driver, the only time you really wanted a car was when it was raining or when you had to carry your 5L water up the hill (which is closer to 25L by the time you get to the top!). And this is where I would start talking about the problems.

We had no water. We would go for weeks with no running water. In my residence, we had 73 girls all sharing 2 toilets. There were minimal washing facilities – you could go to the gym, but that was so busy and eventually dirty and they ran out of water pressure too from trying to meet the demand. One benefit: the university paid for 2L of bottled drinking water every day. If you were smart, you would let this accumulate so you didn’t have to drink the tap water, which was sometimes brown, sometimes smelled like a chlorine factory blew up.

Water protest gif

One of the water outages was so bad, we held a march in protest. The truck that was meant to come fix the situation went missing, and then was found to have not even left Johannesburg yet. When they got to Grahamstown, they could not install the pump because there was no electricity. The electricity problem was another bad one. Slightly more liveable, because you don’t have to live in each other’s filth, but not cool when you are trying to study. Most of the power failures happened during exam time, naturally. Sometimes even in the middle of your exam. It was tedious, but I guess we all learned to live with it.

High street

The High Street, one of the most lovely views of the Cathedral and the quaintness of Grahamstown. Along this road you will find most of the restaurants, plenty of pharmacies, and plenty of dodgy car guards

I suppose, if anything, it taught us to be grateful. We learned to appreciate when we did have certain things, like water and lights on at home, because after all, these are luxuries that many people do not have access to at all, obviously in Grahamstown, but even in South Africa in general. But, you know, perspective only comes after the hard times… I’m very glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore, but I have new problems that have come about with living back in the city. Now I can just reminisce about the beauty and quaintness that was Grahamstown. I learnt a lot from being there, I had a fabulous experience, met the most amazing people, and met a lot of different people with different backgrounds and different opinions. We were all shoved into one teeny backwards town, forced to live alongside each other, and that is why Rhodents are generally so open minded and fun (but also well-rounded and responsible individuals).

IMG_7000

Once you get over the gnawing absence of things that were once a staple sight in a civilized town, you start to notice the beauty of the old buildings, and the heritage that came along with them. You eventually realise why people would want to keep making the trip down every year for the National Arts Fest (apart from general art-appreciation, of course).

Cnr High Street and Cuyler Cathedral with Jacarandas

Grocott's

Grahamstown is home to some lovely old buildings and some significant South African Heritage. The old newspaper buildings could have something to do with the Rhodes School of Journalism’s reputation perhaps?

High street court

Provost

Provost coffee shop was established here shortly before I left. While I wasn’t a massive fan of their coffee, their location was great – set in an old battalion-related building (or something like that), as were their delicious freshly-baked croissants

Grahamstown grows on you. But that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to stay there forever. I had an awesome time while I was there, great memories, but I am happy to be moving onto other things as well now in my life. For now, I think I will go have a reminiscent mare up in Northam.

Chocolate brownie “Hat” cake

Winter babies are the best. (And to me, there are only 2 seasons in the year: Summer, and Winter. Don’t worry if you’re a summer baby, though, it was winter somewhere). So lately there have been a lot of awesome birthdays, all starting with my mother dearest’s. We always have family braais (BBQs) to celebrate things, so this time we decided to spice it up a little by adding a theme: it was a hat braai. My mother is so creative (I am being sarcastic but also not… You will see why next week).

One of mom's friends went to the effort of making a personalised fun hat

One of mom’s friends went to the effort of making a personalised fun hat

This mother dearest of mine requested a hat cake for her birthday party. I was up for a challenge, but on Pinterest, all the hatness was made out of fondant, which I am really NOT a fan of. I decided to try find an alternative, but would settle for that sweetened playdough if I had to. I came across this recipe for marshmallow fondant. I love marshmallows. It was surely going to be a winner.

Alas, my marshmallow fondant did not hold together as it was supposed to, and I ended up having to scrap that idea, though the cake mountain was already cut and moulded, buttercream layer ready for its coating of neatness. It was too late to go the fondant route now, though, so I just drizzled my remaining milk chocolate ganache over the top of the buttercream frosting. The cake was also presented on a conveniently shaped (though subtle) plate, so the whole ‘hat’ effect was not entirely lost.

Happy birthday mumzicle

Happy birthday mumzicle!

The cake recipe I used was one that has “failed” in the past for me (the taste was amazing then too). It turned out a bit differently this time, a little less fluffy and moist, more like a decadent brownie (though less fudgy than a brownie). I am going to put this down to the altitude, because this is the second time my cake has come out slightly more dense than when I made it down in Grahamstown.

