family · health and wellbeing · recipes

Quake

Presently based in Mexico City, my daughter endured the terrifying experience of an earthquake. Standing in a queue on nightclub stairwell (where most twenty-somethings living on the other side of the world from home should be) the quake hit. Fearing its likely collapse, she had the presence of mind to push herself and those ahead of her off the stairs and into the club – where they safely waited it out.

Although she was physically unscathed, the experience has remained within her protective recesses. The nights are very hot in Mexico and for maximum sleeping comfort the minimum in sleeping attire is required. Never sure now when the next tremor may strike, she keeps a pair of pants within arm’s reach next to her bed should she need to evacuate to the street in the wee hours. Affectionately termed her ”earthquake pants” they provide the security she currently needs to sleep well through unsettling circumstances.

And today I thought, we all need earthquake pants, something or someone we know we can reach for when life trembles. I am lucky. I have some very sound quake strides that have supported me, so I urge you to think about what are yours. For many the fabric is woven from religion, a parent, a partner or a social network. Whatever guise your pants may be, cherish them and keep them close.

I hope I am the earthquake pants for my children.

Maybe you also have a pair fashioned from the strongest material available, but have not yet discovered them or have forgotten they are there, folded securely within you. These are the pants that you slide into when the fault lines of life shift and separate beneath you. Their warp and weft threads are tightly bound by the inner strength of your human spirit – and nothing, not even a shift in the physical earth will ever separate them.

If you are experiencing or have endured your own personal instability, this is a lovely piece to help restore calm.

 

And here is the recipe for this brownie, with all of its cracks, splits and crevices.

Cranberry and Mixed Nut Brownie

125g dark chocolate
175g butter
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
75g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
small handful of dried cranberries
150g mixed unsalted nuts, chopped

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees (fan-forced).
  2. Grease and line a slice tin with baking paper overhanging the sides.
  3. Place chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir constantly and cool for a few minutes once melted.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar.
  5. Blend this mixture with the chocolate mixture and fold through all of the dry ingredients.
  6. Pour into lined tin and bake for around 30 minutes.
  7. Once completely cold, slice into portions, which if you have no will power to withstand, like me, share out or place in the freezer for a rough day.

 

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craft · family · health and wellbeing

Comfort

  

And so once again, it is all about to change.

Autumn is packing away its leaves to make way for Winter to unfurl its blanket of chill. It’s now with haste that laundry is whipped in before the early afternoon crispness descends and cats position themselves in ever diminishing wedges of sunlight. It’s not going to be the same as we have become accustomed to over previous months, we must now prepare for difference.

We all vary in our response to change – either shunning and resisting or welcoming and adapting. Either way it does present as a challenge and usually it is underlying fear of the unknown that creates the difficulty. These are the times when as humans we seek out comfort, immersing ourselves in rituals and activities that bring about a feeling of good.

Comfort of course is quite intangible, as the very thing that makes one feel good may not have any appeal to another. You do need to establish what constitutes yours, as it will serve as your armory in times of uncertainty. Defining your sources of comfort is a highly individualised exercise, but the time spent consciously and deliberately identifying these sources is time exceptionally well spent.

I have put this to task recently and have amassed a reassuring stockpile. Taking my cup of tea to sunny garden space (yes I am like my cats) is a wonderful mid-afternoon treat. Retiring to a blanketed sofa on a chilly Sunday night to be immersed in an 18th century Cornish copper mine saga, watching the protagonist Ross Poldark do his best to be noble, is a wonderful place to be. Pulling a baked dozen from the oven or settling the lid on a rumbling stew, provides an inner satisfaction that can not be manufactured.

Building a fabric of inter-looped yarn by rhythmic needle clicks, a pastime that calms the mind and rewards the creator –

 and then pulling such fabric on when the day’s work is over, only amplifies this simple pleasure.

Running alongside a sun-glistened bayside horizon, passing warmly jacketed dogs and masters while inhaling chestfuls of ion-laced breeze – magic.

And drawing the blinds on a task-loaded day to return once again to sun dried sheets and fluffed pillows.

