Category Archives: Baking

The Great Cake Heist

Last night, we fell victim to a dastardly criminal mastermind, and much to my personal embarrassment and shame, I have to confess it wasn’t the first time either. Rather, it was a repeat offender…a “recidivist” as the convict records would’ve reported in utter disgust. Wonder how many lashings dear Rosie would’ve received back in the day for thieving half the freshly baked coconut cake off the kitchen bench last night? Instead, we just banished her outside. She was lucky she wasn’t dispatched up the hill to the RSPCA, which in this case should be renamed the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Humans.

Mango and Raspberry Coconut Cake with cream cheese icing.

However, this raises another curly question…forgiveness.

Should we forgive and forget? Turn the other cheek? Let Rosie steal tonight’s replacement cake? Or, should we inflict the greatest of punishments? Make Rosie an outside dog?

Meanwhile, Rosie is parked right at my feet, which is rather unusual. Should I interpret this as contrition? That she’s actually sorry? Indeed, she’s now licking my ear and there’s no ball in sight. If it were any other dog, and I’d have no doubt. However, Rosie is her own dog. She bows to no master, and refuses to come when called. I find it hard to believe Rosie has developed a conscience overnight, but stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, we have a teenager at large tonight and dubious conduct might not just be the province of the canines in the house. With all this focus on covid and the thieving canine , have I been overlooking the biggest elephant in the room of all?

Parents of teens on New Year’s Eve, stand on guard!

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Different but Happy, Blessed Christmas 2021.

Last year, our Christmas shrank from thirty to six, and this year it was down to four humans, and the three dogs were very much appreciated, even if they were plotting a grand ham heist as I carved it up on the bench.

It wasn’t sad, or disappointing. It was just the sensible thing to do. Moreover, our teenagers have been out and about a lot lately so it was good to spend time with them and have a family meal. There could well be a time round the corner where it could just be down to Geoff and myself home alone for Christmas once the kids move out. Yet, I couldn’t see that happening. I’d be opening up our home.

Our Church cancelled all services this year. They were only having Christmas Eve services anyway, and with covid going through the roof around here, they cancelled Christmas Eve as well and didn’t have a plan B. The call was made afternoon. However, we had dinner with some friends from Church and communion. I ended up doing a bit of a Church hop on Christmas Eve st5arting out at St Mary’s Cathedral (Catholic) to St Andrew’s (Anglican) both in Sydney and then hopping over to Westminster Abbey. None of these services were “me” but they were meaningful and quite beautiful. Indeed, those voices of the young boys sound quite ethereal and potentially rather reminiscent of our heavenly hosts. I don’t know. Perhaps, they could be more of a baritone.

Meanwhile, I headed out with our daughter after dinner driving round to check out the local Christmas lights. You have to love people who make over the top look lacklustre in whatever it is they undertake. We found this house that looked like a one stop carnival. It wasn’t a big house, but there were so many little nooks and crannies packed with dazzling Christmas scenes, a model train layout and even a snow machine. I felt like a born again five year old standing there taking it all it and it really energized my spirits on what was shaping up as a lacklustre Christmas (especially at this point our kitchen table was piled sky-high in Christmas cards, wrapping paper and everyone’s laziness.)

What most of you would probably notice about our Christmas, however, was the scorching heat. It was 30 degrees celsius by lunchtime and I’m sure you could’ve fried an egg out there. A few friends are looking a bit red and fried in photos today. We didn’t get to the beach, even though it’s just down the road. I was too busy with cleaning up the house, cooking and cleaning up and just wanted to fall into a chair and relax. Ditto for today. My dad’s always been one to lock the doors and bar the windows on Boxing Day.

Have you ever considered how much time, effort and money goes into Christmas? As parents, it can feel rather overwhelmed not to mention crippling especially when the kids are younger and you’re having to provide two sets of presents. Have you even wondered why? After all, Jesus was born in a very humble manger in Bethlehem and anything but Westminster Abbey. Scrooge gets a bit of bad press about being all bah humbug about Christmas, but have we one too much the other way spending buckets of money, especially when so many don’t even believe in the reason for the season?

Miss and the Grinch- photo updated for another year.

However, quite aside from honouring Christ’s birth, Christmas Day provides that day once a year for families to draw together and reconnect- especially those big extended families of aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and multiple generations. That’s our usual Christmas and I love it. Would never trade it in, but at the same time, I am grateful that we’ve had a few Christmases at home with the kids. It would never have happened without covid. It also made me much more appreciative of all the work my aunt and family do each year as hosts.

What did you get up to for Christmas? I’d love to hear from you.

Love and blessings,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 18th October, 2021.

Welcome to A Belated Weekend Coffee Share!

How has your week been? I hope you’ve had a good one, and there still might be some wind in your metaphorical sails to make it all the way to my place for your preferred beverage and a slice of Apple & Mulberry Pie with home made custard. You could do worse, although our son seems to prefer the Sara Lea variety himself. Obviously, he has no taste.

