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The Great Udder Cake

I’d been waiting for an excuse to make coffee cloud cake. The batter is made by alternately folding stringently sifted flour, espresso and walnuts into a light, fluffy meringue-like base. After baking, the whole is smothered in lush coffee icing.

Now, you might think: WHO NEEDS AN EXCUSE? If you’re not preoccupied thinking NOM NOM NOM.

Indeed, it’s a valid question. But it seemed clear to me that justifying decadence on this epic scale required an Occasion.

Finally Her Goatiness asked me to bake a cake.

Actually, she asked me to stop off at the supermarket and pick up one of the generic sponge cakes that taste like reconstituted carpet and look like an Easter Bunny threw up on it.

However, she asked early enough that I could tell she really wanted me to make one. Also, it was a special occasion: the day after Old Tom’s birthday.

Generally speaking, the anniversary of Old Tom’s debut appearance would constitute The Occasion, except that The Outlaws forgot. When Old Tom called around to have Happy Birthday sung tunelessly to him, Agent of Death was down the milking shed and Her Goatiness wouldn’t let Old Tom watch Worst Teenage Bodies on telly because she wanted to see Downton Abbey.

In the scheme of things, the Guilt Cake is more important than the Birthday Cake. As well as the message, ‘We’re pleased you’re still alive’, it must also convey an apology with some degree of sincerity. As far as I was concerned, the only way to salvage Old Tom’s relationship with The Outlaws was via home baking.

(Also I’m not about to eat supermarket cake.)

Until recently, I’ve been a fan of the one-bowl school of baking. In fact, I’ve never understood why you can’t just fling the ingredients directly into the tin and bung it straight in the oven. But lately, I’ve been foraying into frosting: cinnamon tea cakes with toasted coconut topping, sponge cakes with jam and cream, miracles with chocolate icing and a cherry on top.

I evicted the spiders from the cake pans and preheated the oven and beat eggs and sifted and folded. I think you can estimate how the final product will taste from how much you want to lick the batter. In the case of the coffee cloud cake, I nearly got my head stuck in the mixing bowl and was picking batter out of my hair for the next two days.

The cakes smelled glorious. They looked even better. After they cooled, I leveled the tops, stacked them and slathered the whole with icing.

Coffee cloud cake - optimal profile

I pressed toasted walnuts into the side and cherishingly transferred the cake to a plate. It was only then that I spotted the leftover cake on the cooker hob, and realized . . . I’d forgotten the third layer. It was supposed to be a three-layer cake.

It was just as well, because not only had I run out of icing, but . . . well . . . from certain angles . . . the cake . . . it featured something of an aggressive LEAN. No matter how much I prodded and swore at it, the top layer slumped drunkenly off to one side.

Stop that cake! It's getting away!

However, valuable lessons were learned from the experience.

And without the coffee cloud cake, there might never have been the udder cake.

Last week I was tasked with making a birthday cake for Her Goatiness. The spec was a cake descriptive of a goat’s udder.

Nobody said it had to be three-dimensional, but Her Goatiness is notoriously hard to please. There was high likelihood of her spurning a two-dimensional cake and refusing to blow out the candles.

Andrew obsessively tracked the progress of the cake assembly with a kind of morbid fascination. Given my mother-in-law’s partiality for pus, I was keen to garnish the teats with yellow icing but Andrew said, “Niamhie, you can’t make a cake with MASTITIS.”

No vision.

It took me most of the morning to make a plain 20cm square butter cake and two 20cm round chocolate sponge cakes. I took a break for lunch.

“How’s it going?” asked Andrew. “Have you looked at pictures of goat’s udders?”

“Pictures!” I snorted. “I don’t need PICTURES. Don’t you think I’ve seen enough fucking goat’s udders to know what they look like?”

“Hmm,” said Husband reflectively. “Ok. How many teats do they have?”

“FOUR OF COURSE!” I shouted. “What sort of fucking question is- I’m not some nuffnuff, you know!”

Although obviously an awkward and disagreeable conversation, I was ultimately pleased it occurred. A little disagreement adds spice to a relationship. It fostered greater understanding between us. Also, Her Goatiness’ udder cake would otherwise have sported four teats instead of.

Er.

Two.

As per the standard configuration.

Thereafter, I consulted pictures on Google images and drew an elevation of the udder before starting the sponge-carving.

I stuck the cakes together with jam to discourage independent roaming. Then, with input from Andrew’s gag-reflex, I made up a vat of revolting pink butter icing. From my experience with coffee cloud cake, I knew butter icing was tricky, collecting crumbs and preferring to stick to the spatula rather than the cake. Thankfully, I’d read an article which suggested dipping the spatula periodically in a jug of boiling water and thereby encouraging the icing to slide off.

It’s probably fair to say Her Goatiness had never seen a cake quite like it. Nor anybody else, for that matter.

