Love the Cake

Yesterday was Christmas Cake(s) Baking Day.  I have a wonderful recipe for a Dark Chocolate Christmas Cake.  Although it doesn’t sound very traditional putting chocolate in a fruit cake trust me it is divine.  It is from the Australian Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  Want to make sure I give credit where credit is due

A fruit cake for Christmas, like a big roast dinner are part of the traditions that those of us with ancestors from the UK have continued with,  despite these foods are far better suited for the middle of winter than a southern hemisphere summer.  But I do like that we continue with these traditions in some form or another.  I also really like seeing everyone sitting around with a paper hat on their heads.  Especially if family members like mine have the Thomson head gene.  (some of my cousins will know what I am talking about) So that the hat only lasts 20 seconds before splitting.

My Granny (Dad’s Mother) would make marvelous fruit cakes, and I well remember her creations with marzipan icing, royal icing shaped to look like snow, and a plastic Santa on his sled on top.  But when you are 8 years old, really the only part of a fruit cake that is of interest is the icing (and maybe the plastic Santa)

Anyway despite not being a domestic goddess by any stretch of the imagination I devoted most of the day, some eggs, fruit, copious amounts of port and dark chocolate along with other goodies to Christmas Cake baking.

I try and make a Christmas Cake most years for the following reasons

  • It gives me a moment to think about my Granny, and wonder how on earth she would have managed creaming all that butter and sugar without an electric beater (blucky)
  • I like the thought that maybe one day Lauren will look back fondly on her mother cooking up a storm and making a mess in the kitchen.  Although the second item happens on quite a regular basis
  • These Christmas Cakes make gifts – so remember that if you do receive one.  It is a great gift ok!!!
  • Last year I felt too blah with my thyroid to bother and it feels nice to know I am feeling well enough this year for baking
  • It has been praised by my Mum and Christine – and they know their cakes
  • And the main reason is that Brett is a Christmas Cake fiend.  He loves the whole process of feeding the cake with port.  Which he does very industriously and thoroughly.  And then just as industriously and thoroughly he proceeds to feed himself on the cake from mid December until it is all gone (as you can imagine he was very disappointed that last year he did not get to partake in his Christmas Cake ritual)

So here is the recipe and some photos I took of the cake making process.  There aren’t any photos of the finished product.  I will put those up when the cakes are well fed and succulent.  When I make this cake I double the amounts because I think I may as well make it worth my while (and did I mention I live with a Christmas Cake fiend?)

Soaking the fruit in port

Some of the goodies that go into the mixture

The final mixture before going into the tins


The week that was

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about attending the funeral of my Great Uncle Doug.  This week there has been a wedding in the family to celebrate.

My sister Julie and her awesome partner Vicky went to Hawaii for a holiday and managed to arrange a civil union while they were over there.  We are all very happy for them, and wish Mrs and Mrs McDag all the very best.  My biggest concern is that the paper work won’t have been done correctly.  I mean look at all the problems Mr B Obama has had with his birth certificate.

You might be starting to see there is a strand running through my whanau members of people who are prepared to do what they believe is right.  Despite what the bible, bosses or the government may say.  And you would be correct.  On both sides of my family I have some very strong willed characters, men and women. Of course it is very difficult for me being such a quiet and obliging soul – haha

Anyway this week, Brett and I have not headed off to get married because I have been very busy with puppy training*.  Last Saturday I took Billie to her first puppy obedience class run by the awesome Jess Allsop  And it wasn’t really a success.  So we went away and we did a lot of work.  I now have a puppy who can sit (most of the time) and will even do the stay thing if the stars aligned correctly.  So I was pretty pleased with Billie’s progress this week.  But we still have more work to do.  Down is the theme for this week.  Mainly it means me lying on the floor and Billie staring at me blankly.

Billie is also very happy because Nana has given her her own cow horn to bring back home and leave on the lawn.  I feel pretty confident that she is the only puppy in central Auckland with her own chewy cow horn.  There were plenty on Mum’s lawn and Denny and Oscar were very happy to share.  (by the way Mum always has a very nice well kept lawn, but her dogs just couldn’t help themselves and added a few cow horn features)


The other news I am happy to share is that Jess Rodger, a colleague of Brett’s who has a lovely blog.  Has just announced she has written a book.  I am always full of admiration for those who have the cleverness and tenacity to sit down, apply themselves and write a book.  So big congratulations to you Jess.

I also need to mention my brother Daniel’s blog.  Dan is the Chief Electrical Officer/Wizard for a super yacht that has been berthed in Qatar for the last few months.  Dan has a great turn of phrase and I know he has at least one book full of stories already.  But he probably will never be allowed to publish all the scandal he has on the rich and famous (damn).  The great news is Dan will be home for Christmas and it will be wonderful to catch up.

