Tag Archives: afternoon tea

Weekend Coffee Share – 2nd June, 2019.

Welcome Back for Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Hope you like your banana cake served up with a side serve of chewed up tennis ball and a pair of beady-eyed dogs glaring at you to throw the ball. I also offer apologies for the other dog, Lady, who’ll be glaring at your cake and looking like she’s posing for Vogue Magazine with those puppy dog eyes.

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I’m sorry I missed you all last weekend. Last Saturday, I drove our daughter up to Newcastle for the regional school aerobics championships. This was the first time I’ve seen our daughter competing, and I was getting my head around it all. There were similarities with the dance and the dance eisteddfods she’s done, and yet this was new territory. Stylistically, it is reminiscent of jazz dance and the sort of aerobics I used to do too many moons ago. However, these girls had speed, agility and nose-breaking high kicks which placed it in a different league. That’s where the similarities with the dance ended. The girls were wearing white Reeboks instead of dance shoes and were referred to as “athletes”. Their team came first, which means they’re off to State. That’s all very exciting, although I am wondering how any child of mine could even make it into the school team. When I was at uni, I wrote an article entitled “Unco Aerobics”. In keeping with my poor sense of direction, I ended up facing the class instead of the front.

While we were in Newcastle, we headed off to The Junction, which is quite an upmarket, arty part of Newcastle. That could also read “expensive”. However, Mum’s cousin and her husband owned a Mexican restaurant down there called Munchos which was a real institution in Newcastle. Unfortunately, she passed away and Mum’s aunt and uncle passed away before that and so Newcastle has this sense of making a pilgrimage and this now focuses on the family restaurant, Talulah, where I found an old, dying piano out on the footpath this time and it really spoke to me about all these family members who have passed and all the times we had together.  I still remember Mum’s uncle returning from a spear fishing trip with a lobster when I was a child and how he drove this very shiny red and black taxi which lived in the garage under the house. What happened to all of that? How can entire worlds just disappear like that and why do I feel like the last one left standing when I’m not. Surely, I’m not the only one who feels like they’re living among the dead, not in a morbid way but with the memories which quite concrete. Something I can touch. Someone I can hold and still feel their vibrant laughter.

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Anyway, on this visit we ended up having afternoon tea at the cafe across the road as I was wanting cake. I needed cake after that dreadful getting lost driving to Newcastle experience and you can’t keep pouring yourself into your kids as a parent without refueling yourself. Moreover, I make no apologies for turning to food to do that. I had a variation of Creme Brulee and Miss was hungry too. So, there went the budget enhanced by a few superb finds at the local Red Cross Opportunity Shop.  It’s okay. We could survive on dry Vegemite toast. However, our teenage son disagreed.

Speaking of our son, he placed at the school athletics carnival last week. He was in the 400 metres relay which came in second. This came as a complete surprise. Our kids have never come home with a ribbon before and while our son does a lot of long-distance hiking with scouts, he’s on the computer every waking minute he’s not at school or in an arranged activity. So, it was a bit of a surprise to find out there’s a hidden athlete in there somewhere. I did ask him if he was off to zone and his reply was priceless: “Hope not!” His enthusiasm was clearly underwhelming.

I’m still beavering away on my research and book project. However, while I’ve made some enormous leaps forward, I can’t help feeling that I’ve headed backward. That perhaps if I’d written this story at the start with the little I had, I’d have my story done and dusted by now instead of feeling lost in a research wilderness. Have you ever felt like that? I’m sure the story I write once I finally put pen to paper will be a much more textured and complex tale than something I’d have rushed off. However, I was hoping to be further down the track.

