Category Archives: Baking

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/

Weekend Coffee Share – 9th November, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Well, I’m not quite sure what to offer you with your cuppa tonight. On Friday night, I made a Bombe Alaska for my friend’s 60th Birthday. Unfortunately, the meringue slid off the ice cream centre and the brandy wouldn’t light. So, you could say that it was “Fizzer Alaska” instead.

The Bombe Alaska before it went into the oven.

However, it tasted good anyway. I’d added a few extras like a layer of Nutella Butter Cream and roasted hazelnuts over the cake for extra lusciousness. It was yum and a lot of fun, even if it didn’t go according to plan. By the way, if you’re a keen baker or fancy a bit of dessert, you might like to check out my previous post.

Oh no! The meringue is starting to slide off the bombe. Not a disaster, but a triumph either.

Last week, was fairly difficult overall. Our teenaged kids are keeping us on our toes with our son not seeing the point of doing his final year of school and looking at TAFE to pursue sound engineering. It sort of makes sense, but it’s still a big decision and it’s taking me time to get my head around the ramifications of it all. As if that wasn’t enough to think about, our daughter has been making some poor choices of late, and we’re needing to get our heads around that too. Long gone are the days where we could physically pick up our children when they were running off the “wrong” direction. Now, we’re needing to try to work with the teenage brain, which science tells us is potentially incapable of making good rational choices until they’re 25. Yet, this unregulated teenage mind is moving forward at full throttle thinking it knows it all, knows what’s best and can do anything it likes. Sometimes the only thing standing in the way is their hapless parents, school authorities, or when things go really pear-shaped, the police. Meanwhile, I keep dropping what I view as pearls of wisdom into the hapless subjects’ minds while driving them from A to B. It’s a bit like dropping coins in a money box, except it seems that the plug at the bottom has often been pulled out and lost. Consequently, the coins are often falling straight through and rolling away. It’s not a very encouraging picture. However, somehow most teens and their parents survive to adulthood so it’s not all doom and gloom after all. I live in constructive hope.

Get To Know The Junior MasterChef Top Three
The finalists and judges of Junior MasterChef Australia 2020.

In addition to doing my baking at home, I’ve also loved watching Junior MasterChef and tonight is the Grand Finale. I’ve been so incredibly impressed with the dishes put up by the kids. They really knocked my socks off. If you’d like to watch any of the past episodes, here’s the link: https://10play.com.au/junior-masterchef-australia and you can find the recipes there too if you’re feeling particularly daring. Just because these cooks are young, doesn’t mean their dishes are any less impressive than their adult rivals. These kids are potentially the great professional chefs of the future and this pool of talent is a cut above the usual contestants for the adult version of the show. indeed, they’re absolutely mind boggling. I can’t wait to see who is going to win, and how the show is going to unfold.

However, before I move on from Junior MasterChef, I just heard the most priceless comment from one of the contestants, Georgia. You see, they’ve invited their mums onto the shows for the finale. Now, these kids have been doing just fine without their mums on set for the entire series, and have been able to go it alone. However, now they’ve reached the finale, mum is calling out from the gantry. My message to the mums is to back off. I think they know what they’re doing. These thoughts were going through my mind when Georgia piped up and said: “Who invited our mothers along?” Well, at least Filo is pleased his mum’s there.

Meanwhile, my WWI bio research is going really well. I have no idea how it’s going to find its place out there in the real world, because it’s a bit out there and it seems to sit somewhere in between academic history, creative writing, documentary and a movie script. Each of these things are ambitious on their own, and challenging the world order probably verges on suicide. After all, each of these disciplines is probably in its own box for a reason. I guess I’ll be finding out what happens when I break multiple moulds at once. Well, that is once I get all of this finished…

Oh well. Another week has begun. OMG! Do you ever have Mondays where the prospect of another week just wears you out, as you haven’t had enough time to recover from the week that’s been, or to resolve the splatter on the roof its left behind? Perhaps, I’ve been spoiled for awhile, because in so many ways life has been a lot simpler this year due to covid. While we’ve had to deal with the complications of hand sanitiser, masks, gloves, social distancing and toilet paper shortages, so many activities were cancelled that we haven’t been buzzing off over the place like manic bees trying to get everything done and take kids to three different places at the same time while trying to have some kind of a life ourselves. It’s been nice taking up the piano again, doing my extreme baking and doing hours of research. Indeed, it’s probably been something of a luxury…especially with my husband working from home and not commuting for three hours a day.