Dan I am sure finding rain for you to appreciate will not be an issue.

*Of course puppy training wasn’t the only reason Brett and I didn’t rush off to get married.  Brett has also been very busy organising the cabinet maker to build our book shelf

Labour Day

Labour Weekend is meant to signal the start of summer.  But it usually means high winds, torrential rains and a bit of snow dumped somewhere.  When I was at High School it also meant the change over to summer uniform.  So there would be the desperate attempts at tanning, and hoping Mum wouldn’t notice how short my uniform had got.  Because of course the shorter the better.

But we have Labour Day off on the 4th Monday in October to commemorate the struggle of unions and working people for an 8 hour working day.  With all the changes to employment laws and casualisation of labour it seems more important than ever (to me) that we do acknowledge the rights of workers to a living wage and safe working conditions.

This poem by my father is about my my Mother’s Grandfather James (Jimmy) Fulton who was key member of the Waikato Miners Union, a founding member of the Federation of Labour (known as the Red Feds), and a life long advocate of workers rights.

While my political activism consists of writing derogatory comments about Paula Bennett on the interweb.  (and such fun that is too)  I am very proud of my Great Grand Father and the work he did.  It also must be recognised that his family paid a big price for his activism.  He was away a lot, his views wouldn’t have always been popular and in the end he was black listed from the mines, so he had to start a new life as a dairy farmer.


Down through Huntly the river winds.  Past sacred Maori hills, beside the railway line.

Men have come from every clime.  Come to work the big Huntly mines

Jim’s come here from the old Tynneside.  With men from the valley’s, men from the Clyde

He’s five foot six, but he’ll stand tall.  We’re mining men and we’re brothers all

There’s a bosses bully on every shift.  Get the better of him, you’re on the last cage lift.

Complain at all, you’ll work a three foot seam.  There will be water at your feet, creaking beams

From bank to bank it’s a ten hour day.  Eight hours work, six shillings is the pay

Jim puts salts in the scabs tea.  Jim tried to kill the boss’s bully.

If someone is fired he calls it victimisation.  He even talks of nationalisation

Jim, Jim you better mind, Jim Jim you’ll be down the line.  We don’t want socialists around our Huntly mines.

Then there was trouble at Waihi.  They worked in the gold mine there your see

There’s the dust and noise of the big battery.  Count on a fifteen year working life expectancy

But things went wrong at Waihi

Before Evan’s was killed, or was it assassination.  Jim was one of the miners federation.

They supported a strike that almost stopped this nation.  They lasted twenty seven weeks on strike pay

More than seventy of their leaders were locked away

The coroner and the police all in the mine owners pay.  It is a black mark against our justice to this day

So they stopped for a day in Huntly town.  To show that miners are brothers the world around

Mine owners said, that suits us fine

Union coffers are empty, they haven’t a dime.  We’ll get rid of the socialists in our Huntly mines

They’re all locked out from that day.  A thousand men, no strike pay.

When kids go hungry, mothers say.  Go back to work, strike another day.

Soldiers bayonets will break any picket line.  They’ve gone back to work in the Huntly mines.

But Jim, Jim you are down the line.  You and your union will never work again in a Huntly mine.

Jim’s on a farm out of Huntly town.  To an eight ton a day man, it’s a big comedown

He’s cutting scrub, learns to plough.  He’s from old Durham town, never milked a cow

When the wind blows from the west you can smell the coal.  And it’s hard to farm when it’s not in your soul.

He’s a commie and red fed to the folks around.  And a hero forever in Huntly town.

Jim tried to give a lot more than he got.  But has slept more than forty years in an unmarked plot*

This is my story of a man I didn’t see.  Smaller and yet so much bigger than me.

by William Wallace McConnell

* The final verse had a change of tense made since my mother Edith and her brother Bill had a headstone placed over the grave of old Jimmy and their grandmother.

My great grandfather Jim Fulton

The End of Your Life Book Club

With my blog I am endeavouring to be disciplined enough to write one post a week.  Although discipline is not my middle name or even a word that finds itself in the Natty Top 100 word list.  So a couple of hours ago I sat in front of the computer and thunk and thunk about what I could write.  This was what I came up with

  • What an utter utter bastard Jimmy Saville was – I didn’t even know who he was a couple of weeks ago
  • How the last week has been a confirmation of the struggles women face every day in the world, whether you are a school girl in Pakistan, the Prime Minister of Australia, a woman deciding to speak out about the sexual abuse you suffered at the BBC 30 years ago, or deciding you need an abortion in the US
  • The trials of being the mother of the least responsive puppy at puppy training

But these topics were not really lighting my creative fire.  So I did what I always did when a challenge presents itself – no not drinking, sleeping or tormenting Brett.  I read a book.