Chocolate brownie "almost-hat" cake. Dense and moist chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate ganache, with chocolate buttercream frosting, and milk chocolate ganache drizzle

Chocolate brownie “almost-hat” cake. Dense and moist chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate ganache, with chocolate buttercream frosting, and milk chocolate ganache drizzle

Chocolate brownie cake 

For the cake

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 150g dark chocolate – melted (as usual I used my Bournville favourite)
  • 150g butter
  • 1½ tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 200ml milk (as needed for mixing)
  • ¼ cup strong coffee (room temperature)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC
  2. Cream the butter and the sugar
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder together
  4. Add the eggs to the butter-sugar mixture and mix until combined
  5. Mix in the dry ingredients. Once they are incorporated into the mixture, add the vanilla, melted dark chocolate and coffee
  6. Mix well. Use milk to loosen the batter until it is of semi-pourable consistency
  7. Divide into 3 pre-greased cake tins, and place on the middle shelf
  8. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake is springy to touch
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from the cake tin
  10. Assemble

 

For the Ganache

  • 150g milk chocolate
  • 60ml cream

Method

  1. Place the chocolate and cream in a heat proof bowl. Place this bowl on top of a pot of steaming/simmering water. This is called a bain-marie
  2. Melt the chocolate and cream together, stirring until smooth
  3. Allow to cool slightly before pouring between the cake layers, and especially before pouring on top of the buttercream frosting

 

For the Chocolate buttercream frosting 

  • 150g softened butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 30ml milk
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

Method

  1. Cream the butter and add the icing sugar. Mix until well-combined, smooth and creamy
  2. Heat up the milk and add the cocoa powder. Mix until dissolved. Allow to cool before adding to the icing, as this will melt the butter
  3. Add the chocolate milk to the icing, and mix until well-combined and creamy
  4. Ice your cake

Maybe I do like carrot cake

Obviously, as a chocolate and sweet-things lover, I am not particularly fond of adding healthy things like vegetables to my delicious treats, not even cupcakes. It’s part of the reason I struggle so much with trying to be healthy: Zucchini brownies? No thanks! So this was my first experiment with vegetables in a not-vegetable thing. And it wasn’t half bad (actually, they were amazing!). I do have to admit, though, that these cupcakes are really not any healthier than a regular cupcakes (maybe just because they have some extra vitamins, but as far as Macros go, these are just as bad as any other).

Cutesie little carrot cupcakes with the world's greatest cream cheese frosting

Cutesie little carrot cupcakes with the world’s greatest cream cheese frosting

I was pretty impressed with these babies, but I won’t be making them again any time soon. The  cream cheese frosting on the other hand… Now those I am absolutely making for Merry Unbirthday Party on Saturday! It’s going to be a treat (or much more!) and I will share the frosting recipe with you once I’ve got some other exciting photos. You know, keeping you in suspense and stuff! Trust me, it’s worth the wait – and I never even liked cream cheese frosting before I had this.

Maybe I got a little bit overenthusiastic when I used my new piping bags... Doesn't it remind you of a huuuuuuge ice cream? One day I'll show you just how much I thought it did...

Maybe I got a little bit overenthusiastic when I used my new piping bags… Doesn’t it remind you of a huuuuuuge ice cream? One day I’ll show you just how much I thought it did…

Carrot Cupcakes

makes 24

Ingredients

  • 6 medium (±12cm) carrots, grated
  • 2 ½ cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 ½ cups caster sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 ½ cups cooking oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC. Prepare your cupcake liners
  2. Sift and mix together the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg (save the sugars). Add your grated carrot and mix together until carrots are evenly distributed
  3. Mix the eggs and sugars together until they start to foam, then add the oil and mix well
  4. Add the wet mixture to the carrot-flour mix, and mix until there are no dry patches
  5. Distribute the mixture evenly between the cupcake liners
  6. Place the cupcakes in the oven on the middle shelf and bake for 15-20 minutes
  7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before frosting

 

Peach smoothie

So, I made a smoothie today. Well, it was supposed to be a smoothie. It’s delicious and super simple, but I don’t know if it has a weird texture because I’m used to drinking smoothies with a straw and not a spoon or if it is just super thick.

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It would make an awesome pudding, like some sort of healthy custard. Or if you froze it, it would make an amazingly creamy ice cream… But I felt like a smoothie, so I put it in a glass and ate it with a spoon and pretended it wasn’t 4 degrees outside (does that weather honestly even look that cold? It’s so deceiving!).

Peach smoothie – serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 can of peach slices (in syrup), prefrozen the day before (decanted and frozen, not frozen in the can)
  • 2 bananas
  • Some milk – about 100ml or more, depending on the consistency you’d prefer (add slowly to figure this out for yourself)

Method

  1. Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth and creamy
  2. Yum (that’s a step right?)

Peanut butter granola bars #healthynothealthy

So I’ve decided I want to be healthy. But not really. I like the idea of being healthy, all the wonderful benefits you get from it, and those Insta-fit-foodies make their #healthy food look so damn delicious! It almost makes you want to live off fruits and veggies and protein brownies made from zucchini or chocolate mousse made from avocado. I type that and I cringe inside. Being healthy /sounds/ awful.

As a result, I am trying to weed out the delicious recipes from the ones who are trying too hard. I’ve been working on some granola bars, and they’ve turned out ok, but they’re not quite right yet. I experimented with other granola bar recipes, and, surprise surprise, it’s the unhealthy ones that work out the greatest! They are a dream to make, and they taste fabulous. I made them once, and by the end of the same weekend, I had to make a few extra batches for my brother to take to school and the household supply was finished. These things are like little bars of heaven.