Goat udder cake

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Extravaganza bonanza

Well folks, it’s been a spectacular show at Deadlyjelly’s Travelling Circus.

We have now officially viewed every house/shack/shed for sale in Oamaru; got to grips with dry rot; negotiated until our eyes bled; counter-offered until the vendors’ eyes bled; and fought off ravening real estate agents with targeted nudity. We set the dog on one and currently have a hit-man contracted to take out another.

As if that weren’t enough, there was also a fortieth birthday party with possum; explosive goats; t-shirts with nipple holes; a caesarian resulting in two squeaking puppies; and five bags of baby clothes. In the meantime, I tested the structural integrity of a lamp-post with the rear bumper of the Outlaws’ Audi v8.

But in the midst of this extravaganza bonanza, by far the most exciting event was SANDWICHES!

No, wait. Not that.

I meant: the auction.

The auction with SANDWICHES!

Because the latest trip to Oamaru was scheduled around the sale of Orchard House.

Three weeks ago, after viewing Orchard House at the open home, we called in to see the real estate agent – not affectionately called Haemorrhoid. When we told her we were interested in the property, she practically gnawed our arms off.

Haemorrhoid agreed to show us the place again two days later and, while there, I reiterated our interest and suggested we might put in an offer before it went to auction. With a practiced pout of devastated regret – which she might have pulled off were it not for the smug smirk and misplaced air of self-importance – she said, “Weeell, we’ve had a lot of interest, you know. Lot. Of interest. Especially from out-of-towners. You’d really need to put your best foot forward.”

As it turned out, I should have followed my instincts to put my best foot forward then and there and rearranged her face.

That would be called a Benefit of Hindsight.

We came away with the distinct impression that we were too shabby to afford Orchard House – and that we should wash our car.

However, we had an undercover agent operating on our behalf in Waitaki. Concealed in a shrub with a pair of binoculars, Her Goatiness staked out the open homes every Saturday and Sunday in the lead-up to the auction. Her report stated: ‘Nil zero sum total zilch visitors. Quote lot of interest unquote appears alleged and spurious. Slash Haemorrhoid’s tyres? Please advise.’

A week before the auction, Haemorrhoid sent us a text message asking if we were attending. After analysing the slightly desperate tone of the text, Andrew and I deduced we were possibly the sole and exceptionally rare party interested in Orchard House.

Now, you may have picked up that Andrew was immoderately unenthused about Orchard House upon first viewing. And yes, of course I considered emotionally blackmailing him with the additional leverage of being 5 months pregnant with his child.

However, after many extensive discussions on the issue of property, we came to understand what is important to him and me and to us as a couple, and an awful lot of that is wanting the other to be happy. Which is just one of the reasons I love being half of this partnership. So I applied no further persuasion (apart from occasionally reminding him of the ORCHARD! just to be absolutely sure he was aware of the presence of peach trees.) Eventually he announced he ‘could live there if he had to’ – which, as far as I was concerned, was a seal of approval.

His change of attitude was more a gradually encroaching yet entirely grudging acknowledgement that Orchard House was perhaps the best of all the properties we’d viewed within our budget.

And so we geared up for auction. We notified Haemorrhoid we would attend; Andrew boned up on auction terminology; we confirmed our finance was set to go; we scoured the auction pack; we wondered whether there would be snacks.

Ok, I wondered whether there’d be snacks.

(I mean: they were going to a lot of trouble; you’d think they’d lay on snacks, right?)

We agreed Husband should do the bidding, since I was rather over-excited. My job – which Andrew made up on the morning to keep me amused and make me feel involved – was to note the progression of the auction: the order of bidding and amounts. I had a pen.

We were barely in the door when I was distracted by three huge platters of SANDWICHES! They looked WONDERFUL: cut on the diagonal with no crusts and an imaginative and challenging range of fillings involving mayonnaise. I asked Andrew to taste a couple for meat and/or poison but pushed him out of the way because he took too long.

I’d just about finished the first platter when the Old Girl – one of the vendors, who we’d met at the second viewing of the house – came over to chat. She asked after The Asset, then disappeared and returned seconds later with a gift: a knitted doll. Her husband’s hobby is knitting dolls. He’s Dutch. Really, I can’t make further comment, because it was an incredibly sweet gesture and I was – look, I was touched. It’s our first baby present.

Befjes Muff Diver

However, I do blame her for my neglecting to spot the plate of miniature Lamingtons until just before the auction started. The presentation was a thing of beauty: a mass of chocolate and delicate pink coconut-covered confections topped with puffs of cream. Unfortunately I only had time to cram one into my mouth before the auction kicked off.

There were about twelve bystanders: a couple of families with kids, some squinty-eyed mouth-breathers and a coven of real estate agents who all looked like they styled their hair with a deep fat fryer. I stood there eyeballing potential opponents to intimidate them – a difficult stunt to pull with a knitted dolly tucked under one arm and my chin pebbledashed with dessicated coconut.