It’s now been a week since Greater Sydney had their Freedom Day, and had our restrictions eased. NSW has now reached an 80% vaccination rate and we’ve been allowed further freedoms – especially the vaccinated. Today, cases were down to 259, which is a big improvement, although they’re expecting cases to surge with opening up. In practical terms, it hasn’t made a huge difference to me because I’m still avoiding public places, crowds, people who aren’t vaccinated. That doesn’t leave a lot of scope. However, I have a few friends in the same boat and so I’ve been seeing them. I am trying to get down to Sydney to see my parents. That ideally means the four of us and the two of them, which is much more logistically challenging than I’d thought. So it hasn’t happened yet.

However, although we haven’t got straight back into it, opening up and returning to a state of relative quasi norm has helped. Things are starting to make more sense. At the very least, dance has returned to the studio which has really freed us up. People are starting meet up again and are less isolated. You can walk out your front door and not feel that Big Brother is watching you. It is a huge relief, although fast forward a week or two and let’s see how the case numbers and severity stack up. I am officially in “watch and see mode”.

The table was all ready for entertaining, but the weather had other ideas.

I was all poised to invite friends over for coffee last week on the very first day we opened up, and put the new table into action. However, the weather had other ideas and it rained for much of last week, which isn’t much good for an outdoor table, and the wind was also against us. However, yesterday a friend phoned up and had cupcakes and everything finally came together and we were able to launch the new table. Another two friends came over today, and we shared a few of yesterday’s left over cupcakes and an Apple and Mulberry Pie made from her homegrown mulberries. I’m quite well-known for turning something healthy into a fattening, unhealthy delight. However, “je ne regrette rien!”

On Saturday afternoon, Geoff and I ventured out to see whether a stretch of budding Flannel Flowers we saw at least a month ago had flowered. Sure enough, they had. However, it was getting late in the day, and they were closing up their pretty faces and nodded off for the day. So, we returned yesterday earlier in the day and they were just magical. Their faces were fully opened and just waiting to meet my camera lens. I wrote all about it here:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2021/10/18/floating-with-the-flannel-flowers/

I had a bit of a social experiment on Saturday after being challenged to go without screens for 24 hours one day this week. Considering I was halfway through the day at this point, I thought I’d give it a go. This screen-free existence excluded my phone, TV, computer but it didn’t mention anything about cameras that weren’t part of phones. So, photographing the flannel flowers was allowed. As a social experiment, we were asked to be conscious of our experience. I’m not one who lives on their phone, and I certainly don’t respond to every “ting”. However, there we were out in the bush, and the phone tinged. I thought it might be one of the kids, and so I had to check the phone. A friend was asking if I wanted to go for a walk. So, I felt I needed to give a quick reply. I felt caring for others was more important than rigidly sticking to the rules. Surely, 30 seconds out couldn’t do too much harm?!! Besides, not relying to a message could set off panic stations and launch a search party given my health situation and us being in Covid lockdown for so long. Going off the grid is a solid warning sign of troubled waters. Anyway, I kept going. Made dinner and decided just to ignore the TV, which my husband was watching. However, then “Letters and Numbers” came on and my husband and son were both watching in and nutting things out. Was it more important to stick to my guns, or connect with my family? Well, I sort of joined in just a little bit…just out of the very corner of my eye. However, next up was Dambusters – a documentary series about Britain’s WWII bomber pilots using these new bouncing bombs to blow up the German dams of the Ruhr region. I couldn’t miss this. So, once again I’d failed the test and proven myself of little willpower, but dare I say “flexible”, “accommodating”. However, I didn’t utrn my computer on for a good 24 -30 hours so I’m pleased I pulled that off. That, too, was probably my greatest challenge, because I sit on here for much of the day doing my writing and research. I don’t use my phone very often, and don’t watch much TV either. And what did I do instead? I saw all the stuff that had piled up around the house and cleaned and sorted some of it out.

Polish Pilots

I’ve been making really good progress with my research into the Polish pilots. I am currently reading Adam Zamoyski’s: The Forgotten Few: The Polish Airforce in WWII. I’ve flicked through it before and just read what I needed, but decided to read through it to soak up the full story beyond just my friend’s dad who served as a bomber pilot and later instructor. I have also been thinking what it means to be in exile like Roland’s dad, the Polish people and so many others escaping pat-war Europe, and troubles ever since. I also realized there are other points in time where we are also exiled, most notably I thought for the people who are left by their partners and simply told they want a divorce and to get out. Especially when kids are involved, that can also be an exile. The end of your world as you know it and absolutely devastating. I haven’t been through that myself, but it doesn’t mean I do not care.

Lastly, I did my first piece of flash fiction (100 words or less) in awhile last week. Inspired by my Polish research, I wrote; “The Woman in Kracow” who has a major life decision to make and has returned to her father’s grave in Kracow to seek his advice and attempt to connect with her Polish heritage when she was born in the UK. Hard to convey all of this in only 100 words, but the idea is that her mother was English and she doesn’t really relate to her father’s Polish roots. Anyway, here’s the link: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2021/10/14/the-woman-of-kracow-friday-fictioneers-14th-october-2021/

Humph. I’m now wondering whether I should’ve called it: “A Woman in Kracow”?

I’ll think it over.

Anyway, that’s about it for this week. I hope you’ve had a good week.

