homemaking · recipes

Stash

chocolate cherry nut refrigerator cake

At any time you care to name, there can be at least five of these chocolate biscuit slab cakes under our roof. As odd as that sounds, it is the plain truth, and if you would like this to be your reality, read further.

Once upon a time we had a dishwasher. Alas, on one dark and stormy night, to my horror it leaked everywhere and was certified beyond repair. My greatest fear was that we would never survive the interval of time that would elapse whilst a replacement was sourced and installed. It may be, that we would have to (gulp) wash dishes. In the kitchen sink. By hand.

As today’s therapists will purport, exposure therapy is the most effective treatment for eradicating irrational fear. Accordingly, we exposed ourselves to dirty crockery, soapy liquid and hot water and within a week I realised that not only did we survive without a dishwasher, life had become less complicated. Suddenly there was nothing to unpack, load or maintain. Our dishes were always ready to use, not backed-up waiting for a ”full load” and plunging hands into warm water whilst gazing into the garden through the kitchen window, was indeed pleasant. So the decision was made, family life would continue on without a dishwasher.

A simple enough solution but now, what to do about the gaping underbench void left by the departed.

Well this is what I did – I created a stockpile storage solution or as the children affectionately term it, the ”Doomsday Preppers Cupboard”. I simply fit out the space with an Ikea storage drawer system and concealed it with a pull across curtain. These drawers are filled with wonderful supermarket buys. Multiple purchases of nuts, canned food, pasta, dried fruit, cereals, and other assorted weekly staples, when the prices are really low. Having a healthy supply of all of the essentials without the pantry clutter is an effective way to operate in the kitchen.A stockpile to draw upon not only saves a considerable amount of money spent on the yearly grocery bill but enables you to pull together a Chocolate Biscuit Refrigerator cake at a moment’s notice. All of the ingredients for this recipe can be plucked from the stockpile, with the exception of eggs and butter, which are basics I always have on hand.

chocolate refrigerator cake 150g butter
100g golden syrup
200g dark chocolate ,chopped
1 beaten egg 350g plain sweet biscuits (Marie, Milk Coffee, Digestives etc), broken into chunks
60g walnuts
60g sultanas
100g glacé cherries
75g pecan nuts

  1. Line a square or rectangle baking tin with baking paper.
  2. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  3. Add the chocolate, reduce the heat to its lowest setting and stir until the chocolate has melted.
  4. Gradually add the beaten egg and continue to stir until the mixture has thickened a little.
  5. Remove from the heat.
  6. Combine biscuits, walnuts, sultanas and half the glacé cherries in a bowl. Pour the hot chocolate mix over this dry blend and mix together.
  7. Spoon  the mixture into the prepared tin, pressing it down firmly.
  8. Put the pecan nuts in the bowl that contained the chocolate mixture and stir them around to coat them in the chocolate.
  9. Scatter the pecans and the remaining glace cherries over the cake,
  10. Refrigerate for three hours or until set, then cut into slices of the desired length,

Wash up your dishes – by hand.

a piece of chocolate refrigerator cakePostscript: Not only will your stockpile hold the constituents of a Chocolate Biscuit Refrigerator cake, but also the foundations of most week night family meals.

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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)

recipes

Market

market flowers

Should you ever need inspiration to cook, connect with community or remind yourself of the basis of life, find your local market. I make it my business to take regular trips, because I leave mine not only with a bounty of produce, but also with a prosperous soul.

To be amongst our food in its purest form, watch buyers make their selections with reverence and sellers deal in a rhythm that indicates years of involvement, creates an awareness of the essence of life unlike most other experiences. Regardless of age or background, we are people and we need good food. And to all present at the marketplace this is the shared value.