By the way, my concept is to write a series of short biographical stories about a few of our stand-out ancestors. It was supposed to be fairly straight-forward because I’ve already researched the bulk of them. However, I decided to launch off with our first arrivals in Australia and that came down to Richard Keep on Geoff’s side who arrived in Sydney in 1808 and John Paton who arrived in 1818 on mine. Unfortunately, being right back at the beginning of our Australian story, they’re the ones I knew least. So, there’s been a lot of hard work and trying to get my feet into where they’ve come from, their crimes, the voyage to Australia, their time here and their legacies. That’s a lot to cover and then condense into a short story or two. However, I am making progress and I’m loving the journey along the way. An added bonus with John Paton has been the infusion of Scotland’s national poet, Robbie Burns who was living just down the road in his parents’ day and it also turns out that his first illegitimate child (he had a few) was with his mother’s servant by the name of Elizabeth Paton. I haven’t found a connection yet and our Patons were landholders. However, the plot has thickened. Indeed, that’s part of the problem. It’s become so thick I can barely move.

Have you been doing much reading lately? I’ve been reading Fled by Australian authorMeg Keneally and am really loving it. Meg Keneally is the daughter of legendary Australian author, Thomas Keneally who is best known for his story of Oscar Schindler, Schindler’s Ark. Father and daughter have been collaborating on the Monserrat Series and this is Meg’s first solo novel and she has another on the way.

Fled tells the story of Jenny Trelawney…”Highway robber. Convict. Runaway. Mother. She will do anything for freedom, but at what cost?

Jenny Trelawney is no ordinary thief. Forced by poverty to live in the forest, she becomes a successful highwaywoman – until her luck runs out.

Transported to Britain’s furthest colony, Jenny must tackle new challenges and growing responsibilities. And when famine hits the new colony, Jenny becomes convinced that those she most cares about will not survive. She becomes the leader in a grand plot of escape, but is survival any more certain in a small open boat on an unknown ocean?”

Meg Keneally’s debut solo novel is an epic historical adventure based on the extraordinary life of convict Mary Bryant. I heard Meg discuss the novel recently at the Sydney Writers’ Festival where she explained her decision to fictionalize the story as she felt it wasn’t right to put her own words and opinions onto the real Mary Bryant. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of history, and I gripping sea voyage.

Anyway, it’s now almost Monday night and I’m chomping on my dinner while I try to polish this off. It’s one of the advantages of living a day ahead of some of you folk.
This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to come along and join us.
Best wishes,
Rowena

 

Reference:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/popular-fiction/Fled-Meg-Keneally-9781760680275

 

 

Great Get Together Goes Global #MoreInCommon

Lately, I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed by the latest terror attacks in the UK, which as we all know too well, are simply the latest chapters in a much longer story. Despite believing in the power of the pen to overcome the sword and in the power of the individual to change the world, or at least influence the world around them, I am starting to doubt. These attacks are so random and unpredictable and the victims ordinary people…it’s all becoming quite impossible to fathom.

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For those of you who have been following my blog for some time, you’ll know that I’ve been part of a global blogging group 1000 Voices for Compassion, which started up after the attacks on Paris. However, I’d already been speaking out against terrorism  following the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 in the Ukraine and the Lindt Cafe Siege in Sydney. Journalists covering the MH17 disaster, brought back sunflower seeds from the crash site to give to families and friends of the victims. I had written to many of these victims and we sent them red hearts on paddlepop sticks which the kids had made to acknowledge their loss. It wasn’t much, it came from the heart. When I heard that they were offering the sunflower seeds, I put my hat in the ring not expecting anything. However, a few months later, a package arrived in the mail with a tin of seeds, a photo and a beautiful letter wishing: “May your sunflowers bloom.”

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

It took me a year to find the courage to plant those seeds. I am not a great gardener and I didn’t want to destroy something so precious, especially through my usual neglect. However, I was contacted by the cousin of the pilot of the plane who had lost her seeds and I thought I finally had to have a go. Have some faith. As these seedling were growing, I managed to take them to a few local schools to talk about compassion, the love of a stranger and the need to take a stand not only against terrorism, but also to simply treat each other better. These are simple truths. Not rocket science but when we think of changing the world, we usually think so big that we feel overwhelmed and do nothing. It’s so easy to forget that a simple cup of tea can be a stepping stone towards something momentous.

So, tonight when I heard about The Great Get Together which is being held across the UK to honor the life of slain MP Jo Cox, I wanted to get onboard, even though I’m in Australia on the other side of the world. After all, why not take Jo’s message global.

In her maiden speech in Parliament, Jo said: “We have far more in common than that which divides us.”

