I'm not sitting in a railway station, but I am sitting in an airport with a ticket to my destination. It almost didn't happen - when you wake up, disoriented and groggy and look at your phone to see it showing 5.45am - the same time the shuttle is supposed to pick you up: well, let's just say I'm thankful I didn't decide to "finish packing in the morning" at 3.30am. Everyone in the shuttle says 'congratulations, you made it!' and it's a bit much when you've (literally) woken up 10 minutes before. As fate would have it, my flight ended up being delayed by a couple of hours so the airline gave us vouchers for breakfast and happily, Dunedin airport recently (finally) joined the 21st century and got itself a bit of free wifi, so this long overdue blog post might actually make it to the blog!
December has been a social month - I think it always is. Everyone wants to catch up before the end of the year - and while it can make you a little weary, it's also really lovely to catch up with everyone, all happy with summer holiday anticipation. December has seen some epic Maitland dinners, celebrations involving decorated cakes "for no reason in particular", farewelling H's seven years living in Dunedin with a pretty epic return to late night dancing of more youthful days, countless beers at Albar or at the beach, ciders in the Maitland courtyard to make the most of the long evenings...
We ended this December social season with a "festive cheers" last night. L, J and I teamed up again to create a pretty colourful array; complemented by broken heart gin and empire tonic - with a slice of cucumber and a wedge of lime, we decided this is the classiest g & t - and all NZ-made ingredients! Despite J and my best efforts to be organised, we neglected to get the sourdough underway in time for it to rise, and so in lieu of a loaf of sourdough, we made flat bread instead. S called it pain perdu which traditionally refers to French toast made from the forgotten end of a baguette; but seems appropriate in this situation also.
But it isn't the festive season without something delicious and rich, involving dried fruit and nuts. I remember spending this time of year travelling around India a couple of years ago, eating dal and chappati, Christmas spent in the desert with three camels and our guide for company. Just before the end of the year, in a different city, we came across a German cake shop. Devouring plate after plate of dark, alcoholic plum cake (it is amazing how much you can eat when you've been living off curried vegetables) - then it truly felt like Christmas.
This year we made panforte, and raspberry and ginger beer cake for our 'festive cheers'. The panforte was a last minute decision when we were trying to think of something sweet, gluten free, and delicious. Panforte is an ideal cake to make gluten free because it isn't meant to rise very much anyway.
1 cup almonds
1 cup hazelnuts
150 g flour - to make this gluten free, we used 75 g brown rice flour and 75 g buckwheat flour plus 1 tsp guar gum.
100 g dried cranberries
50 g dried figs
50 g dried apple
50 g dried apricots
50 g dates
3/4 cup liquid honey
200 g dark chocolate
1/2 cup brown sugar
Roast the almonds and hazelnuts in a 200ºC oven. They will take 10-15 minutes. When they're done, vaguely bash them up or 'gently' blitz them in a food processor. I like them to be very roughly chopped, not too small.
Chop all the dried fruit. This is a somewhat arduous task but, bear with me, it's completely worth it. The fruit you use is also interchangeable - our recipe called for mixed peel but we decided to use apple instead. Raisins would be a good addition, as would prunes.. You can't go wrong with all these delicious ingredients. J also suggested a small amount of chilli which I think would be completely amazing but have not tried first hand.
Mix the nuts, flour, and fruit together in a large bowl. Melt the chocolate, honey and sugar over a gentle heat - you don't want the chocolate to seize up. When all the chocolate is melted, pour over the fruit and stir. Don't wait around too much, the warmer the chocolate/honey mix is, the easier it is to stir. Your arm might feel like it will fall off but it should come together in a really thick, sticky dough consistency. If not, add a very small amount of hot water.
Press into a round cake tin. The recipe called for one that had a 30cm diameter, but we used a 20cm one and it was thicker than usual but wonderful just the same. Bake at 180ºC for 40 - 60 minutes. It should be firm to press the top, and darker around the edges. Remove from tin and if you lined the tin with baking paper, remove as soon as possible - if it cools in the paper you will never get it off prettily. Try (but not too hard) to not eat all of it at once, although it's pretty amazing to eat warm. It's dairy free, gluten free (if you choose), and vegan (apart from the honey) so it's able to be enjoyed by people of all different dietary persuasions, and it's also quite good for you. Personally, I am taking panforte next time I go on a climbing/tramping weekend.
And now it's three days later since I sat in the airport and wrote the above in a sleep deprived state. It's good to be home, very very good as it always is to spend time at Mum and Dad's, spend time with my siblings, missing the other brother S who won't make it home this year (hi, love you!), spend time with Wellington-based friends, and being thankful for all the good surrounding us all. Hope you and yours have a merry and bright festive season. Thank you for reading these somewhat sporadic posts, and see you in 2014!
title from simon & garfunkel - homeward bound
title from simon & garfunkel - homeward bound