I know what I want, but I love to observe the selections of others. Sometimes I ask how they will prepare their unfamiliar purchases, and have found that people speak passionately about their methods. Observation is as rewarding as interaction at the market.

amongst the produce

As we leave the market, trolley loaded, culinary inspired and economically satisfied, we know we are part of the population and (very thankfully) our place on the globe.

market trolley

Inevitably though, with aspirations larger than realistic consumption, it is usual to be left with the ordeal of excess. Once family and neighbours have been exhausted with handouts, there is no other recourse than to cook. And as it so happened on our latest excursion, the contents of the tightly packed commercial banana box ripened quickly. An over-supply. So I turned to my good friend Delia who of course had the answer: a lovely Banana and Walnut loaf. The beauty of it lay not only in the demerara crunch topping, but the fact that the recipe calls for four bananas. In three loaves time, I was cheerfully a dozen bananas down.

This loaf is an absolute breeze to bake – and consume. Rather than me taking the credit, you can pay Delia a visit yourself here and she will pass her recipe on personally.

Banana and Walnut Loaf

And so, the box is ready to be broken down now, only to make way I guess for the next windfall to be proudly marched home and stored in its place.

banana box

Postscript: and just knowing the market, that hive of energy and abundance is always there, provides a sense of security that as humans in 2014, we often overlook.

recipes

Patty

patty cakes

In a distant age the pterodactyl flew, the Brachiosaurus trod and (according to my children) I was a child. And it was back in those dawning days that we consumed little cakes. No party table was complete without a stand of these delicate little paper-cased delights, smoothed over with silky icing and decorated in a very understated fashion with silver balls or sprinkles. And to us all, they were affectionately known as patty cakes.

We did know of cupcakes. That was the equivalent term our US cousins used, and we heard it bandied about often enough as we consumed our generous diet of American TV and story-books. Despite this, we continued to refer to ours as patty cakes and not much more was said about the matter until recent days.

In a juggernautish manner, cupcakes have stormed our cake world. In a speed that would have impressed Darwin, this evolutionary process saw the little patty cake forced to extinction as the lavish buttercream topped, supersized baked phenomenon, was naturally selected by our gluttonous appetites and now solely inhabits our bakery counters and benchtops. With all of that colour, whip and magnificence, how could it have been otherwise?

I do think there is something to be said about a nice little cake with a cup of tea. Similarly, in a sea of sugar-laden party treats, a small cake leaves room to be tempted by other celebration table goodies. So I bake patty cakes.

If you’re of similar eon or simply enjoy smaller treats, a batch is not difficult to prepare. For your basic cake mixture, use the one from this blog post. If you like shiny, firm icing purchase pure icing sugar rather than soft icing mixture. Measure out 150 grams and sift it. Add water, one teaspoonful at a time, until a nice spreading consistency it reached – avoid runny. Spread the icing across the cooled cake tops, and give them a token decoration. With the recent cupcake frenzy, there are now masses of decorative items now at your disposal.

patty cake

Postscript: There is  a small clue remaining, that the cupcake was once known to us as a patty – supermarket shelves across our land stock paper cases all clearly labelled – patty pans.

craft

Cotton

cotton knitting face cloth seed stitch

 

Cotton. A sense of comfort and security pervades at the mention of it. The common sense, no-nonsense fibre behind the umpteen babies’ singlets, fresh bath towels and crisp cotton dresses we have loved forever. It doesn’t perform the non-shrink, non-iron tricks of it’s synthetic peers – and that is because it is real and it lived. Organic in fact.

So what a wonderful thread to create with and then pass onto others. And there is something quite rudimental about knitting with cotton. Both material and process, originating from the days of our early kin, have a timeless, almost esoteric feel when you spend an afternoon caught up with them. Knitting takes time and steadies a galloping mind. Cotton moves smoothly across bamboo and produces a firm, sensible fabric to be proud of. After an hour or two in the company of both, inner equilibrium is restored – a calibrated being with an accomplished piece.

The lovely ridged fabric you will produce here, makes an excellent face cloth. Gentle, yet nubbly enough to wipe away all traces of the most frantic of days. Set some time aside and make one for your face and for the face of another.

