Oh, Trigger warning. All the triggers.

So, I’ve learnt over the years that not everyone had a shit childhood, and when I describe mine I get looks of horror.

Also, Mothers’ Day has just been. Mothers’ Day is probably my most loathed day of the year. Currently I am thinking maybe I just won’t do it any more. There is no rule that says I have to. And I think I’ve earnt the right to not have to, to be honest.

I recall my very early childhood as happy. The first of my mother’s partners that I remember was very sweet to me. I don’t remember him much. I remember his saying it might be best if I didn’t call him Daddy because my real Daddy might be upset. I remember thinking some three-year-old version of “‘real’ Daddy? Who’s that?” and an emotion that I now interpret as “why don’t I get to decide who my ‘real’ Daddy is?”.

Anyway, that relationship ended probably when I was about five. Mum had some relationships after that, including a brief fling with the unit who later molested me, and then my main stepfather turned up.

I don’t know if things would have been shit even if he wasn’t there. Quite possibly.

The Shit:

Overloading and unrealistic expectations.

I was expected to do too many chores for my age. I couldn’t do them all. There was no point in trying, so I mostly didn’t try. So even now, when there are too many things to do I feel overwhelmed and give up.

One day when I was about – six? – five? –  my mother left me at home alone for the day while she went to a neighbouring town. She left me with an extensive list of things I was to do while she was gone: sweep and mop the floor, wash the dishes, collect brush and kindling for the fire, I can’t remember what else. I do know that I worked all day, and for the first and only time did everything on the list. When my mother got home in the evening she said “Great! I should go away more often!”

This made me wish I had not done everything after all.

My grandmother visited some time round then. She later said she saw me as a little Cinderella, with raggedy clothes and endless chores. That’s also about how I saw myself.


As well as the “home alone” described above, on some other occasion round that time, my mother fell in lust with a prominent musician who came through the village on tour. She took off with him for a week, leaving me to look after myself. I managed for the first couple of days, but then got lonely and stayed with friends.

Of course, she did ask if it was OK, and I said yes, it was fine. What kind of mother asks a six-year-old if they will be OK to look after themselves for a week so she can go and get her end off?

The undermining

Me: “I got 97% in my maths test.”

Her: “What’s the point of getting 97% in your maths test if you can’t keep your room tidy?”.

Me: “I got the [prominent Maori former principal] academic scholarship to high school!”.

Her: “It should have gone to a Maori girl”.

Me: “I got a major scholarship to a prestigious senior high school.”

Her: “Are you sure you want to go? Don’t you think you’ll suddenly find you’ve moved from being the big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in the big pond?”

Me: “I’m not sure what I want to study.”

Her: “Maybe you shouldn’t go to university. You might find it too hard. Better to go to a polytech and learn something useful.”

On Mothers’ Day, she said she always felt so proud when she heard my name in the media, doing my (currently prominent) academic work. Excuse me while I seethe inside.


When I was little I was smacked regularly. Smacked for talking out of turn. Smacked for crying. Hit round the head for whatever. Once, having heard from my friends of the dangers of being hit in the head, after she hit me I cried out “you could have killed me!” She laughed. Hilarious.

She didn’t smack me so much when the stepfather was in the picture. He was Scandinavian and generally didn’t think hitting children was a good idea. But.

When I guess I would have been seven or eight, the stepfather and I had an argument, I forget what about. He said “I’m going to go for a walk” (to cool down). I shouted “Yes, why don’t you, I wish you would”. He pushed me to the ground and kicked me. My mother threw her cup of tea over me.

The incident

When I was thirteen, and my little brother was a baby, she asked me to take him for a walk. I didn’t want to. I said so. She picked him up and started swinging him over the balcony on the back deck, threatening to throw him over if I didn’t agree to take him. I was paralysed, terrified, crying “no, no, no!”. She put him down and said “right, I’m going to ruin all your stuff then.”  She went into my room and pulled out all my drawers and emptied their contents on the floor. She picked up a chair and started bashing it at the television. I tried to stop her and she punched me in the face.

