Clara Wieck Schumann, A 19th Century Heroine

12 Sep 2013

So I've blogged about Chopin and Rachmaninoff, two giants in the world of piano music - I think its time to show off a female musician! If you haven't noticed, most of the famous composers and performers have historically been male. Because of women's role in society, many weren't allowed to pursue careers and were made to stay home to look after the house and raise the family. There aren't a lot of well-known female musicians out there, but one popped into my head quickly as I was gathering my thoughts for this post. Clara Wieck was like the Superwoman of the 19th century. The spice girls would bow their heads in shame if they saw what girl power Clara was bringing to the table.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons. Photo from 1853.

Clara Wieck was the daughter of a music teacher who planned her early music education down to a T (also the story of my future children?!).  By the age of 7, she was practicing piano three hours a day and her first public appearance was at age 9 at the prestigious Gewandhaus Concert Hall in Germany.  She was considered a child prodigy and quickly earned the respect of her male contemporaries such as Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt and my namesake, Chopin, - no small feat for a woman in those times!

Clara was regarded as one of the best pianists of her generation. She popularised many composers' music such as Brahms and Schumann, simply by performing their works on stage.  She eventually married the great romantic composer Robert Schumann, even against her father's wishes. Despite her husband's notoriety, she was the primary breadwinner and supported her family, had eight children and looked after her grandchildren when her own child passed away.  Check out Google's interpretation of Clara in a Google Doodle from late 2012.

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Source: Google doodle. Clara with her eight children.

Life was not easy for Clara; her husband Robert ended his life in a mental asylum, as did one of her sons. She was left a widow at 37!  I can't even begin to imagine how hard life would be if I was in her situation in this modern day let alone in the 19th century.  Interestingly, after Schumanns death, Brahms remained close with Clara, although it is unknown if they ever went all "50 Shades of Grey".

Clara was primarily a performer but did compose a little, mainly in her early life. Her compositions are traditionally lesser known but are becoming increasingly popular.  I enjoyed the showy Scherzo no.1, op 10 but to be honest she inspired me more as a strong independent woman rather than as a composer. She was highly regarded as a concert pianist in a mostly male-dominated industry and always remained professional no matter what difficulties she encountered. This clip from the movie "Song of Love" is the closest thing I could find to Clara playing in a concert (Katharine Hepburn is Clara, playing Schumann's work).

Clara Wieck Schumann supported and helped so many composers succeed during her time, I think the life of this amazing woman needs to be celebrated a lot more and I hope you can join me to spread the word about this inspirational woman!

Creamy Cauliflower and Pancetta Soup

7 Sep 2013

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Those of you who have been following my posts may have learned that I had some mysterious condition which caused my lips to swell up like I had overdosed on collagen!  After a few visits to the doctors and a night's stay at the hospital I think I've found what I was reacting to.  It can't be confirmed 100% but it looks more and more like I had a minor version of Stevens-Johnson syndrome. I won't go into detail, or put a link here, as I don't think Stevens-Johnson and cooking and eating go well together! 

So how does it relate to this post? Well, because of my condition and the slow recovery rate, I have found myself with super sensitive taste buds and unable to eat most yummy things except for very bland and puréed foods. I made up this creamy cauliflower and pancetta soup as I wanted something lighter in carbs and without lots of spices (stings my tongue!) The pancetta gives the soup that something extra (although I could hardly eat it in my current condition).  This soup is elegant but super affordable to make.  I spent less than NZD$10 on all the ingredients so I can see some of my friends with tighter budgets making this for dinner.  I will definitely make it again for a quick meal or a nice starter for dinner guests!

Creamy Cauliflower and Pancetta soup

5 cups cauliflower
80g pancetta 
40 gr butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons cream

1. Wash and cut up the cauliflower into florets. Cook until soft in boiling water.
2. While the cauliflower is cooking, melt the butter in a frypan (or if you're me, in a wok! So Asian!) Once melted, add the flour and stir until it forms a dough.

