Tag Archives: funny

I haven’t told a baking disaster story for a while — here’s one involving apricot upside down cake.

By Post of Armenia – http://www.armenianstamps.com/2007.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5504935

If we all collectively agree it’s still — I dunno, mid-August, say? — we can make it not be the end of September already, right?
You in? Good.

September has rushed by, but at least I have been slightly less busy this week. I’m still busy at work but I’ve only left the house 2 weeknights. (As opposed to 4 last week and all 5 the week before.) I have rediscovered lost skills, like how to cook my own dinner! And how to get to bed before midnight! It is very exciting.

On Sunday night I found myself rumaging through my fridge in a bit of an I’ve been pretending to be an extrovert for the past fortnight and now I’ve got some time to myself I don’t know what to do loose end. Having barely been at home, I had of course wound up with a fridge full of things that needed using up asap — some questionable-looking peaches, some eggs of unknown provenance, a container of cream that was use by 25 September.  This peach cake recipe came to the rescue. (NB: adding lemon juice to cream to make kinda-sorta sour cream totally works if you’re using it for baking.)

Also, earlier in the summer I had been bested by a cake with fresh fruit in it, and it was time for revenge. Continue reading


We have always been at war with the pigeons

Sometimes I think I understand my life…

…And then I find myself sitting on a tram at 10:30 at night trying to keep a ladder from falling onto the lady sitting next to me.

(Funnily enough, this isn’t even the oddest thing I’ve transported by public transport this week. That honour would go to a bunch of five helium balloons. “Don’t you have a car with you?” asked the lady in the balloon shop, a very proper older lady who couldn’t believe we’d ordered multiple colours of balloons for a graduation party when clearly the correct colour was red.

She’d also insisted that the friend who had ordered the balloons had asked for orange as one of the colours, so she was going to turn the entire crowded storeroom of the shop upside down to find one, even as I tried to convince her that he could cope perfectly well with a second green balloon in the bunch. I tried not to check the time on my phone too pointedly. She found an orange balloon at the bottom of a dusty box. While she was inflating it, she asked me how long I’d been in Italy. “4 years? Why don’t you speak Italian better?”

What I’m saying is, those balloons were awkward.)

Back to the ladder.

If you’re friends with me on facebook, you’ll know I’ve had a pigeon problem this year:


My post got me some… interesting suggestions: “Smoke em out”; “Put a rubber snake near their entrance”; “How good are you at meowing?” as well as the comment that I was lucky I’d get the chance to see baby pigeons up close.

I have no idea if baby pigeons are cute (probably not) but in the meantime every noise made by these pigeons was amplified perfectly by the acoustics of my bathroom ceiling, and I didn’t fancy being woken up every morning by pigeon coos. They had to go.

That evening, I rummaged through the cupboard of random things left by previous tenants in the apartment, and found some netting. Stretching as high as I could while standing on a kitchen chair on my balcony, I tied it as well as I could over the ventilation hole. “Sucks to be you, birds,” I smirked as I admired my work.

You can imagine how this goes, right? 2 days later:


I started googling how to get rid of pigeons. Do you know they breed up to 6 times per year? Do you know a quality ultrasonic pigeon deterrent costs hundreds of dollars? Do you know they rapidly learn to not fear scarecrows/rubber snakes/etc?

By this point, my friends were asking me for updates on the pigeon situation every time they saw me. “How are your room mates?” “Any babies yet?” “Have you considered a gun?”

So I am happy to report that with the aid of a ladder I managed to re-tie the netting without any gaps and I haven’t heard any pigeons for a couple of days now. Sorry birds, but my use of tools is superior to yours.

I fully expect to be divebombed every time I hang out washing, though.

Cover image derived from a photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia- Own work, GFDL 1.2

Sometimes humble pie looks a lot like a chocolate layer cake.

Since the most bloggable thing I’ve done in the past few weeks has been online shopping for Christmas presents while still in bed, here’s a story from a few weeks ago. It’s nerdy! But it involves cake!