Meanwhile, you might like to join us over at the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Natalie the Explorer https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 22nd March, 2021.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Tonight, I’d like to invite you over for a good old fashioned lamb roast along with roast potato, carrot, peas and gravy. It was all rather scrumptious, but I know the fat content isn’t going to do my heartburn any favours. I know I’ll pay for it, but it’s a rare treat. We had Creamed Rice for dessert with plump, fresh raspberries. So, if it wasn’t for the steady, heavy rain and floods throughout NSW, I’d invite you over for dinner. As it stands, I think you’d be better off on bread and dripping where you are.

If you’d like to read more about the NSW floods, you can click here: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/mar/22/nsw-flooding-rain-forces-evacuation-of-18000-people-on-mid-north-coast-and-sydneys-west

Has has your week been? Or, the last couple of weeks to be honest? I hope you’re well, and somehow miraculously liberated from Covid, even in your dreams.

We’ve had a busy time here. We celebrated our son’s 17th birthday recently, which was followed by party at our place with about 15-20 friends. The rain came down in the middle of that while I was outside chatting under the shade sail and I got drenched and needed to get changed. All good. I spent much of the night in the kitchen sorting out the food and keeping the party going. I could’ve flown the feminist flag and said I was too good to do the dishes and he could do it himself, but he needed me to do what was needed, and be thinking of him, and not where my own life is heading – or not. (Yet, at the same time, I do feel my kids have reached a “certain age” where they can step up to the plate and pull heir weight, and I’m not spending the rest of my life wiping their backsides. It’s just that his birthday wasn’t the time for that conversation. That said, I’m still waiting…)

Anyway, the party went really well. of course, there was no alcohol, and it was so encouraging to see them all laughing, and making their own entertainment. Our son played some of his old Scouting Gang Show DVDs on the TV. It sounds a bit daggy and rather unconventional, but the songs were excellent and it creative a fun, festive atmosphere while our son strutted around being the Greatest Showman as he acted as MC. Meanwhile, the dogs turned out to be the unexpected stars of the show and I’ sure they thought it was their party. Someone threw Zac a balloon and he bumped it with his nose and that went on for at least 15 minutes with them all standing round him in a circle. Being a bordr collie x kelpie, he has no off-switch and he was just delighted to be the star (especially as his sister Rosie usually shows him up on the ball fetching front).

Meanwhile, I might’ve mentioned that I recently won some recording studio equipment for our son and some studio time with a recording studio professional. Well, the equipment arrived last week. So, that was pretty exciting for him. He’ll be doing the mentorship session after Easter, which is seemingly just around the corner.

My research into Australia’s involvement in WWI continues. I’ve been beavering away trying to get a draft together so I can try to get some grant funding, and get what is turning out to be a series of books together. The trouble is that I keep finding an endless supply of gold nuggets, and the stories and the storytellers just keep on coming. However, I’ve only been hard at it for about 18 months now. So, I can’t expect to cover such a big area and get myself up to speed in the blink of an eyelid.

Since I’ve been doing this research, I’ve also been quite overwhelmed by what I didn’t know, especially as I thought I had a reasonable understanding. However, ignorance is like that. It’s what you don’t know you don’t know that’s going to bite you. So, I’m frollicking in all these stories like a pig in mud, but I am drawing up plans and trying to get some scaffolding in place. Get the show on the road.

I guess this all brings me to our pet subject… covid. Being in Australia, you’re probably wondering what I’ve go to be worried about. There’s barely been a case of community transmission in a very long time. However, the reason our transmission has been so low is that we’re vigilant, and we’re not as vigilant as we were, and most of us don’t need to be. However, I do, and it’s much harder when restrictions are tight and we’re all (well, most of us) are doing the right thing. Now, I’m having to excuse myself. I’ve stopped going to physical Church because they’re back to singing against government restrictions and have lodged a complaint about discriminating against Churches with singing restrictions. So, as you can see life gets complicated.

The covid vaccine rollout started here in NSW on the 22nd February for frontline staff and employees of nursing homes and disabled facilities. Today, it was extended to group 1b which is elderly people over 70 along with younger people with chronic health or disabilities. This includes me. The only trouble is finding out where and how I’m going to access it, and this really started to stress me out. We Australians went into battle over toilet paper this time last year, and I dread what it’s like trying to get the vaccine. I was going to try to fight my way through today. However, I was getting so stressed, that I’ve decided to put it off. My GP isn’t currently part of the rollout, which I feel leaves me high and dry. However, local production of the Astra Zeneca vaccine is launching this week and that will push things along a lot I hope. I, no doubt like most of us, just want my life back, and even though I know the vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s better than nothing, and since we’ve had few cases here, we have herd vulnerability.

Well, I’d better call it a night and get to bed.

I hope you and yours are doing well.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Natalie the Explorer at https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 17th January, 2021.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

My apologies. There are slim pickings on the baking front this week after a massive bake-a-thon on Tuesday. Since then, I’ve been trying to minimise the cooking with its inherent mess-making so I can make progress on the house and do some writing. I made a commitment to write in an extended journal this year, and my efforts have been intermittent, and we’re not even out of January yet. Then, when I do write, it takes hours and it looks like I’ll be through what is quite a thick A5 volume by the end of the month. I’ve been holding onto a lot of stuff, and I’m not sure whether it’s good to bring it all back up like this, or not. However, I should put a disclaimer in the front and clarify that this is where I deal with the dark stuff, and I’m actually reasonably okay. Or, at least I was before the teenager got stressed out, and took us on a panic with him. Of course, he rose back up to the surface straight away, but it’s taken us a bit longer.

