Monthly Archives: December 2016

New…the Christmas Cake Work Out.

Tonight, I’m announcing the Christmas Cake Workout.

Launching a weight loss campaign with only two sleeps til Christmas, has to be the definition of insanity. The ultimate in reverse psychology, going against the flow, being “unique” and dare I say (drum roll)… being a real “individual”!

Yet, that’s me. I’m always blazing my own trail, without the slightest regard for wherever the flow is going. No wonder I often end up “all by myself.”

So, this afternoon  I found myself doing the Christmas Cake Workout.

You must think I’ve got rocks in my head thinking that eating Christmas Cake is going to give me that elusive bikini body. After all, Christmas Cake with all that butter, sugar and boozy dried fruit, is  guaranteed to turn you into a pudding instead.

So, this is a good time for me to point out the fine print. It’s just a minor detail, but with the Christmas Cake Workout, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Success is all in the mixing. Indeed, it’s mixing this huge, monster cake which builds up serious muscle. I can guarantee you’ll be lifting weights at the Olympics afterwards. The mixture is so dense, that just getting the spoon through is hard going.

Given that we’ve only got a small family, you’re probably wondering why I was making a Christmas Cake big enough to feed the entire Australian cricket team and the WAGS (wives & girlfriends). We’re not huge fruitcake fans and certainly have no desire to eat Christmas Cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner, especially after Christmas. Indeed, I much prefer chocolate cake and I only have a few slices of Christmas Cake for tradition’s sake.

So, what on earth was I thinking?

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Preparing the Dried Fruits.

Well, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t thinking. I should’ve known that 3 kilos of dried fruit, 8 eggs and 500g of melted butter, signified a huge cake. Indeed, the cake also called for an entire cup of brandy, which either makes it very big, or a seriously heavy drinker. I’d be sozzled if I drank all of that!

Well, the story goes that this recipe was on the back of my Christmas cards. It was quite different to my usual Christmas Cake recipe with walnuts and grated apple in the mix, and looked quite interesting. As I said, it called for 3kg of dried fruit and I thought I’d venture out of my comfort zone and added some dried figs. At this point, I was still well short so I also added some dates. This cake was starting to sound quite exotic.

Anyway, depending on your viewpoint, you could say making this cake was serendipity, divine intervention or meant to be. That’s because Lady, our scoundrel of a dog, ate almost all of the Christmas Cake I’d made using my mother’s recipe. We were just lucky that my Dad has a peculiar aversion to cinnamon and I’d made a dozen smaller cakes for him. They’re all that’s left. So, he’ll now have to share. Sorry, Dad!

Anyway, getting back to the monster cake, the dried fruit and brandy have been stewing in my largest mixing bowl in the fridge for the last 2 days. It might not be a bath tub, but it’s big…and it was full. No room for any other ingredients whatsoever.

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So, I decided to mix all the other ingredients together in my large mix master bowl and then split it into three equally large bowls. I divided up the drunk fruits and started stirring. Heave-ho! Yes, those biceps were already starting to pop!

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That’s why I’ve called this process: “The Christmas Cake Workout”. This stirring was seriously hard work. In  the end, the mixing spoon couldn’t cope. There was no alternative. It was a case of using the equipment God gave me. I sunk my hands deep into the dough, using my fingers to blend the mixture through the fruit. Once mixed, I managed to get all the dough into one bowl, even if it did require 3 tins to bake.

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They now need to rest for three weeks, making them post-Christmas Cakes. Or, perhaps even a cake for next Christmas. Howzat! Imagine being a whole year ahead with my Christmas Cake…

I must’ve wandered into someone else’s life!

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

Love,

Rowena

 

Christmas Cake Dogastrophy

If you look into those irresistible, chocolate brown eyes, you would never suspect that cute as a button dog could be capable of such wickedness.

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The Christmas Cake.

That she could sit there licking her lips seemingly asking for more when she’s all but devoured our homemade Christmas Cake. That’s right. The very same Christmas Cake I made using my mother’s recipe, which has been part of my Christmas every year for at least 45 years or thereabouts (I doubt a 5 month old baby would’ve eaten Christmas Cake, but you never know.)