Locate that irresistible journal or notebook that you knew you someday would need and gather your comforts. Pen them for referral, as times of change will always present.

 home bootsPostscript: If you would like to add these hand-knitted home boots to your comfort armory, here is a similar pattern to those I have made (which was purchased from Lincraft so cannot be reproduced here)

family · health and wellbeing

Walking

Bushwalking
Regardless of individual identity there is a singular attribute uniting us – we each tread a path. Of course our trails are as unique as our digital pattern but the questions and disclosures scattered ahead of our steps are essentially ones common to us all. Recently, as boots met earth, cracking summer-splintered twigs cast amongst early autumn leaf litter, a bushwalk revealed to me the intriguing parallels of forest rambles and life passages.

Life, principally the progressive unfolding of a series of challenges to be captured, secured and marked. Exciting stuff indeed. As a challenge presents, the perception is of its uniqueness to us, but in reality it is never a new circumstance as many will have conquered such a quest previously. We are not the first to experience fear, uncertainty and doubt as many have already weathered these emotions travelling this path before us – now they have simply moved off into the distance to negotiate their next rock face. By taking heed of this the psyche steadies, developing a confidence to proceed – we can do this too.

taking a chance

Keep also in mind, that challenges are not by necessity activities that must be achieved in isolation. Those trail blazers have wisdom, so draw upon them. Have them talk you through the steps and sequences they took so you too can coach those who will ultimately follow your path.

creek crossing

Occasionally you will forge ahead on your own.

climbing

The branches and undergrowth will seem unrelenting at times but clutch them securely and propel yourself forward as these impeding bush elements are actually markers of your progress in disguise.

And there will be occasion where the undertaking appears overwhelming. The perceived looming danger outweighing the possibility of newer and fresher tracks. On closer inspection however, this seemingly insurmountable life obstacle is actually the bridge linking two separate banks – banks welcoming you to lives that would be inaccessible otherwise. Traverse this bridge with patience and consideration, the length though vast is inevitably finite.

Tree trunk

In that glorious interval where one challenge closes, the next yet to appear, bask in the peace. Soak up the beauty and the quiet. This is your time to reflect on your achievement and realise your place.

quiet contemplation

As a point of final consideration, achievement, progress and completion are discrete experiences defining beginnings and endings. Beware they should not crowd the senses thus obstructing the delightful simplicity of the walk.

forging ahead
Postscript: And what could be more heartening than being the observer of one making such energetic tracks toward a bright future?

family · health and wellbeing · homemaking

Bread

Homemade bread

Man does not live by bread alone. Not a truer word was spake. For a simple gastronomic experience it is a must that it be accompanied by jam, cream, butter or any permutation or combination thereof. And once generously layered with these preserves and toppings it guarantees to satisfy growling bellies whom it has lured by its aromatic welcome at the front door.

As food trends have arrived and departed over the decades (and dare I say centuries) bread in its purest form – flour, yeast, salt and liquid – has stood by unwaveringly witnessing these passages. So basically, the loaves we break today, were broken many times over by our ancestors – with equal pleasure.

To be frank, I don’t grind my millet and bake over coals, but instead harness our kitchen horse – the breadmaker. As pleasing and as therapeutic as it is to knead and prove, I am equally energised by the fact that in the four hours the machine is at work, I can have shopped, cooked, stroked a cat and still have a lovely golden loaf to slice for the afternoon onslaught.

We each have our ‘desert island’ appliances, and the bread machine, although bulky, would be one I would have balanced on the luggage. To be able to have home-baked bread, is truly a pleasure. A loaf of olive bread with pasta, a grainy variety for breakfast toast or a fluffy Vienna with jam and cream in the afternoon are all examples of how our breadmaker adds value to the day.

Before you invest, look around you. Are there family or friends with idle machines that you could press into service? (that was how I was lucky enough to receive mine) The classifieds are another source of pre-loved bakers. However you source your breadmaker, regard it not as a new gadget, but rather a modern tool shoring up the links with your bread-breaking forbears.