1 50g ball 8ply cotton
1 pair 3.50mm needles

Cast on 44 sts

Knit 10 rows garter stitch

Row 11 k5 *p1, k1* to the last 5 stitches, k5

Row 12 k5 *k1, p1* to the last 5 stitches, k5

Repeat rows 11 and 12 46 times.

Knit 10 rows garter stitch

Cast off (not too tightly)

Darn in your loose threads.

 

seed stitch face cloth knitting

Postscript: And I have the perfect common sense, no-nonsense,  firm and sensible person to gift this one to.

recipes

Honest

autumn leaves

And so it is once again we make our seasonal transition, and as is customary, our greeting from Autumn is one of welcome and warmth. Rich jewel-hued foliage and mellow sunshine provide a glorious backdrop for days spent digging over soil for winter, industrious pegging at washing lines or simply enjoying the treat of coffee-dipped biscuits on a terrace.

The latter is my preference, soaking up sunshine as eagerly as the scotch fingers fill with steaming coffee – I’m grateful to absorb them both! I encourage you to make this practice yours as well, as there are no finer moments in your garden than those spent basking in the warmth of sunshine, coffee and golden thoughts of promising plans. The velvety swish around your legs of a feline who discovers your presence only adds to the affability of the occasion.

There is nothing complex or intricate of Autumn. A season of robust honesty – rich color, decent rain, enduring sunshine and crisp nights. It’s reduced temperatures call for hearty, earthy food. Plain and simple. Plain cake. Gather your faithful core ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, flour and set about this reliable, dense Madeira cake – nothing fluffy or fly-away about this one. Your kitchen will fill with the scent of baked goodness, and should ‘the sun be over the yard arm’ bring out your finest fortified (madeira if you have it), adjourn to the terrace and dip away.

madeira cake

175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
250g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
finely grated lemon zest of 1/2 a lemon
4 eggs

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees celcius and grease and line a loaf tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and pale.
  3. Sift together the flour and baking powder, then stir through the lemon zest.
  4. Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time,beating thoroughly between each one.
  5. Using a metal spoon, swiftly but thoroughly, fold through the flour mix.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top and bake for 55-60 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out.

 

McWilliam's sherry

I couldn’t help noticing the driver of the bullock cart laden with grapes, decorating the sherry bottle. Maybe he was returning to his rustic verandah. After such a productive day, perhaps to kick off his boots, dunk a big chunk of cake into his sherry and survey the beauty of the harvest vineyard before him- who knows?

madeira display

Postscript: I must give credit to the Liquidambar for supplying such a stunning array of delicious colour to set off the madeira. This tree personifies Autumn in our garden.

recipes

Solla Sollew

pavlova

There are spells of time frequently described these days as ‘the zone’. Living in a delightful, even exhilarating parallel universe, is often cited as ‘being in the zone’. Runners coin it and psychologists advise of its pursuit during times of anxiety. Many shake their heads despondently, thinking it unachievable. Not so, every one of us has been there, long before it held its modern-psycho title and simply didn’t recognise it for what it was.

As you sat as a child before a reader, who filled your auditory canals with text, and your visuals with correlating  illustration, your very being travelled to another realm. Objects in the room around you dissolved like Max’s bedroom, where vines grew in it’s place. The reader no longer visible, only fascinating words and intriguing pictures feeding a hungry imagination. And once the story reached its conclusion, only then did you become aware of your delicious absence – some glorious time away like the Pevensie children’s journey to Narnia via the wardrobe’s rear. You were lost (happily) in a book.

Even now, as grown beings, we still disappear into narrative, and how wonderful it is not only to make the excursion, but to reflect on it afterward and will others to do the same, pressing your copy urgently into their hands.

I recall with great clarity, the post-lunch summer afternoon I sat cross-legged as a six-year-old, on a timber classroom floor and made the tumultuous journey to ‘the City of Solla Sollew, on the banks of the beautiful River Wah-Hoo, where they never have troubles! At least, very few’.