The world was very different then and so many of our family traditions have disappeared. So, this Christmas Cake is special. Of course, it doesn’t replace the true meaning of Christmas but it was made with love and the dog gutsed all that love all by herself.

Well, fortunately, she didn’t get all the cake. Thanks to my Dad’s rather peculiar aversion to cinnamon, I’d made a tray of mini Christmas Cakes for him, which I’d safely sealed away in a plastic box.So, it looks like Dad will be sharing.

As for Lady, she showed absolutely no remorse and has shot up to the very top of Santa’s Naughty List.

So, there’ll be no pressies for her…except a potentially nasty tummy ache!

Do you have any Christmas disasters to report? After all, as much as we strive towards a perfect Christmas, most of us are only human and we’re left to blame our mistakes on the dog.

xx  Rowena

Christmas By the Pool.

If I could write a letter from my 7 year old self to my 47 year old alter ego refusing to dip a toe in the swimming pool, it would be pretty direct:

“Dive in, you idiot!! Stop that crazed chicken dance and get wet. You’re soooo embarrassing!”

When I’ve waxed lyrically about how Australians spend Christmas in the pool, you probably haven’t noticed a certain lack of photographic proof. That you’ve never seen ME in the pool. Or, maybe you have and you’ve kept quiet.

Perhaps, you’ve assumed that as a photographer, that person eternally living life vicariously through the lens in lieu of living it, I simply haven’t been photographed.

Or, that I’m too self-conscious. That I don’t  want a photo of me in my swimming costume all over the World Wide Web.

Well, you’d be barking up the wrong tree!

You see, when it comes to the pool, I’m more of an observer. I’m not mad keen on getting wet and no matter how stinking hot it might be out of the pool, it’s always freezing in.

So, if by some miracle I do find myself getting into the pool, much to my acute embarrassment, I’m that old lady edging into the pool.  Is there anything worse?

I distinctly remember tell myself as a kid, that was never going to be me. That I was never going to become that person.

Now, I have.

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Despite buying myself a pink flamingo pool toy for Christmas, getting into the pool is still torturous…worse than going to the dentist.

So, well you might ask why I bought myself a pink flamingo pool toy for Christmas if I had intention of getting wet? That’s an excellent question.

For some reason, I was so dazzled by all that flamingo, that I didn’t notice the body was shaped into a donut with a huge hole to fall through.So, this flamingo isn’t one of those luxurious lounging around, stay-dry pool toys. You know the ones when you can just drift along in like a princess sipping on your glass of champagne. (Indeed, we have a bottle of Moet this Christmas thanks to Geoff’s work.)

So, there I was standing in the shallow end with my feet clinging to the top step. Geoff has the video camera rolling and the kids are also watching. Indeed, all eyes  were focused on me and I’d become the backyard entertainment. Hip! Hip! Hurray!

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Some people actually get left alone each Christmas with no one stretching and stretching them out of their comfort zone and filming every cruel chicken step along the way.

Yet, as much as I might hanker after peace and quiet this time of year, this is Christmas and for the first time in many years, I’ll be packing my swimmers and with a very full stomach, heading for the bottle of my aunt’s swimming pool.

How do you plan to spend Christmas Day?

xx Rowena

Playing the Bagpipe Flamingo.

While a lovely group of local bagpipers used to visit my late Mother-in-Law every Christmas Eve, my husband took up playing the flamingo last night.

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An unconventional playing position???

Turns out that my parents didn’t have a pump to inflate my Christmas pool toy…this stunning, inimitable pink flamingo.

So, we passed the flamingo round the family, taking turns.

Yet, my husband truly played the flamingo like a professional!

Shame he couldn’t get a note…I think!

Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!

xx Rowena

Sunflower…A Christmas Miracle.

This sunflower growing in my garden finally unfurled the last of its petals today. By the afternoon, it had turned its golden, yellow face towards the warm Australian sun, oblivious to the long and winding road which brought it here.

What it doesn’t know, is that it’s “grandparent” witnessed the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in the Ukraine, killing all 298 people onboard.