PS The last word on the Masterchef Junior front goes to Georgia’s Mum as she ate her daughter’s dessert the “Tropical Mess”…”she’s tricky to make a lunchbox for. She’s very particular with her flavours.” You’ve got to feel for the mother of Junior MasterChef.” I have some empathy with her. My kids have both been super fussy eaters and are very particular even if they aren’t MasterChefs themselves.

PPS I know I haven’t actually finished this post yet. However, I’d forgotten all about touching on the US election. I don’t know if I would’ve voted for Trump or Biden, but I’ looking forward to the changing of the guard.

Well, on that note, I’d better head off.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali. Here’s the link: https://eclecticali.wordpress.com/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Extreme Baking… Making Bombe Alaska.

For me, 2020 has become a year of extreme baking where I’ve broken out of my straight jacket of tried and tested caution and taken on many risks, and my family and friends have been more than willing guinea pigs.

The Epic Treehouse Cake I made last week. My friend lives in a pole home among the gum trees and the Tiny Teddy biscuits represent the cockatoos which come to visit but also chew away at his house.

Last week, I thought I’d reached my zenith with the precarious Tree House Cake I created for a friend’s birthday. Moreover, just to blow the risk out of the park, we needed to transport the cake without the chocolate house sliding off its perch. Indeed, at one point, Geoff had to slam on the brakes and I almost leaped out of my skin!! However, the cake survived, and was an amazing success.

The Treehouse Cake looked even more dramatic after we cut through the layers and it now looks like it’s precariously perched on the edge of a sandstone cliff.

Perhaps, it was that success which spurred me on to attempt this week’s total insanity. You know how it is. You take a huge gamble. Have a bit of success, and it goes to your head. Now, you think you can do ANYTHING! Indeed, you’ve become invincible.

Moreover, I’ve also been watching Masterchef Junior where you see pint-sized supremoes conjure up the most incredible and unbelievable dishes out of the weirdest and most exotic flavours and ingredient combinations. You can either be incredibly humbled, or inspired to have a go yourself. I haven’t tried to replicate their dishes. However, time and time again, I’ve seen how you can jazz up a simple dish with a few added elements and create something truly spectacular and utterly scrumptious. So, I think it’s fairly fair to say that Masterchef Junior has fuelled my courage, spirit of experimentation and my seeming passion for skiing straight over a cliff, and expecting to land on both skis. Indeed, Masterchef has turned baking into an extreme sport.

Added to this mix, there’s the coronavirus. With so many of the usual sources of excitement, entertainment and facets of simply being human prohibited, perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve turned to baking for a buzz. What else is there to do, especially for those of us who are in a high risk category and need to isolate and stay out of circulation as much as possible?

However, countering these temptations to succomb to extreme baking, there’s my mother’s tried and tested cooking advice. Indeed, I’ll call it “Mum’s Golden Rule” and that reads: “Never cook anything for a special occasion that you haven’t tried and tested at home first.” Clearly, that’s very good advice, especially when people are counting on you.

Yet, as I said, I’ve been throwing caution to the wind lately, and there’s no better illustration than my decision to bake Bombe Alaska for my friend’s 60th Birthday Party on Friday night.

After the famed tree house cake, I couldn’t just dish up a dried up sponge cake. No, it had to be spectacular. Have a sense of theatre, especially as she’s a performer and loves a lot of sparkle. So, what could be better and offer more theatre than a bombe…a Bombe Alaska? Not that I’ve ever tried baking Bombe Alaska before. Indeed, I’ve never even seen or tasted it before. So, I really was flying blind. Yet, how hard could it be? You just follow the recipe and Bob’s your uncle. Your bombe is ready to explode.

How it was supposed to look.

Well, at least, I knew I had to clear carve out a massive hole for the huge bowl of ice cream in the overloaded freezer. After all, baking isn’t just about creativity. There’s a lot of science and meticulous preparation, which can seem a bit boring and dull, but it’s just as important as the baking process itself.

And here it is lit up.