Now, my Bucket List isn’t that ambitious. Well, it’s virtually indistinguishable from my New Year’s Resolutions for the last decade, except that it includes singing karaoke. I’ve never been much interested in seeing the Northern Lights because, you know, I’m pretty sure you can achieve much the same effect with certain drugs. And I’ve never had any interest in swimming with dolphins. They’re slimy, nasty, vicious creatures with a reputation for kidnapping, bullying, extortion and even murder. They probably don’t put the toilet seat down and also, DOLPHINS RAPE WOMEN. That last link is well worth reading for Pearl Caligula’s description of Ireland’s national treasure alone which, if it doesn’t make you laugh like a drain, either your sense of humour or mine is defective. No no, I wouldn’t like to say which. I’m sure you’ll giggle.

Bidding at auction was never originally on my Bucket List, but that, my friends, was an oversight. The tense battle of nerves between auctioneer and bidder was such a RUSH. And when Andrew bid – I swear I have NEVER experienced anything so SEXY. It was just as well he was the only person bidding. It could have got positively indecent except that, thankfully, Husband had a SANDWICH! concealed in his pocket. (Curried egg mayo with grated carrot – surprisingly delicious.)

Our bid didn’t reach the reserve despite the auctioneer’s increasingly desperate attempts to persuade us to bid against ourselves; or anyone else to join in. The auction passed in.

After all the excitement, the aftermath was a bit of an anticlimax. We went into the house and sat on hard chairs. Haemorrhoid seemed at a loss as to how to facilitate negotiating an agreement midway between the vendor’s reserve and our bid. We attempted to kick-start the process by upping our offer. She ignored that and instead, attempted to intimidate us by informing us there was another couple present who were prevented from bidding at auction but planned to put in an offer. Unfortunately for her, we’ve never been much intimidated by imaginary people.

At this stage, Haemorrhoid had a face on her like she’d been licking a cat’s arse, which was putting me off the remainder of the SANDWICHES! I realized it was all over when I discovered the fucking kids had cleaned out the Lamingtons. We made our excuses and left after the Old Boy attempted to confiscate his knitted doll.

As it turned out, we should have known better than to take on a Dutch couple with nearly 160 years of combined cunning, guile and inbred tightness between them. The last thing we heard from Haemorrhoid was that the Old Boy had asked her to relist the house at precisely the mid-point between his reserve and our offer.

So just to spite her, we bought another house.

Poetry in motion: wind turbine

In a triumph of DIY, Husband’s homemade wind turbine generates approximately half a watt of electricity:

Ok but SERIOUSLY, here’s an action clip. Unfortunately no sound effects:-

Aggressive roots

Last Friday morning, we were woken by shafts of sunlight playing with our toes. Inspired by a discussion with MarkJ during dinner the previous night, I suggested we take the mountain bikes out to Woodhill.

We dressed in a high state of excitement (NB: similar effect can also be achieved by the removal of clothes), fixed coffee and packed the bikes in the car. By the time we opened the garage door, it was driving rain.

“Maybe the sun is shining in Woodhill,” I suggested optimistically.

By the time we got to Swanson, the rain had increased in gusto and tempo, with the introduction of a swirling fog effect. Contrary to my parents’ example, I do not give up in the face of adversity. However, I do give up in the face of Husband refusing to drive any further and/or the prospect of wet feet. So we bought coffee and went home.

The following day, we relaunched the expedition. Woodhill is a 40 minute drive west along the #16, then left onto Restall Road. In addition to over 100km of bike trails, there is an obstacle course, motorbike track, horse trails, and orienteering.

We didn’t want to advertise our novice status – the aggressive wobble I employ to propel my bike is sufficient – so we started with a 12km intermediate track. The paths are fully maintained, sand-based woodland trails, with jumps along the way. I dodged these, since I had my work cut out avoiding advancing tree roots.

[Image robbed from someone without their permission]

Each jump is allocated a level of difficulty. Husband tried a few according to a selection process I couldn’t decipher. He acts like it’s all just so ho-hum, but he always waits until I am in the vicinity before embarking on his arial stunts. What cracks me up is that the only time he ever checks to see whether I’m looking is after he flobbles or falls off.

For jumps – or even descending a sharp step – apparently the trick is to dismiss instinct and/or common sense and perform a wheelie just prior to hitting the descent. In theory, this raises the front wheel until the back wheel launches; then both wheels return to the ground simultaneously. Otherwise, if the riser is too sharp, there is a risk that when your front wheel drops the rider flies over the handlebars.

I’m still studying this theory.

Just before the carpark I hit a patch of soft sand negotiating a corner. The front wheel dug in and I involuntarily abandoned my bike and slid into the carpark on my chin. Now I have a fat, lopsided chin; a hole in my lip where I stabbed it with a tooth; and an impressive array of bruises and grazes down my right leg.

But I can’t WAIT to do it all again

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