Perfectly Adequate Pavlova

I’ll be honest, my goal to pull off the classic Kiwi dessert actually started out in my head as – dramatic pause –                                                                                           *** The Perfect Pavlova Mission ***

pav1Of course, Perfect Pavlova makes a far better headline than Adequate Pavlova (I have an unfortunate penchant for alliteration.) But after coming to the realisation recently that striving for perfection is a complete waste of time, have been making a conscious effort to put this mantra into practice.

Perfectionism and my tendency to over-complicate things is not only a big time waster, it’s causing me unnecessary stress, eroding my self-esteem, my sense of humor and basically doing my head in, one tiny failure at a time.

Failure is a harsh word.  Like loser.  No one strives to lose.  We go out of our way to avoid failure. Because it hurts.

And these perceived failures and shortcomings are of no consequence in the grand scheme of things.

In striving for perfectionism, I’m actually setting myself up to fail.

So those chocolate pastries I baked didn’t live up to my oh-so-high expectations – oh well, I’m no pastry chef, live and learn and do it better next time.

My hair is fly away and frizzy – But my friends and family still love me in spite of it and my dog Bonnie certainly doesn’t care.

Here’s a biggie: Sometimes I make spelling mistakes/grammatical errors at work. (These are the WORST feels.)

Amend it.  Figure out why I missed it.  Revise my editing methods. Move on.

Life is full of delicious failures, quirky flaws, laughable mistakes and awkward squirm-fests.  But if you really think about it, our fallibility is what makes us so delightfully human.  The key is perspective.

Back to the Pavlova.  The origin and technique for mastering this classic Kiwi (or Australian, depending on where you’re from) dessert is shrouded in mystery.

Regardless of where it comes from, I think we can all agree that scoffing huge drifts of this melt-in-your-mouth, sweet, soft and chewy dessert is an actual birth right for all Kiwis.  Also, its fluffy lightness won’t weigh you down: hence it’s the perfect dessert for summer and after big meals. There’s always room for pav.

I’ve attempted this elusive holy grail of Kiwi cookery several times over the past five years with dismal results ranging from delicious fiascos to inedible.  So, before we get started, here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • pav2Follow the directions, and use the exact ingredients and equipment listed. (The egg whites and sugar will not reach their essential pillowy, tacky, glossy state if you use a blender or a food processor. Trust me.)
  • As in most recipes, eggs should be room temperature and fresh as possible.
  • Pour the sugar into the egg whites S-L-O-W-L-Y.  If you dump it all in at once, it won’t work.

I used the recipe from my good old Edmonds Cook Book:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups caster sugar
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tbs cornflour
imperfect circle dammit!

imperfect circle dammit!

Preheat oven to 180C.  Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and add caster sugar one tbs at a time for 10-15 minutes, or until thick and glossy.

Mix vinegar, essence and cornflour together.  Add to meringue.  Beat the shit out of it for another 5 minutes.

Line an oven tray with baking paper and draw a 22cm diameter circle on the paper.  pav5Spread the pavlova to within 2cm of the circle, keeping it as round and even and smooth as possible.

Place pav in the preheated oven and turn temperature down to 100C.  Bake for one hour, turn off the oven, open oven door slightly and leave pavlova to cool.

While it’s doing its thing, you can work on the topping.

The recipe called for fresh berries and mint to slather all over the pav, but we all know we can decorate them with whatever’s on hand, such as Laura Vincent’s Smartie Pavlova from her blog Hungry and Frozen, or Jamie Oliver’s Meringue with Pears, Cream, Toasted Hazelnuts and Chocolate Sauce.

Berries are in season at the moment, but I wanted to use the fresh apricots I’d picked up from the road side stall in Rapaura at the weekend.

So I went with a luscious citrus cream, tangy poached apricots and ginger syrup:

  • six fresh apricots, halved and stones removed
  • One inch piece of ginger, shaved
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of caster sugar
  • 330ml pouring cream
  • 2-3 tbs lemon curd
  • mint leaves

pav6Bring water, sugar and ginger to boil and simmer for 2 minutes.  Add apricots and simmer for 8-10 minutes (depending on how ripe they are).

Remove the apricots, reserving the ginger syrup.  IMG_1253Once they are cool, slice each half into 3 or 4 crescents.

For the citrus cream: Beat the cream, adding 2-3 tbs lemon curd (or to taste) when it’s almost fully whipped.

IMG_1263Once the pavlova has cooled, now’s your chance to disguise any imperfections or mishaps you may have had (such as inadvertently pulling the entire outer layer off while trying to transfer it from the baking tray to a plate.) by artfully decorating it with your chosen toppings.

IMG_1268Now serve it up and eat it all! xx Hope you enjoyed.

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Writing To Make Sense

Since my time off over the Christmas break, I’ve been having a good hard think about why I write.

Reflecting on what compels me to sit down and write, has also turned my thoughts to who I’m writing for and the time and effort I intend to commit to it.