Moreover, this sunflower doesn’t know that an Australian journalist and photographer salvaged seeds from the crash site and brought them back to Australia. These seeds were cultivated in quarantine and their seeds were posted out to family and friends of the victims.

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A personal message from journalist Paul McGeogh & Kate Geraghty who sent me the sunflowers.

That’s why it’s extra special that the sunflowers are flowering for Christmas. It means so much!

How these seeds ended up in my garden is a long story, but I have been sharing their story on my blog. I have also taken the seedlings to local schools with a view of teaching the kids about compassion, kindness and how even the smallest acts of kindness can make a difference. I am a real believer in the strange, inexplicable love of a stranger. That as much as we expect our loved ones to be there in our hour of need, frequently we are touched by the love of a stranger who steps out of their comfort zone and is there for us. This is not so much heroism, and yet it is. We can all make a difference, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant we might feel. Every single one of us are movers and shakers, especially when we get together and the one becomes many.

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What I particularly like about the sunflower story is that it perfectly illustrates that even in the depths of darkness and despair, even when the world seems swamped by violence, anger and hate there is still human kindness, love and compassion. There are still individuals who will stand up and be counted, even at the point of putting their own lives on the line.

That’s huge.

A few months ago, I received a request for sunflower seeds from a relative of the Malaysian pilot who was him in the attack. They’d lost their seeds when they moved and she was devastated and started search the web until she found me and the blog. That meant so much to me. I sent her 5 seeds and I hope they flourish. We’re keeping in touch.

I still have around 2o seeds which I’ll be planting shortly and I am doing my very best to produce plenty of seeds to take their message forward.

Although I didn’t know any of the people on board personally, I never want to forget them or what happened. Yet, I also remember how the love of two strangers reached out through the darkest of hours and gave love.

So, I will do what I can this Christmas to pass the message on.

xx Rowena

 

 

American Diner Down Under.

The Ipswich fish & chips shop was being bulldozed, making way for an American diner. As the bulldozers fired up, Pauline raged: “I’ll show Ronald Glump!”

“You won’t get away with this. Queensland’s not the 51st state of America. Ipswich says No. Not over my dead body.”

“Mr Glump, sir we’re under attack from a red-headed missile,” Robert Campbell IV, Vice-President Asia-Pacific shrieked down the phone. Australians wrestled crocodiles, wielded knives like swords and he’d failed boy scouts.

“Where’s the riot squad? Call my mate, Mr Turnbull. He’ll build a wall. That’ll keep ‘em out.”

“But what about the customers?”

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This is a contribution for Friday Fictioneers. This week’s PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot.

The Pauline alluded to in this story is highly controversial Australian Senator, Pauline Hanson founder and I think leader of the One Nation Party. Before going into politics, she owned a fish & chips shop in Ipswich, Queensland. She’s famous for a lot of things including her flaming red hair, her infamous saying: “Please explain!” which has become part of the Australian lexicon. You can read her bio here. And here’s a link to her alter-ego Pauline Pantsdown. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about this colourful character and what would ever happen if she and President Elect Trump came to blows. WWIII? Nup! That would be child’s play!

xx Rowena

All for a Sozzled Christmas Cake…

Yesterday, being the second day of the school holidays, I was driven to desperate measures. Indeed, pushed straight over the brink, I was merely hanging onto my sanity by the barest of fingertips. The kids were asleep. My husband was there to mind the fort. It was almost 10.00PM and I had to get to the bottle shop. I couldn’t wait!

Of course, it wasn’t for me.

I swear it wasn’t.

It was for my Christmas Cake. I’d found an interesting recipe on the back of my Christmas cards and I had to try it out. With only a few sleeps before Christmas, there wasn’t any time to waste. Not that it would be ready in time. Like all Christmas cakes, it has to rest and this one needs more rest than most.

However, if I was a Christmas Cake and I’d drunk an entire cup of straight brandy, I’d need an extended rest too. Indeed, I’d probably need my stomach pumped. Unlike the Christmas cake, I’m not much of a drinker and a humble cup of tea usually does me.

So, there I was cruising the streets at night, desperately needing my cup of brandy. Yet, much to my horror, all the bottle shops were shut. I mean…where’s the Christmas spirit? Evidently, you needed to go to the pub for that.

