Sunday, November 27, 2011

Afghans and Bathrooms

A large part of the reason I've been a bit infrequent with my blog posts lately is a family project that has consumed quite a lot of my time for the last two months. If you've been reading for a while you might already be aware that my family have an old home, Merchiston, in Christchurch - it was built in 1879, and has been in our family for over 80 years. It's a rather unique situation, as the house is in a trust and is used for family, church and community events.

The kitchen, before and after

A couple of years ago the family banded together to do a big kitchen renovation, which solved some ongoing issues with a leaky roof as well as bringing the kitchen up to a level where it's very easy to use for the various groups who come in, and easier to keep clean (key when lots of people pass through!). Shortly after that we started talking about doing the same for the main bathroom - we even ran some fundraising high teas to get some money in the (always sparse) kitty. That was July; in September Christchurch started shaking, and that changed all the priorities.

Between September and February the house suffered quite a lot, though it is still standing and will hopefully remain so for at least another couple of generations. Unfortunately, like many others in Christchurch, waiting for insurance means we can't work on remedying earthquake issues just yet (and though we'd like to be able to fix quake damage we are fortunate in that no-one needs to seek alternative accommodation while we wait, so we are better off than many). The bathroom wasn't affected by the quakes, though - and Baby Sister Cake will be having her wedding reception at Merchiston in March, so it seemed like a good time to freshen things up.

The family are all very involved in the house, so there was lots of discussion around how to best combine practicality and heritage, and the final product represents a bit of everyone - one cousin suggested the colours for the walls and ceiling; another suggested the toilet be shifted away from the window, where it can be slightly unsettling if someone walks by; my aunty picked out accent colours to pull the room together and spoke up for the stunning old shower rose (some of us thought it had seen better days but it cleaned up amazingly!); my electrician uncle gave practical advice on wiring (and more importantly, did it!); Mum located a mirror which used to hang in my great-grandparents bedroom to go over the basin; Sister Cake pointed out that wrought iron would go really well with the leadlight window; Dad did the hard yards breaking up ancient concrete to redirect the plumbing. Everyone was involved in some way!

The bathroom, before and after

It turned out to be a huge project - I went to Christchurch for two weekends to help out, and I was completely exhausted on arriving back in Wellington after both - I'm way too soft to be a labourer! Anyway, hard slog requires some good snack food - Dad is a hard taskmaster and works long days, but don't you dare get in the way of his morning and afternoon tea breaks. ;-)

Afghans are possibly my favourite biscuit - they're pretty quick to throw together, rich and chocolatey, crunchy and dangerously moreish - so I made some to take down on one of my trips. I've previously shared my afghan recipe with you, though I did add a touch more butter this time and think they're better this way (of course they are, adding butter always makes things better!).

For the icing, if you want a nice glossy pool atop your biscuit it's important to make it a bit ahead of when you need it. After it has cooled give it a quick whisk to smooth it out before spooning it onto the biscuits, and if it's too stiff you can apply a little heat, but if you make it when you plan to ice them it will be too runny (you can also add icing sugar to help with this, but I prefer not to as that can make them a bit sweet).

I also mixed things up a little with the topping - traditionally a walnut half sits proudly atop each biscuit, but alongside the walnuts in my pantry were some coffee beans I was given - and I don't drink coffee. So for a more adult twist I topped half of my afghans with two or three coffee beans, which I can definitely recommend and others seemed to enjoy as well. Feel free to make them either way, or, if you prefer leave your biscuits naked - they'll still taste good!

Definitely a favourite - and full of energy, to aid you with whatever exhausting projects you have on your agenda.

Are morning and afternoon tea compulsory break stops in your life, or reserved for special occasions?

Afghans (makes 12-14)
180g butter, room temperature
1/2 cup/100g brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or extract
1.5 cups/180g flour
3 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups/60g cornflakes
3 Tbsp water
45g butter
45g caster sugar
1 1/2 cups/190g icing sugar
3 Tbsp cocoa
walnut halves or coffee beans

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla, then sift in dry ingredients and mix together. Use your hands to crumble the cornflakes into the bowl so they are in smaller pieces, then mix in with your hands.

Form into balls, place on baking sheet and flatten (either with the palm of your hand or a fork). Bake for 12-14 minutes.

While the biscuits are cooking, mix together the water, extra butter and caster sugar in a saucepan. Heat until butter is melted then simmer for a minute to form a syrup. Add the icing sugar and cocoa and whisk to combine. When cooled, ice the biscuits with a dollop of icing (it should sort of pool on top - if you need to warm it slightly give it 10 seconds in the microwave) then press a walnut half or 2-3 coffee beans into each one.


  1. So lovely that your family home is still standing - so many memories there!

    Morning and afternoon teas are prgrammed into most of us as they are sort of compulsory for working people - I can't believe how my eating habits change at the weekend when the clock doesn't matter!

  2. I love the new look of the kitchen, we have spent the last 4 years renovating our bach, it's never ending isn't it?

  3. Alison, many memories indeed! It's always interesting spending time there with Grandma as she often remembers little stories we haven't heard before.

    Alli, it certainly is! But rewarding at the end. :-)

  4. Firstly - welcome back Rosa! Was about to DM you just to check you're okay. Good to have you back. :-)

    Secondly - wow, how lucky to have that kind of treasure and history in the family.

    Lastly - Afghans were my first 'Kiwi' cookies. Remembered wondering what in the world do these cookies have in relation to Afghanistan! Haha...

  5. What a fascinating post - houses are my favourite thing next to food, and it's good to know your lovely family home survived the shakes, I hope it's all fixed soon. And I'm delighted to have these Afghan tips, especially for the icing, I've never got it right before. I think I'll try to make little ones for lunch after Harvey's plaque unveiling on 18 December, they were his favourite. I would dearly love to have morning and afternoon tea every day, but it wouldn't work, timewise and waistwise... I try to spread breakfast out so I have my coffee and an extra bit of toast mid-morning.

  6. Well done on the renovations, and i like the idea of coffee beans over the Afghans, which I tend to find to sugary for my taste (coffee beans could help :-).


  7. I love a good homemade afghan. Yum.


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