The highlight of last week was my Great Aunt’s funeral. Not that we actually attended her funeral in person. Rather, because she lived in Brisbane over the Queensland border which is closed to people from Sydney due to covid, we had to watch it via livestream video link.

Our tribute to Aunty Louise – white roses and the Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart I made.

Now, I understand that this is now pretty much de rigeur with funerals nowadays, and perhaps you’ve already been there, done that. However, this was our first time, and there was a lot to consider. We’ve been to what we call “watch parties” on Zoom before where we’ve gone round to a friend’s place to watch a broadcast together in a small group. So, this gave me the idea of driving down to my parents’ place and watching it with them and my uncle to recreate some sense of the family coming together to celebrate my aunt’s life. It took a bit of talking round to get my Dad onboard and we soon delegated all technical matters to my husband who works in IT and I promised to bake, and Dad said he’d pick up dinner. Mum bought some exquisite white roses and equally beautiful dahlias from her exclusive florist. It was all supposed to go so smoothly, but of course, it didn’t. The derailment began when I couldn’t find my oufit in my cupboard and I ended up pulling everything out because I had to wear these new Italian linen culottes I’d bought recently, even though I wasn’t sure which top to wear and the top I’d had in mind was also missing somewhere at large in my wardrobe. From there it only went down hill where I couldn’t find the link to the funeral in my email via my phone and Geoff couldn’t connect his laptop to my parents’ wifi. So, even though the video cable was connecting to the TV, we ended up with all five of us hovering around Dad’s laptop. Each of us could barely see the screen and while there were buttons to operate different cameras, we weren’t game enough to touch anything and so the slide show of photos from my aunty’s life, appeared like a series of small postage stamps on the screen. At this point, Mum wanted to go and watch it on her own laptop where she could actually see something, but we couldn’t get it up and running in time. So, it was just as well I’d done all that baking and Dad had bought some great food, because we felt better after that. Food had brought us together is a way that technology had failed.

All of this would’ve been rather funny had it appeared in a comedy sketch. However, it was deeply disappointing when we were trying to grieve the loss of our much loved aunt, and that’s why I’ve shared our experiences with you and plan to write a more detailed post about watching a funeral online. If you want to do it in a group, you need to treat it like an event. You just can’t rock up and assume everything will go smoothly, especially when your emotions are already churned up.

After the funeral and my massive baking efforts on Tuesday, the rest of the week was fairly quiet. It’s been pretty hot, and too hot for me to go out at the peak of the day. My daughter, however, was more adventurous and warned me over the phone that she’d turned into a lobster at the beach.

Map of Patonga NSW 2256
Above: A local map with Patonga at the centre. We live at Umina Beach and that bit of land jutting out on the far right corner is Palm Beach headland and the lighthouse sits on top.

Then, today I really felt the need to get out and my husband and I drove over to Patonga to go for a walk along the beach and rocks. Being a keen sailor, Geoff was keeping a keen eye out on passing yachts. They always epitomise freedom and escape to me, but I don’t understand the technical nitty gritties. It flies straight over my head as sure as any seagull. For me, it was great just to be outside again and to have that vast sense of almost endless space you have at the beach when you look out to see and there’s nothing but blue for a seeming eternity. I also needed some exercise…a walk…and when I was last in Patonga, I’d walked around the rocks and found some intriguing swirl patterns on the sandstone, which I wanted to check out and photograph again. It turned out that the rock platform also had these swirl patterns and I’ll have to look into them further. Intriguing…

Patonga

By the way, I should’ve mentioned that Geoff was on holidays this week and still has another week of leave to go. It hasn’t really been very relaxing so far, as he’s been working on repairs at home. We had planning to go away to stay with family inland from Byron Bay, but we didn’t want to risk picking covid up on route and any of us getting sick. We tend to go up once a year, and we thought the timing could be better later in the year. –

My feet with these amazing concentric patters in the sandstone at Patonga.

This coming week, our kids (teens) are off to youth camp for a few days with Church and then our daughter is going off to a Young Carer’s camp at Camp Breakaway about an hour away from here. The break will do us all good. Our son is also helping out with sound at camp and also has two DJ slots and he’s really looking forward to that and takes it all very seriously. It’s very important to him, and he seems to be quite good and developing well. That’s a relief in itself because it’s not always easy for young people to find their thing. Now, we just have to hope covid gets lost and the entertainment industry can get back on its feet.

We were in awe of these massive chunks of sandstone which had fallen from the headland, and smashed into pieces. Glad e weren’t standing down below!!

Well, it’s time for me to get 40 winks now, and head off to bed. How has your week been? I hope you and yours are being spared the worst of these dreadful Covid pandemic. Have you been vaccinated yet? How was it? The vaccine, is, of course, our big hope.