I’d been having a slighty frustrating time at work, with a lot of back and forth that went like

Me: What are the results you’re getting for your simulations of [problem]?

Other person sends me a bunch of graphs.

Me: Ok, but are you sure that’s right? Those numbers just aren’t physically possible. (They were the equivalent of “I measured the size of my car and it was 16 km wide”)

Them: well I already I debugged my code.

Me: sure, but the numbers don’t make physical sense [blah blah physics talk]

Them: but there aren’t any bugs in my code, I’ve gone through it 3 times.

Me: I don’t care how many times you debugged, can’t you see the results you’re sending me are just not possible?

And so on. And, I have to admit, a fair number of side comments about “how do people get physics degrees if they can’t even tell when their calculations are giving them nonsense? Harrumph.”

So when I realized that a friend from church had a birthday coming up and I was going to see her the day before it, it seemed like a good idea to bake her a surprise cake. It would be a nice thing to do, and I find baking quite relaxing.

I had a friend staying with me at the time, so I didn’t want to fuss about with making something complicated. So I chose a simple recipe, one where you just melt the ingredients together. It called for a 19 cm square tin. I don’t have any square cake tins, but that was fine, because I did have a 22 cm round tin, which is almost exactly the same area, so the cake should bake the same way. I even calculated the percentage difference between the two, it’s about 5%.

So I greased and lined my big cake tin, and got to work melting butter and sugar together. I had a moment of doubt when it came to adding the flour. It just didn’t seem like a lot of flour for such a large cake tin. But I trusted the recipe and I knew that 22 cm round is very close to the 19 cm square it called for. So maybe it was just a recipe with a higher butter to flour ratio.

I had another doubt when I poured the batter into the tin and it didn’t really look like much. But the picture on the recipe was of quite a light cake, so it was probably going to rise a lot. It did have quite a bit of baking powder in it. And I’d gone to such trouble to make sure I was using a recipe that suited my big cake tin. So in the oven it went.

And 40 minutes later it came out, flat. Maybe 2 cm thick, at most.


E., the friend who was staying, and I stared at this comically thin cake on the cooling rack. It must have deflated. So much for a simple recipe! Could we put on a tonne of icing to bulk it up? No, it was just too flat. Roll it up? No, it wasn’t flexible enough and anyway, it was round. Well I can’t use this as D.’s birthday cake. There’s nothing for it, I’ll have to make a second layer. At this point, it was getting late, so I set my alarm for 6 am and went to bed.

Fortunately, making a second layer was straightforward even in my 6am mental state, and I sandwiched them together well with some plum jam:

Not the best food photography ever.

Not the best food photography ever.

Why are the candles unlit in that photo? Because after all the trouble of making the cake, we discovered at the last possible minute before bringing it out to D. that we didn’t have any matches. Fortunately, this tipped the whole thing from “I thought baking would be a stress relief and instead I had to get up at 6 this morning!!!” to hilarious. So all’s well as ends well.

And as I was falling asleep that night, I realized the embarassing truth. Yes, a 22 cm round tin is equivalent to a 19 cm square tin. But my big cake tin isn’t 22 cm. It’s more like 28 cm. And it’s not as if I don’t know roughly what 22 cm looks like, I work with measurements all the time. So I should add another line to my exchange:

Me: Self, I don’t care how many times you’ve calculated that 22 cm round is equivalent to 19 cm square. Can’t you see that your cake tin just isn’t 22 cm?

Home made candied peel

On language skills and dried fruit.

When I first moved to Italy, it used to really bother me that I couldn’t understand the conversations I was overhearing around me. What are all these people talking about? I’m missing out on so much!

And then I went back to Australia for Christmas, where I understood everything going on around me, and I realized the truth. Most of what you overhear, you don’t want to overhear. Those 2 weeks in Perth, I swear about 90% of conversations I overheard were either people making loud phone calls on the bus to reschedule their colonoscopies to work around their urologist’s appointment, or bros telling their gym buddies about the new Paleo-kins diet they were on where you’re only allowed to eat spinach, bacon and protein powder and maaate you just have to try the spinach-bacon protein shakes I make, I’ve been slamming them down, every meal, they’re amazing.