They’re not all bad: they do have oats in them, which is a nice substitute for flour. But there is also flour. And a lot of (brown) sugar. But there’s dark chocolate, so that should counteract the sugar, I rate. And of course the star of these bars: peanut butter. Peanut butter just makes everything healthy. Even if it is the whole jar – in one sitting. Totally healthy, I swear! Trust me, I’m a biokineticist (with no scope for nutritional advice just by the way; make of that what you will).

Granola bars aren't exactly a pretty thing. But they are super delicious bars filled with goodness, and if they make you feel healthy, maybe you'll be motivated to do some exercise too! Even I had to move some weights to take this photo. #liftingbru

Granola bars aren’t exactly a pretty thing. But they are super delicious bars filled with goodness, and if they make you feel healthy, maybe you’ll be motivated to do some exercise too! Even I had to move some weights to take this photo. #liftingbru

I’ve adapted (South Africanised) this recipe from my favourite blogger. Her food is amazing.

 

Peanut butter granola bars

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 Coats
  • 1 C Rice Krispies
  • 1/3 C flour
  • 1 C desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1/4 tspn cinnamon
  • 2/3 C brown sugar
  • 1 tspn vanilla
  • 1/2 C melted butter
  • 2/3 C crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/3 C honey
  • 1 cup chocolate chips or chopped up Bournville works beautifully too

Method

  1. Mix all your ingredients together (don’t use a mixer, this will break up the Rice Krispies and you’ll lose all your texture)
  2. Press the ‘batter’ into a dish lined with baking parchment (or foil would work too). Make sure you press it all together quite well, or it can crumble a bit a lot when you cut it
  3. Bake in a preheated oven at 180  degrees for 30 minutes or until the edges start to go brown (cooked brown, not burnt!)
  4. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Maybe go for a run while you wait – see: healthy granola bars!

 

Africa Part 1: The Beach

So it turns out that travel agencies are actually really good marketers. When I heard we had an opportunity to go to Zanzibar, I was like, “Score! Tropical island beach holiday, get in my face!” The posters make it look like Phi Phi island in Thailand, or Boracay in the Philippines. Maybe I didn’t go at a very good time of year, but it was fairly dull and muggy.

It's amazing what a few effects can do to a place - so maybe I'm not that great at editing photos, but it still looks like a pretty idyllic place to visit

It’s amazing what a few effects can do to a place – so maybe I’m not that great at editing photos, but it still looks like a pretty idyllic place to visit

Actually, I know I didn’t go at the right time of year – we were literally the only foreigners in the little village of Jambiani. It was a quaint little village, where you can really get in touch with the culture there, especially if you go when it’s only local cultures around.

When I told my English Grandmother that I was going to Zanzibar, she warned me of all the dangers that have been broadcast on British television; I was warned to cover up (which I completely respect: it is a Muslim island after all), and that I should be prepared for violence towards foreign women. It was quite dramatic. The truth is, when you go to a foreign country, it is more than polite to respect their culture and traditions, so I’m glad I at least found out what they were, and packed a pair of longer trousers for the Zanzibar leg.

It is most definitely one of those lands of bicycles - the likes of China

It is most definitely one of those lands of bicycles – the likes of China

We may have gone at the wrong time of year, but at least wearing trousers in that weather was still somewhat bearable (any hotter would have been unpleasant). It was incredibly muggy, just heat and humidity clinging onto your skin, and it had the vegetation to go with it. There was lush green jungle pretty much everywhere. We went on a “village tour” which included the guide showing us his veggie patch in the jungle behind the village, and we were taught all the medical properties of plants we will never see again. I didn’t learn about any history of the village or anything else you may expect from a guided village tour. But hey, that’s an experience in itself, I guess.

You know when your "village tour" happens alongside the main road next to some veggie patches that your preconceptions are not going to be met

You know when your “village tour” happens alongside the main road next to some veggie patches that your preconceptions are not going to be met

On our last day, before we took our overnight ferry back to Dar Es Salaam, we took ourselves on our own little walking tour of Stone Town, the other side of the island. There was life there, so much life bustling through the truly cultured little spice town. There were children boys playing in the ocean and in the parks, workers milling around, shop owners offering “good price” on an endless amount of boho/gypsy/comfy pants in every pattern imaginable. And, of course, the African artwork that you will never see the end of if you go anywhere tourists may be passing through anywhere in Africa.

As is custom, there weren't girls running around in their swimming costumes, but the boys were having a blast doing backflips and somersaults into the (shallow) sea

As is custom, there weren’t girls running around in their swimming costumes, but the boys were having a blast doing backflips and somersaults into the (shallow) sea

The remains of the old Mosques and ancient architecture from Zanzibar’s ‘Spice Island’ days were stunning – it is definitely worth seeing if that’s what you’re into. Beach holiday – not so much, building appreciation – gorgeous!

We got caught in an unexpected cloudburst, and this was the result once the rain had cleared

We got caught in an unexpected cloudburst, and this was the result once the rain had cleared

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