This has been another Weekend Coffee share now hosted by Natalie the Explorer at https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/2021/01/08/welcome-two-in-one/ We hope you might come along and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – Christmas 2020.

Welcome to the Christmas Edition of the Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, to be precise, it’s actually post-Christmas and we’re currently drifting along in the lull between Christmas and New Year where we recover from Christmas indulgence, over-consumption and back-breaking stress and veg out. Well, that’s as long as we haven’t done something stupid like inviting people over on New Year’s Eve. I wouldn’t know anybody who is crazy enough to do that, especially after hosting family on Christmas Day. However, there is this strange logic that once you’ve tidied the house up, get all of your entertaining done immediately before the place does a Cinderella on you and turns back into a pumpkin.

Our local bookshop

Anyway, before I ask you how your Christmas or Holiday celebrations went, I’d better offer you a cup of tea, coffee or perhaps you fancy a cold drink. We’ve had quite a few hot days, so you might prefer something cold. I’ve been doing a bit of baking and we have Christmas cake, shortbread, Honey Biscuits, Mars Bar Slice and Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart. Yum!

Christmas baking.

So how have you been spending Christmas or the Holidays?

We went to the 11.00pm service on Christmas Eve. The earlier services were cancelled and went via zoom instead, as there’s been an outbreak of Covid in Sydney along with a couple of local cases. There weren’t too many booked in for the late service and so it could still go ahead now we’re back to the 4 square metre rule.

The, on Christmas Day, my parents drove up from Sydney for lunch. I did all the cooking, which went surprisingly well. We had a roast chicken, veggies and gravy with the Caramel Macadamia Tart for dessert. We were too full to even consider eating the pudding, but we had a wonderful day which seemed to race past like a bullet train.

The rocking horse has been feeling fairly nervous. It’s seen the piano and the carpet go, and it’s very concerned it’s going to be next!

The prelude to Christmas was crazy busy. After guttering the loungeroom to replace the carpet with a floating floor and finding the room also needed a paint job, we then had a mad scramble to get everything back in situ for the big day. We managed to get there but quite a few things got shoved anywhere they could fit and goodness knows if we’ll ever see them again. However, it was all worth it, and the house was nice and comfy and we could actually spread out.

Miss after her hair extravaganza

Another big development in the lead up to Christmas, was that Miss decided to get her haircut. Indeed, to be precise, she decided to get her hair lopped off and she also wanted to donate the ponytail to make a wig for someone who is experiencing long term hair loss. This seemed like a great idea and something her friends have done before, although I was concerned she was going to regret cutting it off and I also loved her hair being so long and it had become a fundamental part of her. However, it was also very heavy, especially when she went swimming and it also covered her face in the water and might even have been a bit dangerous. By the way, in addition to getting the chop, she also got some foils. She talked me into this, but it was a fun adventure and I emphasised it was a once off. However, it was a lot of fun and seeing her incredible smile at the end, was truly worth it. You see quite a few storm clouds brewing in the teenagers eyes, so it makes it all the better when you see those radiant, sunny smiles and all is good.

Her hair before the chop. She had 17 inches cut off.

Since Christmas, we’ve tried to relax and do as little as possible. That said, we had the big clean up after Christmas lunch and today we headed off to Specsavers to replace our glasses before the annual health fund allocation ran out. I can tell you it was quite an experience getting our eyes tested and trying on glasses with face masks on and glasses fogging up. I hope they turn out okay. However, I thought you’d enjoy this photo of three out of the four of us trying glasses on.

Well, I’d better head off now. Time’s always getting away from me.

Not long now until we reach the end of 2020, but it’s pretty clear to me that there aren’t going to be any instant miracles once we turn the page into 2021. That said, vaccination has started and maybe that will start having an impact soon.

Meanwhile, we hope you and yours are safe and that you have a geat year ahead in 2021. Any resolutions yet? I’m still working on mine. My word for the last couple of years has been ACTION, and I might go with that again. Although when it comes to my WWI research project, the word is now WRITE, and when it comes to going away in January, it’s WAIT. Need to see what covid is up to by then.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Merry Christmas!

We would like to wish you and yours a very Merry and blessed Christmas! Even if happiness feels like a pipe dream during Covid; even in the darkest of times, there is still good to be found. Moreover, 2020 hasn’t been universally bad. Indeed, our family has experienced much worse, and we’ve actually had some significant breakthroughs. This has included having Geoff working from home, giving him at least an extra three hours at home, saving us money and enabling him to get some work done on the house.

It’s now the day after Boxing Day. So, Christmas Day is done and dusted. We had a wonderful day. My parents drove up from Sydney. I did all the cooking and we had roast chicken with stuffing and gravy, roast potatoes and pumpkin baked in duck fat, leg ham, thyme damper rolls and Avocado, Mango and Cashew Salad. For dessert, there was Macadamia Nut Caramel Tart, Honey Biscuits straight out of the oven, and my Christmas Cake. I was so proud of myself for timing everything well, and relieved that lady luck was on my side, and everything worked out. You can never assume a dish is going to work out perfectly, even if you’ve made it 20 times without a hitch before. There are no guarantees, although the more you cook, the better you get at masking your mistakes.