Go to the pub? Was I that desperate, that unabashed, that I could front up to the bar with my pink melamine measuring cup and order a cup of brandy?

Yes! I was.

As I said, it wasn’t for me. It was for the Christmas cake. Surely, the pub would have a bit of compassion for someone making a Christmas cake a few days before Christmas?

Still, I could see all those bar flies with their huge, bug eyes are staring at me like rotting flesh.

What the?

Even I have to admit it’s weird…like a scene out of Fawlty Towers, Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em  or some more recent comedy show.

I’ve been known to cause  embarrassment before, but this would have taken the cake (forgive the pun).

We live in a beach side town and while there are plenty of people living here, it’s yet another insular peninsula. Nothing’s private. Everybody knows your business and I can tell you that some old chook turning up at the bar ordering brandy in a measuring cup, would not go unnoticed. I’d be the talk of the town and for all the wrong reasons.

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Yet, hasn’t anyone else ever been caught out trying to make a Christmas cake a few days before Christmas? Surely, after thousands of years of celebrating Christmas, I am not the only one…the very first?!!

By the way, if you’ve never made your own Christmas Cake, you probably don’t know about their heavy drinking habits.

Of course, they have all sorts of excuses. I mean, if I earned a dollar for every time I’ve heard a Christmas cake blame the dried fruit, I’d be a very wealthy woman. But you try giving a thirsty Christmas Cake a few glasses of water, and you’ll soon see their true colours. They’ll be throwing that slice of lemon straight back at you and demanding the hard stuff…whiskey, brandy, rum. If you’re on a budget, you might be lucky. They might settle for a sherry, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. These Christmas cakes hold nothing back and that’s why they’re always at the very top of Santa’s Naughty List.

Indeed, if you drank a cup of straight brandy, I’m sure you’d be at the top of the Naughty List too!

With the bottle shops shut and feeling too intimidated to go to the pub, I did consider Facebooking a few friends. Who could I pop in on at 10.00PM asking for a cup of brandy rather than the usual cup of sugar? I’m sure we all know a few likely characters, but by this stage, I’d finally accepted defeat. I decided to head back to the bottle shop in the morning.

Meanwhile, before I call it a night, I have some advice for Santa.

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Beware of eating too much Christmas Cake. I don’t know if they have random breath testing for sleighs,  but you don’t want to end up at the top of your own naughty list.

I’m not quite sure how many standard drinks are going to be in this Christmas cake by the time it’s done. Although much of the alcohol will be cooked out of the cake, you keep adding it as it ferments. It’s going to be sozzled.

So, my piece of wisdom for this Christmas…

Be careful before you eat and drive!

Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

Wishing you a cautious Merry Christmas and some moderated “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

xx Rowena

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I must admit it feel odd walking out of the bottle shop at lunch time with a bottle in a brown paper bag. It’s not mine! I swear it’s not mine!

 

“Danger, Will Robinson! It’s Heston Junior!

“As we get older, we tend to become more risk averse because we tend to find reasons why things won’t work. When you are a kid, you think everything is possible, and I think with creativity it is so important to keep that naivety.”

-Heston Blumenthal

When I first laid eyes on my daughter’s efforts in the kitchen yesterday, the world’s greatest chef, Heston Blumenthal, came to mind and I wondered how his mother survived. Did he convert her kitchen into a similar scene of mass destruction… a post-apocalyptic disaster zone with bowls of rainbow-coloured cake mix all over the kitchen table, trying very hard to look like pots of paint? How did she cope? Did she ever resort to a Bex powders and “a good lie down” just to get through the day? (Damn those side-effects!  Motherhood’s never been the same again!)

Yesterday, was my kids’ first day of Summer Holidays. For me, the first day of school holidays is a designated “Pyjama Day”. Unlike some of our traditions, this one wasn’t going anywhere. Just like an immovable rock, I wasn’t budging .
Yet, although we spent the day in our PJs, that doesn’t mean the residents were asleep.
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When it came to adding colour to her cake mix, my daughter held nothing back!