And what a wonderful book it is.  I bought it this morning to share at book club.  The only draw back I find with my e-reader is that I sometimes don’t get around to acquiring a “real” book for book club.  And despite some of the evidence to the contrary.  We do read at our book club (as well as solve all of the problems of the world, share child and man minding tips, appreciate fine wine, cheese and home baking)

Anyhoo, I went to the wonderful Arcadia Bookshop in Newmarket  Somehow Doris the owner manages has to have a great range of books at reasonable prices.  And I overheard Doris reviewing The End of Your Life Book Club to one of her customers.  It was a book that Doris described as impossible to put down.  I decided she was up for the challenge.  And I must say Doris was nearly right.  I did have to put the book down for my afternoon sleep, sitting at the keyboard to thunk about the blog and making my afternoon gin.  But apart from that I read and I read, and laughed and cried and cried – even without the assistance of the gin.

This book is the true story of Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will’s relationship through books and reading over the last two years of her life while she has pancreatic cancer.  A remarkable woman, whose life had been committed to her family, women’s and refugee rights, a committed Christian and an avid reader.  It is the story of the power of the written word, the relationship of a Mother and Son, and sometimes how it is easier to talk about the hard stuff when talking about how someone else experienced and wrote it.

Many books I have read were mentioned in this book as well as many I have not.  But it was a wonderful way for Will and his Mother to connect, to read new books as well as old favourites.  To open their minds to new worlds and thinking, when at times the cancer world became all encompassing.  I liked how it gave an insight into the struggles a family goes through when a member of their family has cancer.  It also gave some tips I think may be bit helpful.  A bit like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

What comes through most powerfully for me was that Mary Anne chose to live her life right up to the last being kind to people.  We can’t all go and live in war zones and refugee camps.  But how hard is it really to be kind? I can be on a good day, but sometimes I am not – in fact I am the opposite.  I don’t even mean spending month’s helping our in refugee camps, or paying for someone’s medication.  Mary Anne does does. But maybe just taking a moment to be present and being kind.

Anyway I think this book along with The Pilgrimage of Howard Fry are my books of the year.

Great Uncle Doug

Douglas Hill McConnell pictured here with my Dad, Mum and sister Julie was the last remaining brother of my Father’s Father.  He was born in January 1915 and lived to the ripe of age of 97 keeping well physically and his mental faculties until right near the end.

We buried him this week, and I got to read a poem my father wrote about him at the service and to be a pall bearer.  May I just say coffins are heavy, and there is nothing like that scary moment when you think you are going to fall into the hole along with the coffin.

Several people at the funeral mentioned to me his physical strength, his strong sense of wrong and right and his genuine interest in people.  He devoted his life to his church,  He was a conscientious objector during the second world war, and spent time in prison for his beliefs.  3 of his brothers fought in the war, but the family still remained close, which I can’t imagine was always easy.

My father always felt he was the toughest and most aggressive of the family and was amazed at how he managed to become a pacifist.  But to some ways it makes sense as you do have to be incredibly tough to follow your beliefs through to the lengths he did.

I remember him as a bright engaging character with a great ability to engage with and converse with people. I still probably would have shut the door on him though if he had tried to come and preach to me though 🙂  But to be fair he was just happy to spend time with his family and didn’t try to preach – in his 90’s anyway


Anyway here is the poem that Dad wrote about him.  Doug was a keen boxer and one time he showed Dad his boxing moves and reminisced about going a round or two for a pound or two.  (I think Mum thought he was mad)

Douglas the Preacher

Just five foot eight, sort of square and straight

But he’d look the biggest man right in the eye

And the world seemed great when he was your mate

And now I’ll try and tell you why

You see he would go a round or two for a pound or two

He’d fight a few more rounds for free

You’ve got a bad horse to shoe, a big job to do

He’d say you can count on me

From the old gum fields and his fighting shield

Was to hit them first and hard

You may have seen him bleed, but you never saw him yield

At the boxing game he starred

Keep your hands up high, try and work out why

And even now it seems quite strange

But from men who wouldn’t lie, with integrity money couldn’t buy

He would learn a creed that would make him change

From an old bush camp he would carry a pacifist lamp

And it would shine for ever more

And there’s an old boxing champ in a conchie camp

He was right there through the war

Now I heard him preach and I heard him teach

Of the man from the Galilee

Saw his dark hair bleach, knew he would never reach

All that he wanted to in me

Just five foot eight sort of square and straight

But he’d look the biggest man right in the eye

And the world seemed great when he was your mate

And again I’ll try to tell you why

You see he would go a round or two for a pound or two

He’d fight a few more rounds for free

Then he fount the Lords work to do and he’s seeing it through

And he’s always been something of a hero to me

Written by my father William Wallace McConnell