Dessert: Honey Biscuits warm straight out of the oven, Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart, Christmas Cake and extra caramel sauce.

By the way, the weather here deserves a mention this year. Firstly, you need to remember that we’ve Australian it’s Summer here, and that usually spells HOT. Indeed, it’s often so hot, you could fry an egg on the footpath, and you almost get sunburnt just looking outside. Usually, when we’re having the big family Christmas at my auntie’s place, half the family ends up in the pool and you can almost see the steam rising as they’re hot and bothered bodies cool off. However, this year it was wet and cool, and my Dad was actually wearing his jumper. That was pretty exceptional, and definitely blogworthy.

How has Christmas or the holidays been for you? I hope you and yours have had a Merry Christmas, and now it’s time to start thinking about resolutions for the new year. Now, there’s something that’s going to be complicated.

Best wishes,

Rowena and Family.

Cooking the Books.

We’ve all seen some weird things in 2020. However, things have really gone mad around here now. Indeed, even madder than usual, if that were possible. As you can see, I’ve starting cooking the books, and we’ll be eating words for Christmas.

Well, we will be unless our renovations and reorganizations get a wriggle on.

Indeed, being typical renovators, we’ve taken two steps forward, three steps back, on the hope that we’ll have a place for everything and everything in it’s place by Christmas Day. This hope is now starting to look like a fantastic dream, and I should be a lot more worried than I am. However, I’ve had good training. You can always hide a few things in the oven, the clothes dryer or under the bed at the last minute if you have to. Failing that, there’s the car.

The car bed finally leaving the house.

Of course, the road to renovation didn’t start 5 days before Christmas. Rather, the wheels were set in motion a few months ago when our son’s car bed finally left the house for an extended holiday at a friend’s place.

There’s a bear in there, and a piano frame as well…

Yet, there was still the problem of the old piano no one wanted in the loungeroom. However, it turned out that deconstructing the piano solved that problem and a friend of ours was quite happy to take it away in pieces, although we have kept the pedals and the keys. Then, it was full steam ahead, which also included an incidental painting of the room.

Geoff finally cutting through the carpet.

While Geoff was busy there, I started getting quite ruthless with the books and realized we probably needed to halve the number of books in our place. Well, that’s if we were ever going to be able to have people over once again. In other words, be able to open the place back up again, and not be afraid of somebody coming over.

Indeed, it’s been all too easy to forget we used to have people over, including holding the kids’ birthday parties. Whatever happened to us?

It’s called dermatomyositis an auto-immune disease where you’re muscles attack themselves and it’s been compounded by Interstitial Lung Disease, which has left me with 50% lung capacity. We’ve been in survival mode for so long, but with Geoff working from home this year due to Covid, we’ve finally been able to get ahead. Indeed, we’ve even saved money. So, 2020 hasn’t been all bad.

Well, it’s actually because of Covid that the renovations had to get a wriggle on. Usually, we go to my aunt’s place every year for a big Christmas with the extended family. My dad is one of seven, so what with all my cousins and now their kids, it’s become quite a tribe. However, they’re not getting together this year, and so my parents are coming to our place, and there’ll only be the six of us. Indeed, with such a small group, I feel we need to include the three dogs in on the head count. Nine sounds a lot better!

Lady’s keen to join us at the dinner table for Christmas lunch.

This means, of course, that I’m needing to cook, and not just cook the books. However, that can wait at the moment. We have a ham in the fridge, and I’ve made a Christmas cake and there’s also a pudding. So, I’ve made a good start.

All these books ended up in the kitchen while we were moving furniture around. Our dump and run room is now in the process of being cleaned out, and we’ve swapped the lounge and the dining table over so we’ll have two tables for Christmas Day, while creating a potential place for our teenaged kids to hang out. Or, perhaps it will be for us parents when, and if, their friends ever come over. I’m really looking forward to this new chapter, and it feels quite liberating.

Yet, at the same time, we still need to find a place for everything and have everything stashed away in its place by Christmas Day.

What have we done????

How are your Christmas preparations going? I hope yours are a lot less chaotic, and your plans are going well. Yet, at the same time, there’s also Covid to consider and its intent on ruining quite a few Christmases this year. Nearby Sydney has a cluster on the Northern Beaches and they’ve gone into lock down, and I’ve hearing of a few cancelled plans. However, cancelled lunches is nothing compared to the incredible loss of life the virus has claimed on a global scale, and there will be a lot of empty chairs this Christmas Day, and a lot of heart-ache. We are thinking of you and sending our love!

Anyway, I’d better get back to it.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Blitzing the Great Honey Biscuit Baking Challenge.

Avoidance should be one of the seven deadly sins, and I’m sure many of us don’t even realize we’re doing it. Instead, for whatever reason, we believe the task is beyond our capabilities often without even having a go.

I realized earlier this year that there were so many things I’d wanted to bake, but I didn’t think I could do it. However, after seeing this same perfectionist fear of failure avoidance in my own children, I started to recognise it more in myself. So, as we started coming out of covid lockdown, I started making fancy cakes and desserts for our weekly Church life group where there were enough people to consume most of what I’d made, but leaving a bit left to bring home for the kids. This way, I could make something big and extravagant without us eating it for the next week.