Solla Sollew

So absorbed was I by the magic of this tale, that when the teacher closed the covers, I could swear I had just scampered across that exquisite pink bridge and onward to that place of wonder. Even now, when I recall that tale, my memory of Solla Sollew is one of delight. Living in a land of sunshine and colour, smiles and sweetness. And of course snoozing on those billowy pillows …

billowy pillows

Quite marshmallowey don’t you think? Yes, this utopian land I am convinced, is inhabited by Solla Sollewians who dine exclusively on pavlova. What more fitting a dish for this decadent town could there be? Brittle shards of crispy meringue offset with the spongy sweet centre. Topped with rich fresh cream, fragrant banana,  strawberries and a passionfruit tang following through. Make yours on a day when time needs no measure – there is plenty of beating and mixing to be done and of course with the mix-master whirring and the sugar sprinkling definitely an opportunity to get into the zone.

4-5 egg whites at room temperature (or enough to reach 150ml)
1 cup caster sugar
1 tspn white vinegar
small container of thickened cream
1 small banana
2 passionfruit
approx 6 strawberries

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.
  2. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  3. Beat the sugar in, 1 tablespoonful at a time and beat well between each addition to ensure it dissolves into the egg whites.
  4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for 6 minutes.
  5. Add the vinegar and beat for a further 2 minutes.
  6. Draw an 18 cm circle on baking paper and lay on a flat tray.
  7. Pile the meringue mixture inside the circle – heap it up.
  8. Place in the oven and reduce temperature to 120 degrees celsius.
  9. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  10. Leave in the oven to cool with the door open.
  11. When cold top the meringue shell with cream, thinly sliced banana and strawberries, then drizzle passionfruit across it all.

fruit topped pavlova

Postscript: Pavlovas and Solla Sollewians aside, I owe a great deal to Dr Seuss for the enchanting itineraries he devised for me through his pen.

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?

homemaking

Dripping

Dripping pot

I am on a crusade. For many, what you are about to read will be the most nutritionally politically incorrect information you have come across in some years. In fact, I would say at least 40 years. I am about to extol the virtues of the rendered fat from roasted protein – dripping. Purists please turn away.

Recent generations have been severely lectured to about the dangers of diets weighing high in saturated fats. Nutritionally sound advice, I would agree. However, the tsk tsking  and finger-pointing my grandmother and her compatriots have been subject to for the use of dripping in their family cooking, from subsequent nutritionally ‘informed’ generations has been quite intense. Yet considering her apparent lack of dietary insight, she and her cronies were lean little birds who lived into ripe old ages – meanwhile, the current dripping-free population is fattening and dying. Hmmm.

From my observation, it seems that dripping has become the baby thrown out with the nutritional bath water. It has been demonised – unfairly I believe – to the point where our current generation no longer recognises it, let alone its culinary worth.

Inside the dripping pot

This sweet little vintage pot bears testament to this. Many would be puzzled by its design. It is a dripping pot and it works quite simply. The roasting juices are poured through the strainer, which catches the meat and pan remnants, allowing the rendered fat to flow through. This little pot then takes residence on the refrigerator shelf. After chilling, the fat solidifies and separates from the meat juices.

This jar contains the pourings from my roast chicken pan.

chicken dripping

Now, when I need some fat to brown off vegetables and meats for curries or stews, this flavoursome, natural product is the go to. You can have several little pots of power on the go by saving the drippings from pork and beef roasts as well. This is a wonderful old skill to relearn and reinstate into future kitchens.

Processed foods don’t tend to end up on our table very often, so therefore room has been made for some flavoursome animal fat in our meals. These small amounts, used in moderation, deliver so much oomph to the dishes you make, and chances are, if you are using them then meals from fresh vegetables and meat are under construction. Not an autolyzed yeast extract or modified cornstarch to be had.

Roast beef

Postscript: and just as the purists are picking themselves up off the floor, I have one more arrow to sling – roasted potatoes in dripping.