I ran. I ran two suburbs away, to the home of a woman who I knew knew my mother was having problems. Even then I was trying to protect her reputation by not going to other people who I would then have to tell.

I went to school from there. The principal called me to his office. Eventually I had to go home. There was some half-assed attempt at counselling, which basically consisted of me being told that mum was sorry, and therefore I had to go home and suck it up.

I closed myself off from her after that. I knew I wasn’t safe with her.

The truly revolting

Paedophiles are manipulators. Even good parents can be deceived. Although paedophiles pick their victims, and I had been set up to be a prime victim by all the above (except The Incident, which happened after), I can’t really blame my mother for my sexual abuse. That’s on the paedophile.

However, after my mother knew about the abuse, she asked the paedophile for a “loan”. He gave it to her. I don’t know the terms of the loan. I just know that when in later years I reported him and the sexual assaults to the police, he wrote to her asking for the money to be paid back. I told her to pay him back, because I felt like she’d pimped me after the fact. She said that was between him and her. She didn’t pay him back. She tried to justify it to herself by suggesting she could give me part ownership of her house at the amount of the “loan”. I declined.

Naturally, there’s more Shit. These are just the most extreme incidences, but they’re all I’ve got the energy for at the moment.


If I could order a house…

We are house-hunting.

To be truthful, I am a Real Estate voyeur. I don’t know if there’s a twelve step programme, but if there isn’t, I don’t want it, because to want to change you first have to acknowledge that there is a problem. It seems a pretty harmless vice to me, given the alternatives.

But now my voyeuring has turned into firm wanting. I can’t bring myself to say needing, because I’m probably a 1%-er. Well, 2%-er anyway, by world standards. And we have a solid house with more space than lots of people in the world. It’s warm, well-insulated and easy to heat by New Zealand standards (admittedly not a high standard…). And we’ve chosen paint and finishings to our taste, and we’ve lived in it for twelve years now, so it has history for us too.

But our children keep getting taller, and having firmer views about privacy, and so, in our over-privileged world, we find ourselves hankering after a second bathroom. Also, our children’s rooms are quite small: things like desks and decent storage won’t fit in them. We looked at extending, but the cost would have meant solid over-capitalising, so we decided to not.

The problem is that I have been a Real Estate voyeur for a long time. And I’ve been an environmental epidemiologist specialising in housing for the most recent 10 years of that. So I have very firm ideas about what we’re looking for.

So far, noone seems to be selling it.

I thought I’d put it out to the universe in the hope that the universe will listen.

First, where it should be, location.

We like Newtown. We’ve lived in Newtown for over 15 years. If I could get what I want in Newtown, I would be very happy.

I would also be happy with Mt Cook, or Mt Victoria, or Te Aro. We’ve looked at places in other areas that in theory we might settle for – Brooklyn, or Hataitai, for example – but just can’t quite talk ourselves into them.

It also can’t be on a busy road, nor near a major arterial route, because noise and air pollution.

Second, but only just second, orientation.

The property MUST be well-oriented for the sun. That means the private outdoor living space and indoor living areas must be oriented to a compass-point somewhere between North-north-east and due West. The kitchen is allowed to be oriented to the East, but not the rest of the living area.

Third, access.

We both have ageing parents, and we’d prefer to age-in-place ourselves when the time comes. That means level access from footpath to the front door. A few steps is OK, but really no more than 4, and it must be possible to make it wheelchair accessible if necessary. That also means that ideally it’s single-story, but if there’s more than one story, there must be a bedroom on the entry level.

Fourth, size.

The house should have three good-sized bedrooms, two bathrooms (only one needs to have a bath; both must have a shower), a kitchen/dining area and two living areas. One of the living areas should be able to be closed off so that on the rare occasions people come to stay they can sleep in there; and also so that we can have the piano and the television in separate spaces – though that could be achieved in some other way. All up that means that the house is going to be at least 150m2.

The house also needs some outdoor living space with dirt (rather than just a deck, for example).

However, the house doesn’t have to have all these size-related points right now, so long as it’s possible to add them on and the value of the house will carry it.

Fifth, price.

Um… under NZ$1.2million please!


Experiments with cake III: Martha Stewart’s orange-almond cake

Since the previous efforts with the white chocolate orange almond mudcakes weren’t entirely satisfactory (sunk in the middle; overly sweet), I thought I’d try something else: time to abandon the chocolate and just try orange-almond.  I’ve started with Martha Stewart’s version ( even though it only reviews with 3 1/2 stars, because it seemed like a good place to start.

I’m not doing the candied orange topping, because it’s for a wedding cake, and I’d only bought 3 oranges at the supermarket, so I put a mandarin in as well to be the other orange half.  That did seem to produce the required 3 cups of orange pulp, so all good there. The rest of the recipe was pretty straight-forward. I used golden caster sugar rather than plain sugar, and I used the eggs I had, which were probably on the smaller side of US “large”.

It’s now cooked. The recipe said about 1 hr. I put it in for 50 minutes at 180C on “Classic Bake”. I suspect it may be slightly overcooked, as just as the timer went off I smelt the start of a slightly burnt smell.  We’ll see if that’s actually the case once it’s turned out.


I’ve turned it out. It is a bit browner round the sides than ideal. Next time, I don’t think I’ll use “classic bake” (actually, when has it ever given me a good result?) and just stick with fan bake, and check it earlier.


Ha! When I went looking for appropriate icing for this cake, I found it’s not the version she uses for wedding cakes.  Oh well, I’m sure we’lll enjoy eating it anyway!

Experiments with Cake II

I have enrolled in the cake decorating course (beginners).  We had the first session last week, at which we made cupcakes, and watched the instructor make buttercream icing.  Tonight we’ll be making buttercream icing ourselves (eww) and using it to ice a cake.

To ice a cake, we must bake a cake in advance, preferably 20cm.

Therefore, I decided it was time to try out the second attempt of the White Chocolate, Almond and Orange cake described in my previous post.

While making the cake, I discovered I had made an error in the previous attempt, which would explain why it was so sweet.  For some reason, although I’d reduced the sugar by cup volume, I made an error in calculating the sugar by weight – I used 3/4 of the original recipe, rather than 3/4 of half the original recipe.  That will explain why it was so sweet.  So my “attempt 2” version in fact has the weight I should have used the first time.  We’ll see how that works out.

I won’t be tasting the cake proper until I cut it with my workmates tomorrow: I’ll let you know how it goes.

However, I did have some white chocolate left over, and some orange zest, so I decided to try making some mini cupcakes using the same recipe.  I will get to taste those today!


Now that the cakes are cooked, I can report that they are sunken in the middle.  BBC good food ( tells me that this is either because the oven door was opened too soon (nope), or the cake didn’t go in the oven as soon as it was ready (it did, though arguably there could be something in this) or there was too much rising agent (?!).  The last one is possible, since in adjusting the amounts of self-raising flour and almond meal, there would have been more rising agent than in the first attempt (which also sunk in the middle, though that could have been due to opening the door).

Icing them will still be OK, because you just cut off the bits that aren’t flat.

Experiments with cake

So, I’ve volunteered to make my sister’s wedding cake, in January 2015.

I’ve decorated a few birthday cakes in my time, and my mother’s wedding cake, and I’ve signed up for an eveving cake decorating course just to get some better technique, so I’m feeling confident on the decoration front (famous last words…).

So, the things I want to figure out are:

1.  What cakes to use

2.  How much cake I need

3.  How I want to decorate them.

Actually I’ve just chucked 3 in for fun.  I mostly know how I’m going to decorate them, after a bit of consultation with the bride.

First, I’m hoping to avoid the whole cake stacking exercise by using a tiered display stand instead, most likely this one:

which is available from fishpond for just under $100.  My only concern about it is that the sizes of cakes for each layer are, respectively, 10″, 8″ and 6″, or, for those of us who are more sensible and work with metric: 25cm, 20cm and 15cm.

Now, I made a 20cm cake last night (we’ll get to that) and it’s quite small.  Even if it were tall it would still be small.  And 25cm isn’t particularly big either.  The cake serving guide so kindly provided online by Lark Cake Shop ( (the answer to number 2) suggests that even if you cut really mean “event style” sized servings, those three cakes would only serve 71 people, and I’m pretty sure there’ll be 100 people at the wedding.  I found a useful discussion of how many servings to make which suggested you should cater for 60% of the number of people invited, but my impression is that my sister will have a much higher response rate than that, and that if some people can’t come she’ll have a backup list to fill it in – the list is restricted by the venue rather than by available friends and relatives.  So I think 100 is likely.  Which would make 71 mean pieces mean catering indeed.

I’ve contacted a local wrought-iron artist to see what he’d charge to make something.  I suspect it will be a lot, but ordering one the right size from overseas wouldn’t be cheap either ( so it’s worth asking.

Anyway, on to the cakes themselves.

They’ll have white slightly rusticated icing, each with a flower on top something like the following (from Cakestar, by Jade Lipton, available at


Not sure yet what colour(s) the flowers will be on each cake, but I’d aim to have them smaller than the diameter of the cake, unlike the one in the picture, which is larger.

Round the base of each cake there’ll be some hessian ribbon, with lace ribbon over the top, something like this:,898

So on to the first question: what cakes to make.

First, wedding cakes need to be able to keep a bit.  If there’s cake left over, people need to be able to take it home and eat it over subsequent days.  And even before then, the cakes need to be able to be cooked in advance so there’s time to decorate them, and not have to cook and decorate them all in just a day or two, which would be stressful.

The all-knowing internets tell me that mud cakes keep well.  My best friend and her mother, both accomplished bakers, tell me that nut cakes work well.  So for a start I thought I’d try the two things together, and make a white chocolate orange and almond mud cake.

I used the white chocolate mud cake, made with almonds, at , as my starting point.

I only made half the recipe (the half without the cocoa powder) as it was a test cake and I wasn’t planning on layering things up.

I also reduced the amount of sugar, as comparison with other mud cakes and reading reviews suggested that otherwise it would be too sweet.   And I added 1 1/2 tsp of orange zest for the orange flavour.  So the recipe I ended up with was this:

White chocolate, orange and almond mud cake (attempt 1)

125g butter
90g white chocolate, chopped coarsely
3/4 cups (330g) sugar (we were out of caster sugar)
1/2 cup (125ml) milk
100g (7/8 cup = 220ml) almond meal
92g (5/8 cup = 155ml) self-raising flour
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 1/2 tsp orange zest

1. Preheat oven to 160 °C (140 °C fan-forced). Grease one deep 20cm-round cake tin; line base and sides with baking paper.

I preheated the oven as instructed to 140 fan-forced, but on later inspection it was probably more like 135, which may have been partly responsible for the later sinking.  In any case, I think the pre-heating for my oven should have been 150 fan-forced.

2 Combine butter, white chocolate, sugar and milk in a medium saucepan; stir over heat, without boiling, until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large bowl; cool for 15 minutes.

It got to cool for longer than 15 minutes because I was doing other things at the same time.  I’m not sure if that mattered or not.

3 Whisk almond meal and sifted flour into white chocolate mixture, then whisk in egg and orange zest. Pour into one of the prepared pans. Bake cake for about 50 minutes or until cooked when tested. Stand cake in pan for 5 minutes; turn cake, top side up, onto wire rack to cool.

I baked for 50 minutes in a 20cm tin and it was nowhere near cooked.  It needed another 20 minutes on top of that, and arguably could have had another 10 after that too.  At the end of that time it was a bit sunk in the middle, and the edges had shrunk away from the tin.

My learnings from this are;

1.  The cake is just slightly too dense and oily.  Next time I would reverse the quantities (by volume rather than weight) of almond flour and wheat flour.  The increased wheat flour should probably be plain flour rather than self-raising, to ensure it doesn’t rise too much.

2.  It needs to be cooked longer than the recipe says and/or at a higher temperature.  Next time I’d go for an hour at 150 fan-forced.

3.  I need a better 20cm cake tin for it.  The one I used was old, with a loose base, and I had to put the tin on a silicon tray to stop the batter from leaking into the oven.  I took this out quite early in the cooking.  Taking the tray out early in the cooking was probably a mistake as it likely contributed to the cake sinking a bit in the middle.

4.  Going for 3/4 of the sugar was still too much sugar.  I’d go for half next time.

5.  I’d add the orange zest earlier in the mixing next time, to reduce the likelihood of over-beating.  On that front, I wonder, if the melted chocolate/milk/butter mix was cooled enough, whether it would be possible to add in the egg before the dry ingredients.

6.  In spite of all the above, the cake tastes really good, and will have a good firm surface for decorating and density for cutting, and is definitely the right direction for the wedding cake.

My revised recipe, for next time, is:

White chocolate, orange and almond mud cake (attempt 2)

125g butter
90g white chocolate, chopped coarsely
220g (1/2 c) sugar (we were out of caster sugar)
125ml (1/2 c) milk
76g (5/8 cup = 155ml) almond meal
110g (7/8 cup = 220ml) self-raising flour
1 egg, beaten lightly
1 1/2 tsp orange zest

1. Preheat oven to 150 °C fan-forced. Grease one deep 20cm-round cake tin; line base and sides with baking paper.

2 Combine butter, white chocolate, sugar and milk in a medium saucepan; stir over heat, without boiling, until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large bowl; cool for 15 minutes.

3 Whisk orange zest into white chocolate mixture.

4  Whisk almond meal and sifted flour into white chocolate mixture, then whisk in egg. Pour into one of the prepared pans. Bake cake for about 60 minutes or until cooked when tested.  Don’t test too early. Stand cake in pan for 5 minutes; turn cake, top side up, onto wire rack to cool.

N.B.  If you want to try this yourself, and you want to make a proper cake, you’ll likely want to make two of these and sandwich them together with ganache or similar (I think raspberries in the filling would make a great accompaniment, but YMMV).  If you do try it, let me know how it goes!

And a little something for myself…

Since I’ve now bought more fabric than needed for Daughter’s dress, and can’t make it yet anyway, I thought I’d practice by making something for myself.

Naturally, that means starting with the shift.

I had that striped linen left from before, only used to attempt a blackwork manuka.  I bought another half metre of it – given it’s about 3m wide, the price isn’t as extortionate as it would be otherwise – and am now in the process of making a shift for myself, to the same pattern as Daughter’s.

The only difference from Daughter’s pattern, apart from size, is that I want a high collar.

The smock pattern generator at (“Drea’s”) only covers square-necked smocks, so no luck there.

The Tudor Tailor, a copy of which I finally bought from the authors (to save myself accruing yet more overdue fines for it at the library), has men’s shirts and women’s smocks.  The women’s smock has a high collar option, but is made to a slightly different pattern to Drea’s (the shoulders are cut in at the same angle as the gores).

So, I went looking online to see what I could find there, and encountered a conundrum.  Men’s shirts are all made with neck gussets.  Some women have included neck gussets, and some haven’t.  The Tudor Tailor women’s pattern doesn’t include neck gussets, and goes for a rounded cut neckline.  The women’s smock in the museum at Bath apparently does (I can’t find any detailed photos online), though they’re not obvious in this reproduction:


as does the one at the Victoria and Albert

The V&A smock appears to have a straight-cut neckline; the reproduction Bath looks like it’s rounded.

I consulted the good folk at the Elizabethan Costuming group on facebook, and they also endorsed the use of neck gussets.

I like the voice of experience, so my next question was: What size should they be?  I suspect that the 2″ sided right-angled triangles in The Tudor Tailor men’s smock would be too big for a fine-boned frame like mine.

Time to try a “toile” or “muslin” as a test.  I got a bit of the Sally Army sheet set, and cut a slit in the middle and down the front of a guess at the appropriate length – subsequent reading tells me the front slit should be longer, to reach about my breast-bone.

I then put it over my head as is, to see the result.

(Apologies for the blurring in the first photo)


1.  As you can hopefully see (despite the blurring. Son was somewhat unenthusiastic about acting as photographer) it doesn’t sit well.  It is about two cm wider on each side than the finished shoulder width of the actual shirt, but still, those shoulders clearly want to stick up rather than sitting along the shoulder line, so that’s one thing to deal with.

2.  When the neck is closed, it sits high on the throat – it really wants to sit higher still than in the photo, as visible in the creases coming out from the side of the cut, but the width of the cut prevents it.


3.  The side view shows just how poorly the whole thing works.  It’s the old Cartesian problem: how to get straight surfaces to adequately match a curved surface.


4.  If it were a different project, a solution might be found through something like this (or the alternative, which is taking fabric out at the shoulder line), but that’s not going to work with this project.


None of these photos on their own helped me much with the question of how big to make the gussets, but they did give time for my brain to perculate, and I came up with the following:

If I measure my neck around, it comes to 36cm.  That should be 18cm at front and 18cm at back, but I suspect there’s more at the front really, and indeed when I measure from one side to the other across the back it’s more like 16cm, which leaves 20cm at the front.

If I look in the mirror and measure the straight horizontal distance from one side of my neck to the other, it’s 13cm.

Back neck: 16cm – 13cm=3cm, /2 (to see how much each side)=1.5cm

Front neck: 20cm – 13cm=7cm, /2=3.5cm

So I think ideally the gusset would provide an extra 1.5cm each side at the back, and an extra 3.5cm at the front, for a total of 5cm each side (or 2″ in imperials).

However, I doubt it’s possible with my limited skills to arrange it so the gusset width sits more at the front than the back.  Also, the front “corners” are going to need to be cut away somewhat so that they sit against my neck and not against my throat – I don’t know that gussets would change that problem.

And even if the width (or rather, that side of the triangle) is correct (dubious), it still doesn’t tell me how long to make the other two (identical) sides.

Time for some more guesswork.

The Tudor Tailor women’s pattern takes a curve out at the back (1″ less at the centre back) to is 3.75″ from the centre.  If I draw that on the toile I can see it would take the total measurement of the back of the neck to – wait for it – 16cm.  The front is cut down 2″, making the total front neck measurement… 20cm.

This is such a tidy match that I think I’m going to have to try it. ….

And indeed, it suddenly sits a whole lot better.

However, I think some small gussets would still be a good idea, mostly because although it sits better now, I realise that it’s going to need at least a little seam allowance at the front for the hem on the front slit.  That’s going to pull the sides in by about 1cm each side.  Though I suspect a better way to deal with that is to put a little pleat in the back to match the seam allowance at the front, and move the side seams out a cm on each side.

Slow and steady

I’ve completed the bumroll, and bought the last hose joiner for the top hoop in the farthingale, but I need my model in order to arrange and pin the pleats, before I can put the waistband on and attach the bumroll.

Now debating what to do about the open sections of hoop casing on the farthingale. If I sew them completely closed, there will be no chance of making any adjustments to the hoops. But if I don’t, they look nasty. I think I just sew them closed, and if I need to open ’em up again, well, that’ll learn me, won’t it!