However, while I’ve made plenty of pavlovas, Key Lime Pie, Banoffee Pie, Lemon Meringue Pie, I still haven’t attempted tiramisu (even though the ingredients are in the fridge and the mascarpone’s about to go off) or Pecan Pie. However, with Christmas rapidly approaching and after finding my grandmother’s Honey Biscuit Recipe and getting some advice from fellow German-Australian descendants, I decided to test it out tonight with a half batch to see how it goes.

It’s a balancing act getting the quantity of flour right. Clearly, more needed to be added at this point. These hands reminds me of the Abominable Dough Monster when I made pizza dough with the kids.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Actually, scrap that. I was doing the happy dance before the biscuits even came out of the oven. I knew that smell. It was like something primal from my childhood. Part of my DNA. We were family, in a strange sort of way. The smell must’ve been rather alluring because our 16 year old son suddenly appeared in the kitchen. “What are you baking?” He definitely had that look in his eyes. He ate one and left with three or four which rapidly vapourized. Forget the Masterchef judges. There’s nobody more critical of food than my kids. So my son’s seal of approval, was a very good endorsement.

These ones were made without the honey glaze. It does seem to add a bit of shine.

After making the Honey Biscuits, I can now speak more authoritatively about what they actually are. Indeed, they’re heading towards being more of a cake than a biscuit and are soft, light and airy. I followed my grandmother’s example of separating the eggs and beating up the egg whites and then adding the sugar. I used Capilano Honey which has a middle of the road honey flavour. My grandmother’s recipe didn’t mention adding a honey glaze. However, when I took the first batch out of the oven, they looked like something was missing. So, I mixed about a tablespoon of honey with a dash of boiling water and brushed it over the biscuits before they went in the oven. A good, generous splash of the honey glaze reproduced the honey biscuits just as my grandmother had made them…golden clouds of honey with an almost magical roast almond in the centre.

So, this is how the recipe turned out…

Honey BiscuitsRuth Haebich.

115g honey

225g sugar

2 eggs, separated

Squeeze lemon juice

2 teas bicarb soda

Plain Flour

1/2 teas ground cloves

1/2 teas ground cinnamon

Honey Glaze

Roughly 1 tablespoon of honey and a splash of boiling water.

Directions

  1. Beat egg whites using mix master until stiff.
  2. Gradually add sugar and beat well.
  3. Add honey. Mix well.
  4. Add egg yolks.
  5. Sift in about a cup of Plain flour with ground cloves, bicarb soda and cinnamon. Keep adding flour until it forms a dough and loses its stick. The dough is pale in colour.
  6. I rested it in the fridge for half an hour, although I’ve also heard others leave it overnight.
  7. Using a teaspoon, take heaped spoonfuls of mix and roll into a ball and place on a greased tray. Push half a blanched almond into the centre.
  8. Generously brush biscuits with honey glaze using a pastry brush.
  9. Bake at 180 degrees celsius for about 10-15 minutes. Remove when golden brown.

Guten Appetit!

By the way, I wanted to share one last tip I picked up from the German-Australian community page, and that was to put a slice of bread in the biscuit tin to stop them from going hard. I don’t know if that works. Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see what they’re like in the morning, but they were absolutely incredible straight out of the oven!

Please let me know if you have a go with these, and how you went.

Best wishes,

Rowena

I tried to find a photo of my grandmother and I and had no luck. Well, at least looking through what’s been scanned onto my hard drive. Thought I’d share this photo, which reminds me of big family gatherings, even though it was taken long before my time. My grandmother is at the centre with my mother in front. Adults standing left to right: Pauline Gordon, Ottalie Gordon (Bruhn), Pastor Bert Haebich, Ruth Haebich (Gordon), Norman Gordon and Ed Haebich.

Honey Biscuits – My Grandmother’s Recipe.

Today, the forces of chaos which govern my scrambled egg existence, conspired together to prompt me to sort out my Grandmother’s recipe for Honey Biscuits. I am an Australian of German descent on my mother’s side, and my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits were as much a part of Christmas as my mother’s traditional English-style Christmas cake and my Christmas pudding. The biscuits were round with half a blanched almond stuck in the middle like the star perched on top of the Christmas tree. They lived inside big glass jars from another time zone, which always seemed strangely magical (even when they were empty).

These Honey Biscuits were very special, but they were also my grandmother’s thing. I’ve never seen my mother make them, although she’s always been an accomplished cook and was famous for her Sponge cakes, which were typically served with lashings of passionfruit icing and a thick layer of whipped cream.

Not having the recipe until after my grandmother passed away, I found an alternative in a German cookbook my grandparents had given me. These were very nice, definitely German, and were reminiscent of the Honey Biscuits, but were definitely NOT THE SAME!!

I don’t know if that really matters. Or, whether it’s just the spirit of the thing that counts. Moreover, I guess you’ve got to ask at some point whether you really want to keep on eating food from 200 years ago every Christmas just to satisfy tradition. Or, do you try something new? Indeed, do you make Christmas food that you and your current day family actually likes, and is more in keeping with your usual fare?