In case you don’t know much about making Bombe Alaska either, the bombe itself is made out of 6 cups of ice cream which is packed into a pudding basin. This goes back into the freezer to set, and then upended on top of a cake base, covered in meringue and baked in the oven at 200 degrees celsius. Of course, baking ice cream in the oven really goes against the grain. Doesn’t the ice cream melt into a ginormous puddle and DISASTER strikes?!! However, this is where the science comes in. The meringue is supposed to act like a shell insulating the ice cream inside while the outside forms a voluminous crust. After the meringue shell is lightly browned, you take it out of the oven, pour warm brandy over the top and light a match…KERBOOM!!!

Well, at least that’s what’s supposed to happen…

As I said, this was the first time I’ve even made Bombe Alaska, and it’s not a dessert I’m even familiar with.

Just to complicate matters further, I significantly altered the recipe. The original recipe used a combination of vanilla ice cream, frozen raspberries and lemon sorbet on a sponge cake base. However, I had a layer of chocolate ice cream on top and a mixture of vanilla and raspberries inside and I replaced the sponge cake with a gooey Flourless Chocolate Cake. After finding out the mix for the chocolate cake was big enough to make 2 cakes, I also made some Nutella Buttercream Icing and spread lashings of icing, roasted hazelnuts, Violet Crumble over both cakes and the other cake became home for the Happy Birthday candles.

Unfortunately, the chances of the Bombe working out were always going to be low. The party was being held at a friend’s place and I had to beat up the meringue at home before we left, a good two hours before it headed into the oven. Obviously, that delay was hardly ideal. The other concern was that I didn’t know whether I’d have enough meringue to seal it properly, and I couldn’t just whip up more on the spot. So, I was really taking a huge chance.

Yet, surprisingly I just shrugged off the doubt and the possibility we’d be drinking our bombe out of mugs. However, despite the obvious insanity of proceeding with the bombe, I could sense in my heart that the bombe was meant to be – whether it worked out or not. I was just following orders. BTW, taking a chance like this is very out of character for me. I’m usually quite the perfectionist albeit in a quirky, haphazard guise. I don’t like failure and usually play it safe.

Just before my Bombe Alaska went into the oven. Fingers crossed. Double-crossed.

So, without any further ado, the bombe goes into the oven and there’s a group of spectators hovering around the oven door. We’re intrigued, and rather curious to see what happens when you put ice cream in the oven. It certainly goes against the grain and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Moreover, again I’m wondering why I took on such a risk, and so publicly. What was I thinking? Indeed, was I thinking at all?

The beginnings of trouble in the oven…

All goes well for the first few critical minutes, but it doesn’t take long for trouble to brew. A hole opens up in the meringue and the chocolate ice cream pokes it’s head out. Oh no! I’m hoping it can just manage to hold itself together until the meringue has browned. However, reminiscent of the Christchurch earthquake, the ice cream begins to liquify. More meringue slides down the embankment and it’s pretty clear there’s nothing I can do to salvage the wreck. Yet, I’m still trying to brown the meringue so it’s not just a sticky moat of rawness around the base. Ever the optimist, I haven’t given up yet and I’m still hoping we’ll somehow be able to light the brandy and get the bombe to go off. However, we ended up being a bit confused about what to do with the brandy and how to heat it, and we were also doubtful it would light on the ice cream surface now the meringue had washed away. However, it didn’t work. So, we’ll end up calling this “a learning experience”.

More of a mudslide that a snowy mountain peak, but still a success.

Yet, the Bombe Alaska still tasted really good and still had a lot of theatre, suspense and it made everyone happy. Moreover, it did what it was really intended to do, and that was to show my friend how much I love and value her. It helped to make her birthday extra special, and that’s what I particularly wanted for her as Covid has hit her business really hard and she’s had to do a hell of a lot of soul searching this year. That’s what really mattered, and what’s important about my baking… seeing people smiling inside and out.

So, although the bombe didn’t light and all the meringue fell off in the oven, I still consider it a success and I’m planning to have another go fairly soon at home. See if I can perfect this spectacular dessert and possibly come up with a Christmas variation.

It’s exploding with possibilities.

Have you ever had or baked Bomb Alaska? What are your secrets for getting it to work out? I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 2nd November, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Before you get too comfortable, we’ll need to duck down to the supermarket because I just saw these irresistible Apple & Ricotta Fritters with Cinnamon Sugar on TV. I’ve never made anything like this myself before. However, I’ve been getting quite adventurous lately and really want to give them a whirl. Here’s the link: https://www.farmtofork.com.au/recipe-index/apple-and-ricotta-fritters-with-cinnamon-sugar

Are you tempted as well?