One of the most valuable benefits of writing, is it helps me clarify my thoughts, make important decisions and lends a sense of direction and purpose.

It’s no surprise then, that reflecting on why I write has given me a new feeling of proprietorship towards my wee project here, and I’m pretty excited to see what the year brings and watching my blog develop and grow.

Why I Write

  1. Express myself eloquently.  Some people are born story tellers with an intrinsic sense of timing, razor-sharp wit and the ability to seamlessly sort their thoughts into informed, interesting and persuasive arguments.  While I can have moments of brilliance, (at least I think so anyway) my phonetic abilities are much more placid, and with a tendency to go off on tangents I’m far more comfortable with editorial’s fact-checking process to filter my chronic foot-in-mouth condition.
  2. Hone the craft.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but writing is work. There’s lots of guidance out there for budding writers, but the one invariable piece of advice from writers (apart from being widely read, which really isn’t work at all) is to write.  Write, write, write.  So, here I am.
  3. Hashing it out.  There’s a bewildering amount of information out there and frankly I’m disturbed by peoples’ proclivity to get caught up in the hype with little or no information.  Hey I love a good bandwagon as much as the next clown, but in many cases I’m reluctant to form an opinion about something I don’t know anything about. Writing gives me the opportunity to do my own research, thrash out my thoughts and feels and draw my own conclusions.
  4. Encourage discussion, harvest ideas.  As much as I enjoy chilling at home and tapping away at the key board on my lonesome, discussion is what really gets the ideas flowing.  When other people share their thoughts, experiences and feels in response to my writing, it often sheds light on another angle or idea that hadn’t crossed my mind, and an opportunity to hear opinions different to my own.
  5. To inspire others:  I gain inspiration from all around me, and if I can inspire and entertain my readers, well that’s the cherry on top.

So how about the rest of you?  Why do you write?  Who are you writing for?

Reflections and resolutions

Firstly a big thanks to you all who are not only reading, but have followed and even commented on my previous posts.  It’s pretty essential for writers to be critiqued, so don’t hold back folks – let me have it – and I promise to return the favour some time.

Last year was pretty big for me.  In short, I worked my butt off, got really stressed out and ended up loathing the person I had turned into to cope with that stress, so I resigned.

The decision to resign did not come easily, it percolated in my mind for months.  I don’t like the idea of quitting and was naturally worried about my future.  What would I do?  Who would ever hire someone who can’t hack the pace?  What about my goals and aspirations?

Eventually the certainty that I couldn’t get any unhappier overwhelmed all doubts, and the decision to throw in the towel came with a wave of relief.  The negativity and self-doubt I had been submerged in drained away like a plug had been pulled from a bathtub.  A huge weight rolled off my shoulders,  the pressure in my chest released and I found I could breathe again.  Whew!

It only dawned on me a couple of months later, after a I rediscovered my happiness, how unhappy I had actually been. Once I returned to a state of ease I started getting restful sleeps, wanted to hang out with my friends, go running and practise yoga and felt happy and optimistic again.  Just the normal stuff that means the world to me, and what a euphoric feeling these simple pleasures give!

It wasn’t until I read an article by Dr George Blair-West that I gave last year’s experiences more thought.  While his article is angled at aiding weight loss, the study of meaningfulness leading to happiness (with weight control apparently a very delightful bi-product of happiness) really resounded with me.

The Australian doctor says finding meaning in life is not about quitting your day job and going in search of your soul in a third-world country:  “This journey begins at home. It begins with a detailed examination of what you found meaningful in your past and which aspects of your life and work now are meaningful.”

He gets his patients to look at their dreams for the future, to help them find meaning in their existence.  “Once we have found what is meaningful we look at what purpose this guides us to.  “This all takes time, self-exploration and regular reflection.”

I’ve never given meaningfulness much thought,  but I know what makes me happy – connecting with my family and friends, spending time in the outdoors, and having a purpose in life and at work that is greater than I.  So one of my goals this year is to try and identify what is truly meaningful to me.  Because being happy makes me, well, happy!

That, and go easy on myself a little bit, you know, stop thinking so much and trying so hard, and just live a simpler life. (This, coming from someone famous for over-complicating things.)

I watched Jobs a couple of days ago, and thought the Apple founder’s off-the-wall approach to his life’s work, and refusal to conform or be merely better than the competition, really inspiring.  (Despite the movie’s pitiful reviews, I thought it was pretty good although Ashton Kutcher’s depiction of Steve Jobs’ gait was just a tad too affected.)

So here’s a nice quote from the late Steve Jobs:  “Simple can be harder than complex:  you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end because once you’re there you can move mountains.”

Hmm, working harder to make life simpler is not exactly what I was intending, so maybe this quote by author Marty Rubin is better suited:  “Life is simple. You just have to stop trying to figure it out.”

And what about yourselves good people?  What is meaningful in your life?  Do you believe it brings you happiness?  And have you made any changes in your life (inadvertently or otherwise) in pursuit of these qualities?  Please share your thoughts, or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks!