Wednesday, March 2

Every Woman Deserves Four Things on Her Birthday


My Favourite Action Hero

At least once a year I get a clogged kitchen sink, the kind that no amount of liquid plumber can fix. Naturally, this tends to happen a few hours before a dinner party. It was on such an occasion I recalled having recently photographed a van parked in my neighbour's driveway. Veneda and I were walking the back way to my house, when I spied a bright yellow van with the name Miss Fix It, Professional Tradeswoman emblazoned on the side. Whipping out my iPhone, I captured the impressive list of skills: Carpentry, Plumbing, Electrics, Home Repairs, Painting and Decorating, along with a phone number.

When I rang Miss Fix It, I was greeted by a confident woman with an Australian accent. At least I thought it was an Australian accent. To my relief Miss Fix It was working at my neighbour's house that very day. A few hours later, I spotted Xena Warrior Princess leaping my fence, sparkling plumber’s wrench in hand. Seriously. I was a huge fan of Xena Warrior Princess in the mid-late 90’s. Filmed in New Zealand, it featured the stunning Lucy Lawless as a mythological action hero. Twenty years on the show continues to have an enormous cult following. I’ve seen every episode at least twice, so easily recognise a honest-to-goodness warrior princess when I see one.

Seeing as Miss Fix It had Xena Warrior Princess's sapphire blue eyes and chiseled movie star bone structure, my brain made the leap from Australia to New Zealand. Like any action hero worthy of the title, Miss Fix It sorted out my plumbing in under twenty minutes. A couple weeks later she was back with Gabrielle, her sidekick and wonder dog Roxy, building me a brand, spanking new kitchen.


Miss Fix It turned out to be one of the most inspiring woman I've ever known. She’s also the only real life action hero I've ever met. I often refer to her as The Woman Who Can Do Anything. And it’s true. She can build you a whole house from top to bottom; Design every stick of furniture in it; Decorate it from top-to-bottom, including window coverings, tiling and wallpaper; Handle all the plumbing and electrics; Source light fixtures, appliances and fittings; Create an outdoor oasis, while making a memorable feast for a couple dozen of your closest friends. Indeed. On top of everything else, Miss Fix It is a world class cook, and hostess. She grows her own fruit and vegetables, makes sausage and pastrami, while mastering guitar and butchery skills. 

When not driving her bright yellow van, our action hero can be seen zipping around on one of a trio of motorbikes. She shares her adventures with two Irish Terriers and a South African Goddess named Lucy. They meant a dozen years ago in France and holiday in New Zealand, Cuba, Greece and South Africa. 

Miss Fix It’s name is Diane Mansfield. She is a big reason I stayed in England so long. She helped transform a house I hated into a home I loved. More importantly, she became family; heart-of-my-heart; tribe-of-my-tribe. Utterly irreplaceable. 



Besides making her a website, sixty-two days into the Gregorian Calendar, I make Diane her favourite cake, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I had never made a carrot cake until The Woman Who Can Do Anything arrived on the scene, or if I did it turned out so badly I blocked all memory of it. Actually, the first carrot cake I made her ended up on the floor of my car. Since then, I’ve learned to never travel with a huge cake, on a slippery tray, without safety measures in place.

Every year the cake gets a bit better. I’ve tried recipes from Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson, the Barefoot Contessa and Back in The Day Bakery Cookbook. To be honest, they’re all pretty much the same, which is why I often say a recipe is an idea for you to put your own stamp on. 

The main ingredient that differentiates Diane’s Carrot Cake from the others is walnut oil. I think walnut oil makes a big difference in taste and texture. I also combine my ingredients differently and am more generous with the nuts. This year I sprang for cake flour. I can appreciate why one would want to make cakes with this lighter touch.

To make Diane's cake, you’ll need about three hours from start to finish. In honour of Miss Fix It, you can use all the power tools (electric gadgets) you want, or you can use my favourite method, your two beautiful hands and a sturdy wooden spoon.  



Diane’s Carrot Cake

What You Need 

Unsalted Butter - about 60g  2oz
Baking Paper 
Carrots - 1.2kg  2.6lbs 
Eggs - 4
Brown Sugar - 250g  1 cup
Granulated Sugar - 250g  1 cup
Walnut Oil - 250ml  9oz
Vanilla - 1 tablespoon
Nutmeg - 1 heaping teaspoon
Cinnamon - 1 heaping teaspoon
Sea Salt (fine) - 1 tsp
Baking Powder - 2 teaspoons
Baking Soda - 2 teaspoons
Cake Flour - 200g  2 cups
Carrots (grated) 400g  4 cups
Currants (dried) 100g  1 cup
Walnuts - 400g  4 cups



What You Do 

Preheat oven to 180c  350F

Prepare pans (I prefer silicon heart shaped pans) by generously buttering AND cutting a piece of baking paper to fit the bottom of the pans. I know, overkill, but carrot cake can be  a sticky customer.

I like to grate the carrots first, in case they’re super moist. This gives them time to dry out a bit. Grate them on the largest hole of a box garter, or they will be too wet. Food processor works well too, but I do it by hand. After grating, turn them out onto a clean kitchen towel while you go about preparing the rest of the cake. 

In large bowl combine eggs, sugars, walnut oil and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Add nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cake flour. Mix well. Stir in carrots, currants and half the walnuts, reserving the second half for decorating the cake. Blend everything together with wooden spoon.

Pour batter in prepared pans, place in middle of oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes. Check cake by inserting thin wooden pick in middle. When it comes out clean, remove cake from oven. 

Allow cake to cool, then transfer to plate. If you’re in a bit of a hurry, as I often am, you can put the cake in fridge to finish cooling.

When cake is completely cool, frost as you desire. I like a lot of frosting, so tend to smother everything with a generous layer. Top with walnuts. Stash in the fridge until serving (no more than a day in advance) Many contend carrot cake tastes better the second day. I don’t agree. It tastes fabulous when freshly baked and up to two, maybe three days thereafter. 

Unless your kitchen is kept cool like mine, or if you have a nosey pooch about the place, best to store cake in fridge. Serve at room temperature - not cold. 


What You Need for The Frosting

Unsalted Butter (room temperature) - 250g  8oz
Cream Cheese (full fat, at room temperature please) - 750g  24oz
Icing Sugar - 800g  1.8lb
Vanilla - 1 tbs

What You Do 

Combine soft butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Add sugar. Beat everything together until achieving the texture you desire, ideally with a mixer. Pile it on your gorgeous cake. 

Ideas and Suggestions

Smaller carrots taste sweeter than big ones. Carrots still attached to their greenery taste best of all. Sifting all the dry ingredients makes a lighter cake - along with the above mentioned cake flour. Other spices that work equally well with carrot cake, besides nutmeg and cinnamon, include ginger and cloves. As Diane dislikes cloves, I never use them when baking for her, though I personally love them. 

If you don’t have walnut oil, try any nut oil. 

I’ve become a big fan of silicone pans because they’re so easy to use. They also seem to cool quicker. 

Enthusiasm is good, but try to refrain from putting too much batter in your pans. I'm a chronic over-pan-filler, thus I have to show a lot of restraint filling the pans to about 70%. Cake bakes better, more evenly when it has space. It’s also easier to handle smaller layers.

And finally, everything tastes better when shaped in a heart.

Every Woman Deserves Four Things on Her Birthday

To Know She’s Truly Loved  

Homemade Cake 

Sunflowers  

Home Cooked Dinner

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