So, I’d like to invite you to join me for a cup of tea or coffee, toast and Vegemite and even a chocolate Tim Tam. I’d like you to share a bit about yourself and let’s see if we can help join the dots right around the globe.

So, here are our conversation starters. Please leave your answers in the comments below and I ask you to reblog this please. Let’s get the party started!

  • Which country do you live in? How about the city or town you live in?
  • What do you like about where you live? What’s a favourite spot?
  • What is your favourite novel? Why?
  • What is your favourite film? Why?
  • Do you prefer tea or coffee? Why?
  • Introduce your blog and provide a link.

Here are my responses:

I live in Australia with my husband Geoff, our two kids Mr who is 13 and Miss who is 11 and our two dogs. We live in Greater Sydney on Broken Bay a stone’s throw from the beach and a short drive to Brisbane Water, which is protected and ideal for sailing and kayaking. So, we have the best of both worlds, although I tend to appreciate our local area more as a walker with and without the dogs.

What I love most about where we live, is the relaxed atmosphere and the proximity to the hussle and bussle of Sydney, without being in it. Initially, we moved here due to more affordable real estate. However, being away from the thick of it is a real drawcard, which we’re appreciating more and more. My husband commutes to Sydney by train and Sydney is only a train trip away and I also do enjoy that proximity to catch up with family and also get to arty places like Surry Hills.

My Favourite novel. I’m not much of a novel reader. My favourite books are more inspirational and philosophical such as Kilail Gibran’s The Prophet, Mitch Albom’s Tuesday’s With Morrie and Daniel Gottlieb’s Letters to Sam. If you haven’t read these, I highly recommend them.

My favourite film: Casablanca. Years lately, I still go to jelly with so many of those lines and feel a dreadful heartache as I watch the plane take off.

Tea or coffee: I mostly drink decaf tea because I’d be flying if I drank coffee of full strength tea all day. I start the day with a medium strength expresso and will have another if I go to a cafe. I generally have a full strength English Breakfast tea to backup the coffee in the mornind another in the afternoon.

I started Beyond the Flow five years ago as a stepping stone to getting my writing out into the world.My focus at the time was on getting published in the mainstream media and to write and publish books. However, the blog gained a life and purpose of its own, which has also helped me find my voice. This voice surprised me as it was very different to what I’d expected. In the five years I’ve been blogging, there have been many twists and turns. Most notably, there’s been the ups and downs of living with my chronic health conditions…hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain and dermatomyositis, which included a stint of chemo and the uncertainies which go with all of that. I’ve been in remission for 3.5 years now, which hasn’t been smooth sailing. It’s been a very long road for me to find my feet again but I am almost there. My blog is very much about my role as a parent and aspects of that journey with our kids who were 8 and 6 and are now 13 and 11 years old. We have also added another dog to the family. I love how the blog has documented these moments.

Best wishes and I look forward to getting together,

xx Rowena

Do the Milkshake!

Yesterday, my daughter had a friend over and we ended up walking down to a local cafe for a milkshake with the dogs in tow and then onto the beach.

However, these weren’t your average milkshake. Indeed, if you tried doing the milkshake after one of these, your stomach would start to quake. These wacko jacko milkshakes are called Crazy Shakes, and have everything stuck on top but the kitchen sink.  The kids ordered a caramel shake and this came with an entire cinnamon donut parked on top  along with pretzels, popcorn, a caramello koala, a lollypop, possibilly some kit kat, caramel topping and goodness knows what else. Just like our local pie shop makes you sign a waiver before you try their scotchingly hot chilli pies, this place should do the same although I’m not sure how the waiver should read: “Warning: too much gluttonous pleasure contained in this glass?” Or, this milkshake could exceed your annual calorie intake? I’m not sure. I didn’t order one for myself, and ordered a chcolate muffin instead. As nice as it was, it really was “Plain Jane” next to the milkshakes, and I sprinkled some of the kids’ popcorn over the top.

It’s interesting how food trends have changed over the last couple of years. I didn’t bat an eyelid when I saw popcorn or pretzels in the milkshakes. What has become an indulgent take on the norm, would have had you locked up for your own good, a few years ago. That is, unless you were pregnant and could blame it on the cravings.