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3. Let the dough cook a little but don't let it burn (Tip: I learnt cooking the flour thoroughly at this stage prevents lumps later on!) Slowly add the milk making sure the mixture is always simmering. Then add the chicken stock in the same way.
4. Drain the cauliflower and blend until smooth and lump free.

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5. Add the cauliflower to the soup base and mix until combined. Season with salt.
6. Place thin slices of pancetta in a pan and fry until crisp.

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It was sooo yummy and great served with pieces of garlic butter baguette. It's still quite chilly where I am even though its technically spring so this soup warmed and filled me up well! I hope all of you in the northern hemisphere are cooling down from the crazy heat and will try this recipe out as an early autumn warmer!

Not Your Average Tiramisu

2 Sep 2013

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It's not a lie I'm a sweet tooth and a coffee addict. A few years ago I started experimenting with tiramisu recipes and finally got to something I'm quite happy with. I'm no Italian (cos you wouldn't be able to tell from my photo :p) but I LOVE Italian food and if I had an Italian Nonna I hope she would be proud. 

Because I'm very much a spur of the moment person, I will sometimes want to make and eat my tiramisu within a few hours. PLEASE don't be like me, as it won't be a fantastic tiramisu experience for you! You must let it rest and age in the fridge for at least 24 hours (much like ageing macarons) so the excess moisture can be fully soaked and flavours can combine before indulging. 

In terms of the ingredients, marsala wine is something I believe everyone should have in the pantry. It's used a lot in authentic Italian cooking and gives dishes that flavour you wonder how the chefs in the restaurants achieved. You should be able to find it in your local liquor shop. I use hot chocolate powder mainly because I buy this stuff literally in bucket loads (I need it for my Hot Chocolate Denso) and it's a bit sweeter than cocoa.

Not Your Average Tiramisu Recipe:

4 egg yolks
3/4 Marsala wine
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 pack (approx 24) of Savoiardi sponge fingers
250g thickened cream
300g mascarpone
Triple shot of espresso coffee and 1 cup of water (quadruple shots if you like your tiramisu  strong!) or 1 cup of strong instant coffee.
2 tablespoons icing sugar
Cocoa or Hot chocolate powder 
Grated dark chocolate 

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Zabaglione and mascarpone cream:

1. Beat the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale and creamy.
2. Add 1/4 cup of the Marsala wine slowly to the mixture while heating and continuously beating in a bain-marie until thick like custard. This should take about 7-8 minutes. Careful not to let the zabaglione curdle or burn.
3. Remove from heat and beat for a minute until the zabaglione has cooled a little.

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4. Gently fold the mascarpone and cream together then add to the zabaglione mix. Gently fold all to combine. I will usually put the cream mix in the fridge to chill for a bit at this point.

Edible Jenga Tiramisu Building:

1. Put the coffee in a large flat dish and add 1 cup of water to it. You can substitute this with instant coffee.
2. Add to that the icing sugar and the remainder marsala wine to the coffee.
3. Tip the sponge fingers into the mixture a few seconds until moist but not soggy. The time it takes will vary depending on the type of sponge fingers you use. Generally, I like the sponge to be soaked half through and when you pierce through it with a fork, there should be still firm sponge stopping the fork from going right through.

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4. Lay a layer of the soaked fingers in a square dish, about 25cm in length.

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5. Bring the cream out and spread an even layer of cream on top of the sponge fingers, about the same thickness as the sponge.

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6. Smooth the top of the cream and sprinkle a mixture of the hot chocolate powder and grated chocolate to cover the top.

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7. Repeat steps 4-6 until you have used up the cream. You don't want to make a tiramisu higher than 3 layers (I don't think my recipe will make that much!?) as you might lose in your game of tiramisu Jenga. 
8. Once complete, put the tiramisu in the fridge to chill for AT LEAST 24 hours before serving.

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Hope you waited for tiramisu and it turned out goood! It seems like my weird illnesses are still occuring and I'm completing this blog post from the waiting room at the doctor's clinic as we speak. I've got a bit of a mysterious swollen lip so it looks like I will be having a plain potato mash tonight!