Humph…

Anyway, were you almost shocked like me that it’s now November and another year has almost gone up in smoke? I know this year is 2020, and it’s a year we’d all like to accelerate through, destroy, blow up, delete or all of the above. However, a year is still a year, and good things have happened in 2020. My cousin and his wife had a baby last week and friends got married and we’ve even been to a few parties lately. Of course, we’re rather shielded from the full impact of the virus and also extensive lockdowns here, but I’ve also been researching WWI intensively this year and that puts 2020 into perspective.

Last week was a bit clunky around here. There’s been the ongoing saga of our son’s subject choices for his last year at school and trying to keep him there for another year when he doesn’t need it to go into sound engineering. I’ve been doing my research which is very slow and I must admit I’ve been doing a lot of avoidance. I find it all confusing, and since I went down the university path and that was over 30 years ago, a lot has changed and I’m starting to feel like I’m from the era of the horse and cart (or is that actually his impression of me?) Not much has been said for a few days and he was home sick today. I can’t help wondering if I lie low and don’t say anything, he’ll accidentally get through Year 12 and he’ll at least have that under his belt before he heads off to TAFE to get a trade certificate to get into the sound engineering course he wants to do. However, this is probably too much to hope for and more stress is just around the corner.

Meanwhile, my research is progressing well. I’m still beavering away on my WWI research. I posted yesterday a South Australian farmer I’m researching, Herbert A Stewart who found close to 200 messages in bottles washed up on the beach near his home in Rendelsham , South Australia. He forwarded the letters onto their intended destinations with a cover letter, and there was one day where he found 47 bottles. So, at times he was really under the pump and while this would seem a unconventional way of supporting the war effort, it would’ve made such a difference to the families and friends of these men. I was also surprised to find that some of the messages in bottles thrown overboard in the Great Australian Bight were found in New Zealand. That’s extraordinary. I’ve also found it rather calming and reassuring to think about the ocean currents circulating around the world regardless of everything else that’s going on just like the sunrise and the sunset. There’s that continuity. At least, there was before cllimate change.

This afternoon, I went for a quick walk along the beach. Even though it’s almost Summer here, a cold wind was blowing and so I just did my walk and didn’t hang about. Not unsurprisingly, I almost expecting to find piles of bottles scattered across the beach after doing all my research. However, there wasn’t much to see on our beach today….just a jellyfish.

Meanwhile, it’s getting quite late. So, I’m going to head off.

So, what’s been going on for you? I hope you’re okay and keeping safe.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali: https://eclecticali.wordpress.com/

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 21st September, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I don’t know whether most of you are aware, that I usually post my coffee share late on Monday night Sydney time, and I view sharing what happened on my weekend as a feature of my posts, as much as what happened during the previous week. This is one of the benefits of being ahead on the International time zone front. However, on nights like tonight, I’ve moved well onto the next week and almost forget to post. Indeed, I’ve almost forgotten what happened last week.

Yet, I haven’t forgotten my quest to find the elusive Waratahs in our local National Park…or my success (which you can read about in my previous post). I haven’t forgotten that walk either because I slipped and did a bit of what my husband refers to as “rock surfing”. It wasn’t a major fall. However, as I was sliding down, I realized my leg was in an awkward position and was being twisted in opposite directions. Clearly, that wasn’t good and in a moment of terror, I thought I was about to break my leg. I managed to jiggle my leg a little which might’ve saved the day. However, although I was able to hobble back to the car, it didn’t stop Geoff from having to step in once again as my knight in shining armour… and it still hurts.

I was quite enchanted by the shadows the gum trees cast across the bush track. Could be rather haunting as well.

Last Tuesday, I set off driving towards nearby Patonga through the Brisbane Waters’ National Park in search of the elusive Waratah, which is not only our state’s floral emblem, it’s also the ruby in her crown. I was fortunate to spot a cluster of Waratahs just beside the road and was absolutely smitten. They’re just beautiful.

I also went for a brief bushwalk across the road a long a fire trail which leads onto the Great North Walk. I wasn’t so interested in that at this point. Rather, I was pursuing the Spring wildflowers. Although 2020 has been a bad year in so many ways, it’s actually been a great year for the wildflowers here. That’s probably because we had somegood solid rains over the last couple of months. However, I’m also tempted to question whether the very adversity which has given us humans such challenging circumstances has actually caused these masters of adversity to thrive? Our fauna is rough and rugged and you just need to check out the sharp, leathery leaves of many of our plants, to realize they’ve got it tough. Moreover, quite a number of the gum trees I saw had been burned most likely during burn offs, but we’ve also had a few fire bugs lighting fires over there. So, who knows? Well, it wouldn’t take much for me to find out, as there are very few secrets around here, but I’ve been quite busy so the mystery will have to remain for awhile yet.

This plant’s known colloquially as “Egg & Bacon”.

In addition to getting out for my walks and doing some photography, I’ve also been doing a fair bit of baking. Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of baking last week as I had a few things on. There was a batch of chocolate chip and hazelnut cookies. Then, I made a pavlova to take to a friend’s birthday. Saturday turned into a big bake. I made a Bran Cake with dates and apricots for my Dad as a belated Father’s Day gift. I’d also been asked to make a birthday cake for our Pastor’s birthday for Sunday. She likes lemon and so I made a lemon sour cream cake and baked it in a rose-shaped bundt tin my mother gave me awhile back. I drizzled it with lemon icing and sprinkled it with finely chopped strawberries. There wasn’t much of that cake to go round. So, I also made a chocolate cake in a silicone mould shaped like a castle. Unfortunately, I had trouble getting it out and it started to crumble. In fact, it resembled more of a jumping castle. However, those of you who have made a few cakes in your time, will know the power of a bit of strategically placed icing and decoration. I’d always planned to cover it with chopped up Violet Crumble, but it turned out better than I thought and the honeycomb turned into bricks. I thought it needed some kind of character in the cake and I found a dude in a bag of stuff heading to the charity shop. You beauty! The cakes had balloons added and they were walked down the aisle for Happy Birthday. I thought it was quite funny seeing them there getting the royal treatment, especially after my troubles with the castle cake. However, they were very popular, and they had a good laugh. Thought all my mishaps were intentional. Should’ve kept my mouth shut. However, baking is something that usually keeps me humble. It doesn’t take much for a triumph to become a tragedy. I also bake not only because I enjoy it and eating the goods, but also to cheer people up and make them happy. Indeed, I’m becoming more and more convinced of the power of food to help you feel better, which doesn’t bode well for those trying to diet and wanting to break those bonds. I can be quite a bad influence.

Meanwhile, our son has had an important series of exams at school. He will start Year 12 in a few weeks’ time, which is our final year of school. Geoff and I were clearly more stressed about it than he was and I don’t know whether I want him to do poorly to learn the value of hard work. Or, have naturally ability and come through. It’s a bit hard to pull that off at this stage of the game, but he could be lucky.

Lastly, our efforts to clear out some of the stuff from our house and yard are ongoing. My old electric recliner went and we put a very old airconditioning unit out the front which was so heavy it took two people to lift it, and it was gone in 15 minutes. We suspect someone’s carted it off to the metal recyclers. We’re also in the process of dismantling an old piano. A friend didn’t want the piano as a whole but is interested in the bits and pieces. I’m keeping the keys and the pedals to mount on the wall and he’s taking much of the rest. However, it needs to be destringed before it goes, which is going to be a beast of a job and also potentially dangerous.

Lastly, I’m not sure whether I’ve mentioned much about buying a Yamaha MX88 keyboard synthesizer in lieu of the piano. Or, whether you’re aware that I play the violin. Well, I thought that if I’m going to play the piano that I should learn to play “Piano Man”. However, my husband made me feel like my rendition was in a coma. It was too slow. However, it sounded much better when I played it on my violin. Does that make it “The Violin Woman”? I’m not sure, but I’m persevering and enjoying myself and I am improving. I’ll just repeat that. I am improving.

Anyway, how have you been? I should’ve offered you a tea or coffee at the outset and a slice of something. However, I glossed over all the formalities this week and didn’t make a big song and dance over it all.

Anyway, I hope you’ve had a great week.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Alli here: https://eclecticali.wordpress.com/2020/09/18/weekendcoffeeshare-oh-right-i-also-did-things-last-weekend/

Best wishes,

Rowena