These days, my Italian language skills have improved and while I’m far from fluent, I’m starting to think the level I’m at is somehow optimal. I can usually understand what I hear if I actively listen, but I can still tune out conversations on the bus just by not paying attention — even if someone says something outrageous, I’m not going to pick it up unless I’m listening for it. And my spoken Italian is rubbish, but I’m starting to think that’s for the best… 3 stories to illustrate:

  1. The other night, I’m on the tram, it must have been around 11pm so it’s quiet but not empty. Everyone is minding their own business; two guys get on. One is very obviously drunk, the other is his loyal friend who is really hoping to get him home as quickly as possible, hopefully without too much drama. I make the mistake of listening in. The drunk guy is discussing his girlfriend, who’s dumped him earlier today. How could she?! But whatever, she was no good anyway, he was about to dump her. But how could she?! It’s all her fault anyway. But how could she duuuump meeee? At which point, I’m very glad that a) it was his stop and his friend made him get off, and b) I couldn’t think how to say “Maybe she dumped you because you’re a tedious drunk,” because that would have been mean and probably gotten me into a fistfight.
  2. A few weeks ago, I was cycling to work and pulled up behind another cyclist at a red light. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice something moving. It’s a spider. On seat of his trousers. I did consider trying to say “hey, there’s a spider on your butt!” but I decided against it because it didn’t look like a dangerous spider, and I could just imagine the follow up, “No, really, it’s a very dark coloured spider and you’re wearing light beige trousers and it’s moving around so it was visible in my peripheral vision, I really truly wasn’t checking out your butt while waiting at a red light, really…” So awkward! Not to mention, the only Italian I could think of was less like “butt” and more like “arse” and he’d probably just think I was yelling obscenities at him.
  3. Yesterday, I was at the supermarket buying grapes. This one’s a longer story, because on the face of it, there’s no good reason for me not to have asked one of the other customers, “do you reckon any of these are seedless?” But I was worried they might ask why I was after seedless grapes, and then we’d be in the realm of things that are hard to explain even in your mother tongue.

So the story with the grapes is this. Saturday, I was feeling especially crafty, so I decided to make my own mixed peel (candied peel, if you’re American). Turns out, it’s really easy, I used this recipe and it worked splendidly:

This might end up in a Christmas cake, if I don't eat it all first.

This might end up in a Christmas cake, if I don’t eat it all first.

In this case, success is followed by hubris. What else could I preserve? Glace cherries sprung to mind, but of course I’ve missed the cherry season by several months (next year!). Why not… raisins? So there I was, buying grapes, and refusing to ask for help finding seedless ones because I didn’t want to have to explain, “well I made my own mixed peel even though you can buy it, so now I’m thinking I’ll make my own raisins even though you can buy them and I swear I’m not that sort of person normally.” (It didn’t help that a lot of the how-to-dry-raisins instructions I found on the internet were on Mormon lifestyle blogs. I made sure to buy beer and coffee along with the grapes, to preserve my own self-image.)

Turns out the kilogram of grapes I bought were not seedless. But hubris is followed by madness, so I sat down with my kilo of grapes, and a knife, and I cut every single grape in half and pulled out the seeds. Every. Single. Grape. About halfway through, I checked in with myself:

Self, what will you do if this all fails and you don’t end up with anything resembling raisins and you’ve wasted all this effort?

Well, what else would I be doing on a Sunday night?

So now I have 2 trays of grape halves in a very low oven, maybe they will form something resembling raisins, or at least something close enough that I can soak them in booze and put them in a Christmas cake.

Ugly, but quite tasty.

Come on ugly grape ducklings, you can turn into beautiful raisin swans!

Maybe I should spend my Sunday nights on Italian language learning, instead.