Being a lover of history, ceremonies and traditions, I’m all in favour of going retro one day a year and having the same old same old. Without the carving of the Christmas ham and the lighting of the Christmas pudding along with my aunt’s Mango and Avocado Salad with cashew nuts, it just wouldn’t be the same. Actually, you can add scorched almonds and shortbread to the list. However, what I really love about Christmas lunch is catching up with the extended family after another year and seeing how everyone’s changed. Or, indeed, how some have stayed the same. I come from a large family too, so that makes for added excitement, a swag of personalities and stories. Moreover, there’s always one of two who enjoy too much Christmas cheer.

However, this year our Christmas will be rather different, as we will be hosting Christmas Day at our place with only my Mum, Dad and possibly brother coming over. This has sent us into quite a tailspin and we’re currently in the throws of carving up an old piano and trying to vacate the loungeroom to get the new floating floor down in time. It’s a nightmare, but at least I now have a pile of cookbooks ready to exit the house.

It was sorting through these cookbooks, which took me back to my grandmother’s Honey Biscuit recipe. You see I found a recipe book from Hahndorf, the German-Australian village in South Australia which my grandfather and three generations before him called home…”Recipes From My Grossmutter”. I also found “The Barossa Cookbook”, which was published at the end of WWII. The Barossa Valley is best known as a wine-producing region, and it’s not far from Hahndorf. So, when it came to sorting out this recipe, I thought this cookbook was almost a sure fire bet. After all, it’s one of those community cookbooks where people contribute their favourite recipes, and their names are printed down below.

Fortunately, although I’ve never made my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits, I do have her recipe and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her make them. However, while this sounds like I’ve got it sorted, the handwritten recipe didn’t inspire me with confidence. Had she left something out? It was also written in pounds and ounces, which always does my head in, and is almost a sure fire recipe for catastrophe.

My Grandmother’s Recipe for Honey Biscuits

1/2 lb Honey

1 lb Sugar

4 eggs

4 teas bicarb soda

a little acid

a few drops of lemon essence

Flour – flour enough to roll out.

After she lists the ingredients, she seemingly inserts herself into the process, and it soon becomes clear that my grandmother is leaving the main road and making her own way cross-country. There’s what the recipe says, and then there’s HER WAY which she introduces as “I use”. She then proceeds to halve the recipe, which seems fair enough, as I reckon the full amount would keep the entire Von Trapp family in biscuits from one Christmas to the next.

However, it’s the next bit which really captures my attention: “I beat the egg whites till stiff, add sugar and beat for awhile then add the yolks and beat again.”

Why does she separate the eggs and beat up the egg whites by themselves? This is what you do for making sponge cakes. However, as I glanced through the other recipes for Honey Biscuits in the Barossa Cookbook, nobody else mentions that. So, why did she do it? Was this her special secret for producing feather-light Honey Biscuits? Or, was she just making more work for herself?

I don’t know, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to post her recipe on the blog. I need help. Do any of you know why this is so? If so, please explain.

The other thing I’d like to address is what constitutes your authentic German-Australian Honey Biscuit, and how does it compare to the German original? Or, is there a German equivalent?

I thought the Honey Biscuits were a form of Lebkuchen. However, Lebkuchen is more of a spiced biscuit based on ground nuts, where the Honey Biscuits are only lightly spiced, use flour and are as the name suggests, honey flavoured. Apparently, the Honey Biscuit is an adaptation to the Australian context, where German immigrants couldn’t access spices easily back in the day, and in a sense developed their own baking dialect in the same way they came to speak: “Barossa Deutch” (Barossa German). That said, there are variations of Honey Biscuit which are a lot more spicy, and more in keeping with their authentic, German roots.

So, there is this sense of recipes migrating from the mother country and being translated and adapted to the new one, with Australian-Germans putting their own stamp on this old tradition. On top of this, you have people like my grandmother who did their own thing, experimented and adapted. For me, this is very much in keeping with the same pioneering spirit, which saw my ancestors embark on ships for an unknown country on the other side of the world and take a chance.

So, which version of the Honey Biscuit is the real McCoy? Which should I bake and carry forward to my own children?

I wasn’t sure. However, an inspiring solution hit me in the face this morning, after I’d had time to sleep on it. That just like Refrigerator Biscuits where you can make variations from the one basic dough, you can also make a batch of Honey Biscuits where some taste more like honey, and others are more richly spiced. After all, nothing is set in stone – even traditions. They can always be taken forward and adapted with themes and variations.

Have you ever tried making Honey Biscuits and how does your recipe compare to my grandmother’s recipe? Meanwhile, in addition to baking the Honey Biscuits, I’m going to have a go at making authentic German Lebkuchen from a recipe over at Daring Gourmet. She even making her own candied peel and spice mix, so it could be a bit much on top of getting the house ready for Christmas, but isn’t Advent the season of insanity where we always do, spend and eat too much? It’s too late for me to challenge that this year, but January is only round the corner along with an end to 2020. I know for many, that will be the be st Christmas present of all!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Here’s the link to the “Authentic German Lebkuchen Recipe” if you’re feeling daring.. This recipe is based around ground nuts, has no flour, and seems heavily spiced: https://www.daringgourmet.com/traditional-nuernberger-elisenlebkuchen-german-lebkuchen/