Indeed, far from it. While I was having a siesta, my daughter whipped up a cyclone in the kitchen.Rather than feeling excited, energized and inspired by such unbridled creativity, I felt like I’d stumbled into an apocalypse. Bowls of lurid, rainbow-coloured cake mix were scattered on the edge of the kitchen table like paint pots. Indeed, in hindsight I should’ve been grateful that the colours hadn’t been plastered all over the wall. A few bowls isn’t such a huge mess, is it? It’s only me being Catastromum again!!
And yet…
My revulsion and outright panic showed me just how much I’d changed. Not so long ago, all I could see was the masterpiece and never noticed the mess. Yet, somewhere along the way, I’ve gone from making the mess to becoming the:”Make sure you clean up after yourself” person. Have I gone stark raving mad?  I guess so. Armed with Spray & Wipe, I’ve now joined the Clean Police!
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Food colouring is like  glitter. You can’t have too much of a good thing.

Well, not entirely! As much as I complain about the rainbow mess, the results were particularly striking, especially when you sliced the cakes in half. The lurid, multi-coloured swirls reminded me of the inside of a thunder egg with its dazzling crystals and colours. They were impressive.

Indeed, they were works of art.
Yet, they were works of art I was reluctant to eat. Not because they were beautiful. Rather, I didn’t want to OD on all those  artificial colours. Talk about bouncing off the walls for a week and not in a good way either.
Speaking of works of art, there was one last detail my daughter had overlooked…the clean-up. Given all these multi-coloured bowls of drying out cake mix, this was like cleaning -up after a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions. Move over Cyclone Katrina and the Brisbane Floods, we had Cyclone Cake Mix to resolve and those bowls weren’t going to clean themselves.
Yet, as desperate as I was for the mess to go away, much to their disappointment, I wasn’t about to resort to the doggy dishwashers. Yuck!
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Mum, we’ll clean-up. Promise!

After all, we have a dishwasher but for some reason, the bowls aren’t migrating from the bench into the machine. Rather, they just keep sitting there making me mad.
Why is it so?
It seems Heston Junior hasn’t read her contract. That she is required to clean up all messes made in the kitchen immediately. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
I had to remind Heston Junior that my job description does NOT include cleaning up after her fanciful cooking experiments, especially when they expand so far beyond one bowl.
Oh no! Junior Heston had to face the harsh reality of cleaning up after herself.
It’s cruel world.
Do you have any funny stories to share about kids cooking at home?
If you enjoyed this story, you should also have a laugh at my efforts teaching the kids to make pizza three years ago when they were nine and seven years old. It was a hoot: Cooking with Kids: Pizza From Scratch.
xx Rowena
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The End…Rainbow Crumbs,  Dog Hair and a Chocolate Storm Cloud.

 

 

Anyway, although I whinge so much about the mess, I was impressed with the stunning colours, even if she did use a packet mix to make it. Yes, I know Heston’s cooking philosophy is primarily about taste despite his creativity but everyone has to start out somewhere and this was just the first day of the school holidays. She has plenty of time to grow.

Rainbow Crumbs with Dog Hair & Chocolate Storm.

You try having a foot spa with a cup of tea and slice of cake without the famished, fur-shedding Border Collie all but eating the cake off your plate. You can see from the photo that Bilbo’s left significant DNA evidence behind. Yes, he was most definitely at the scene of the crime. Except, I beat him to it!

xx Rowena

The Meaning of Christmas Cake.

Last night, I was making my Christmas Cake.

In case you’re not familiar with what we Australians know as “Christmas Cake”, it’s a boiled fruit cake crammed with sultanas, currants, raisins and prunes soaked and boiled in sherry. The next day, glace cherries and almonds are added to the mix, along with the usual cakey ingredients. It’s very much a British tradition, which has immigrated along with the settlers to the Antipodes.

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Our Lego Santa Loves Christmas Cake.

There are so many steps to making a Christmas cake, each almost being an essential pre-Christmas ritual. So, let’s get started.