Homemade bread, jam and cream

Postscript: and with an ever-expanding supply of jams, marmalades and chutneys on our shelves, what better vehicle is a thick slice of warm bread to transport them?

family · recipes

Blurred Line

Chocolate Yoghurt Birthday Cake

Whoever drew the dividing line between girlhood and womanhood must have brushed across the ink before it had time to dry, making this transitional time of life is so indistinct. Nothing could illustrate this more clearly for me than when a significant teen-age (17) was celebrated at our home this week.

The media darkly cautions us of the increasing ‘sophistication’ of our young girls. Accordingly, contemporary parents hold their breath when the question of a ‘party’ is raised, fearing the worst. Before I had the opportunity to exhale, our impending event was carefully mapped out before me – a sleepover for eleven, pyjamas, DVDs, pizzas and a pancake breakfast. Could it be that simple?

As I mentally prepared for sly grog, inappropriate footage and complex sleeping arrangements, the party-goers minds’ were elsewhere. They instead were busily packing onesies, sleeping mats and wait for it – The Lion King.

Upon arrival, as I stood superfluously to one side, mats were unfurled and arranged tetris-like in our living area so one and all could reach for the lolly snakes, take a swig of orange-fizz and most importantly, not miss a frame of Simba’s struggle against the hyenas to restore peace in the Pride Lands…

So, as I had been relieved of my duties of bag searching, door security or police dialling, there was nothing else left to do other than tie the bow around the cake, position the lawn daisies into the slowly setting icing, and dip a leftover party pie into an abandoned bowl of tomato sauce.

1 1/2 cups SR flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raspberry jam
1/2 cup natural yoghurt
3 eggs
200g melted butter
50g dark chocolate
40g butter

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and line a 20cm round cake pan.
  2. Combine self-raising flour, cocoa and brown sugar.
  3. Stir in raspberry jam, yoghurt, eggs and melted butter.
  4. Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the surface. Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  5. Melt dark chocolate and 40g butter in a bowl over hot water until smooth. Set aside to thicken slightly. Pour the icing over the cake and leave to set.
  6. Raid your sewing box and garden for decorative pieces.

Fairy Bread

Postscript: and of all provisions supplied, guess which two plates were the first to vanish?

family · recipes

Press

Forcer Biscuits

Autumnal rain, while gratefully received, does tend to curb weekend activity. However, where a door to outdoor occupation closes, a window of indoor opportunity opens – a chance to assemble the biscuit forcer and press out an intricate array of delicate little icing sugar sprinkled treats.

If you’ve never been acquainted with a biscuit forcer (or more recently, cookie press) before, there is a creative pursuit waiting to be explored. With little culinary skill required, it is simply a case of mixing up a buttery dough – recipes accompany the kit – rolling it into a sausage and feeding it into the cylinder. Choosing the patterned discs dictating the biscuit shape is the only challenge – the press chef is provided with quite an extensive collection. (Where a number of chefs are involved ie house bound young, this stage can become quite interesting).

Once arbitration and conciliation is complete, it’s time to start pressing. Suddenly a baking sheet full of dainty shapes appear, which when removed bronzed from the oven and dusted with icing sugar, provide an irresistible plate of afternoon treats.

Plate of pressed cookies

My observation of cookies these days, is that they are of ever increasing dimension and far outlast any cup of tea or coffee they were originally designed to complement. These little forcer biscuits scale back this recent up-sizing trend and are a reasonable representation of the portion size a treat was intended to be.

Readily available on Ebay or the like, a biscuit press may well add a new dimension to your life.

Ampia biscuit press

Postscript: Once the simple process of individual pressing is mastered, the logical progression is to create pairs for sandwiching with icing and jam for homemade melting moments – bring on the rain I say.

family · recipes

Salute

Anzac Biscuits

As we pause to pay respect to our brave soldiers who fought on distant shores, an equally courageous group must also be remembered – the women who remained.

Without a single text, email or status update for reassurance, the womenfolk endured what must have seemed like an endless silence, with only the hackneyed adage ”no news is good news” for psychological comfort.

So what did they do to fill this emotional void – amongst an inventive array of homecrafts, they baked. Unable to be at the side of their loved ones, they did what most of us do to protect our broods as they go forth into the world – nourished their souls in the best ways they could think of: fruit cakes and biscuits.