The first step is to boil up the dried fruit with the sherry, lemon and orange juice on the stove. If you have never experienced this smell, you are really missing out. As I hunch over the hot stove stirring the fruits with my wooden spoon, all those smells tantalize my senses, heralding Christmas. Indeed, I’d swear my nose was even twitching. Wow! It smells amazingly good!

Then, you leave those fruits in the fridge overnight to stew.

In this era of instant everything, it almost feels unnatural to wait for anything. Yet, this waiting process seems quite appropriate for a Christmas cake. After all, so much about Christmas involves waiting…How many sleeps? Where’s Santa? What am I getting for Christmas?

So, the Christmas Cake is simply being in synch with the rest of Christmas with all its waiting and delays.

The next day, we move onto the baking phase.

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Our son sampling the mixture, aged 3.

This starts out with the ceremonial beating of the butter and brown sugar, watching them spin round and round in my Sunbeam mix master. They’re like two people falling in love and becoming one flesh, as they dance round and round the beaters creaming together. That’s when fingers and spoons invade the bowl for mandatory testing. You’d be surprised how things can go wrong in the beating process, and how multiple tastings are required… just to be sure!

Then, you add the eggs. Even if you deplore Christmas Cake, I guarantee you’ll be licking the spoon once you taste brown sugar, butter and eggs creamed together. Not only do they taste delicious, but they have such a smooth, creamy texture which truly dazzles your taste buds. Yum!

More mixture disappears.

And a bit more!

There’s still plenty left.

Then, even a bit more mixture disappears onto a passing spoon.

Time to add the flour and spices before there’s no mixture left!

Next, I throw in the halved glace cherries and slivered almonds and it’s into the tin. More slivered almonds are sprinkled on top, and the Christmas Cake has finally made it into the oven.

Strange how there’s still so much mixture left behind!

Of course, some of that has been put aside for the mini Christmas cakes I make for my Dad. Dad has a pathological aversion to cinnamon so I always make him his own. My Dad looks very much like John Cleese playing Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. So, it’s a wise move to keep him happy, as we don’t have Manuel on hand to keep him in check.

However, it also seems like such a waste to cook all of that scrummy mixture, especially when it’s only going to become Christmas Cake.

Funny that I could ever deride the sacred Christmas Cake!

How soon I forget! Three years ago, I had a round of chemo to treat my auto-immune disease starting the week before Christmas. Indeed, I literally was singing: “all I wanted for Christmas is chemo” in my head that year. After all, without the chemo, I wouldn’t be here now. So, despite its hardships, it was more of a celebration than an ordeal.

This is where the Christmas Cake enters the story. I had three days’ notice before chemo began and do you know what I did in that time? I made my Christmas Cake and I posted my Christmas cards. That’s what was important…along with my family.

I had to remind myself of that this year. Now that the pressure’s off and my health has vastly improved, making the Christmas Cake wasn’t quite happening. Indeed, I only made it last night with 6 sleeps to go. I was really struggling to get myself moving!

That’s also because I’m not a huge lover of fruit cake. Indeed, if it wasn’t for Christmas, I’d never make any kind of fruit cake. I much prefer chocolate cake and have been known to mix the boiled fruits in with a chocolate cake mix before. That was yum! The boiled fruits also mix in well with ice cream. Indeed, the boiled fruits can be very versatile, if you’re willing to let go of tradition heading into the great unknown.

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Photographed with Santa aged 6. Unfortunately, the photo needs a spruce up.

I’m not quite there yet. I still need a slice of Christmas Cake with my cup of tea and my parents particularly love this Christmas Cake. After all, I make my mother’s recipe, which she adopted from her university friend Deirdre. They go back a long way and so does this Christmas Cake. I’ve been eating it for something like 47 years now. It’s a keeper and I hope my kids continue to  make it wherever they are and whatever their world is like when they grow up. Who knows where they’ll be in 47 years? Yet, like any parent, I just want them to be happy (which is often the most elusive “achievement” of all!)

You can find the recipe and a previous post about the Christmas Cake here.

You might also enjoy reading about Christmas Cakes: here. I found it a very interesting read.

Do you have any Christmas baking traditions? If so, I’d love to hear all about them and feel free to share your recipes.

Love & Christmas Blessings,

Rowena