And if we can recall our own intense care and attention lavished on first-day lunch boxes, then I guess we have some minor benchmark to compare the love and concern that went into the parcels of baked goods, sent lovingly to their cherished.

Anzac biscuits have become an iconic representation within this time of tribute, and lest we forget those who baked them.

1 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
1 cup plain flour
1 cup caster sugar
125g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp boiling water
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

  1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees celsius. Grease or line baking trays will silicone paper.
  2. Combine first four dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Melt butter and golden syrup over a low heat.
  4. Mix the boiling water with the bicarbonate of soda and add this to the butter and golden syrup mix (it should foam well).
  5. Add this wet mix to the dry mix and mix well.
  6. Place tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared trays and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown.
    (Biscuits will harden as they cool. Makes approximately 24)

anzacs and ename lware

Postscript: Even though much of the baking finding its way to the front had perished or disintegrated upon arrival, the intention and love packed within the parcel remains forever intact. 

family · recipes

Chocolate

chocolate cake

I’m not afraid of spiders,
and lions don’t make me quake,
but there’s one thing I cannot pass,
and that is, and that is,
a chocolate cake!

But why are you afraid of a chocolate cake Grandma? was something I often wondered, when in early childhood, as I followed my grandmother around her garden she would recite this and other childhood rhymes to me. Now, many decades later, I have come to understand the essence of this verse clearly. One of the most divine (and irresistible) experiences of life, is certainly a slice of fresh, lavishly iced, rich chocolate cake.

My preference is for chocolate rather than cocoa in a chocolate cake and moist fudginess (the sour cream takes care of that). Turn out one of these, and let’s see if you have the courage to pass it.

1 cup boiling water
125g dark chocolate, broken up
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250g softened butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3 eggs separated
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 1/2 cups plain flour
a pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup sour cream

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
  2. Grease a large bundt tin or two loaf tins.
  3. Combine water, chocolate and bicarb in a bowl and stir until chocolate is melted (it foams up and becomes light and airy). Leave to one side.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then beat in the egg yolks one at a time.
  5. Stir in the vanilla and gradually mix through the chocolate mixture.
  6. Sift the remaining three dry ingredients and fold into the mix alternately with the sour cream.
  7. Beat the egg whites until peaks form and fold into the mixture.
  8. Spoon mix gently into prepared tin(s) and bake for40-45 minutes (loaf tins) or 1-1 1/4 hours for large tin. Test with a skewer to ensure cake(s) are cooked through.

Our cake was topped with a chocolate icing – melted butter and chocolate, icing sugar, vanilla essence and 2 tbsp of boiling water, but it is equally good dusted with icing sugar and served with fresh thick cream.

slice of chocolate cake

Postscript: if you reside with locusts, as I do, this recipe is brilliant as the end result will be a large generous cake, or two regulars (one for now and the other for the freezer – if it makes it there)

family

Sizzle

sausage in bread

Duties, tariffs, taxes and rates – all designed to raise much-needed national revenue and yet there is shortfall. I wonder how long it will be, until the powers that be, turn their gaze to the sausage and realise its fiscal worth. Playgrounds have been constructed by them, libraries resourced by them and deserving individuals jetted around the world by them. If local communities can finance their projects by weekend sausage sizzles, imagine the budget surplus that could be achieved if our governing body was to adopt this approach …

A sausage in bread. Bread being white, sauce vivid red and meat so hot that it must be held at bay for a good ten minutes before the first bite. This is good Australian weekend fare and whether you are visiting a hardware store, voting in an election or attending a sporting event, you will be hard pressed not to find it. As the enticing aroma drifts on the breeze, man and beast appear – the former delving into their pocket for loose change and the latter gazing expectantly at the grill.

Apart from their utter delectability, they answer the prayers of a busy parent – that’s lunch / that’s dinner, so do have an extra one. The protein and carbohydrate have been covered, will just have to double up on the leafy vitamins and minerals tomorrow.

Not to be forgotten however, is the camaraderie developed between the gathering of strangers who come together, glove up and work shoulder to shoulder to serve these well browned offerings for the greater good.

Postscript: have a lovely weekend.