Anyway, shouting the kids these milkshakes made me feel like the fairy Godmother. “Bad cop” was nowhere in sight.

As I mentioned, we had the dogs with us and they loved being at the cafe. We were sitting outside, which was glorious. Although it’s winter here, sun and blue skies had broken through what had been a week of heavy rain and grey clouds and those warm rays of sunshine felt sooo good! Anyway, Bilbo wandered around the coutryard on border patrol and decided he loved the cafe life when he was given some leftovers. That’s right. It’s perfectly acceptable for dogs to dispose of those delectable leftovers as long as they don’t help themselves off the plate.

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Walking off Indulgence.

After their milkshakes, we strolled down to the beach and walked for a bit. Our struggling beach has been battered further and the erosion and removed more sand and tree cover. While it’s great for those gaining water views across the road, as much as water access would add value to their properties in theory, having your house washed away isn’t quite the same thing. Fortunately, unless there’s a very strong storm, that’s not on the cards…yet.

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Our Beach in Winter.

It was fun walking with the kids and getting to know my daughter’s friend better. While not being gossippy, I’ve found her friends are much more chatty about what’s going on at school and I at least gain some idea of what’s going on. That doesn’t mean that I have my finger on the pulse but at least I might be able to find a pulse if it’s needed.

Amelia looking out to sea

One last point before I head off about this playdate. At 11, the girls are almost old enough to have gone to the cafe themselves and yet they’re not. Not so much because of them as they’re quite capable of ordering, but because of those despicable characters we know are out there and we somehow need to be vigilant without growing out kids up in a dark cupboard. I’m glad they were still happy to have Mum and big brother in tow. We had a wonderful time.

xx Rowena

 

The Brexit… Britain’s Latest Biscuit!

New from UK Biscuit manufacturer McDunk’s comes :”The Brexit”. The Brexit is a plain biscuit designed for biscuit lovers with a less sophisticated palate, who are sick of  Nice and having their biscuits sugar-coated.

Designed to be dunked in either tea or coffee, the Brexit can also be pulverized to make that most English of desserts, Apple Crumble and is versatile enough to use for crumbing meat and makes a flavoursome stuffing for roast chicken.

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The Brexit is perfect for dunking in tea.

Since leaving the EU, the British Government has banned all foreign biscuit imports and Britons have been asked to do their bit to salvage the national economy by buying Brexits. Indeed, they’ve been implored to eat Brexits for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the Prime Minister has engaged Master Chef Heston Blumenthal from the famed Fat Duck Restaurant to produce a cookbook to teach the British public creative ways of cooking with Brexits.

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So popular….the Brexit is gone in a flash!

In recent polls, the majority of Britons voted for the Brexit as Britain’s favourite biscuit, although the Scottish voted overwhelmingly against. They like their oats.

So Britain, enjoy your Brexit but be careful while your dunking it, to ensure that it doesn’t fall in! You wouldn’t want it to drown, would you?!!

Do you have any views on Britain’s exit from the EU? I haven’t been following the debate but I’m certainly interested in the aftermath and am looking to buy a few things from the UK while the exchange rate is good. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and get a bit of discussion going. 

xx Rowena

 

Nigella’s Nutella Cake Revisited.

Nigella Lawson is a legend in the kitchen…the original “Domestic Goddess”.

Sadly, we mere mortals can only dream of finding a magic wand to convert our TV dinners, burnt offerings and tinned spaghetti on toast, into something out of the pages of her cookbooks.

Actually, I’m not a bad cook. Indeed, I am renowned for my pavlova, pancakes, Chocolate Chip Cookies and roast dinners. I’ve even successfully tackled Jamie Oliver’s Lasagna.  Moreover, I’ve also been teaching my kids to cook and I must admit, they’ve also been teaching me. I’m not that arrogant to believe that this teaching the kids stuff is a one-way street. I learn a lot too.

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Nigella’a Nutella Cake with Rowena’s Raspberry Cream.

 

However, my trouble is with consistency, which more and more, I’m also attributing to NOT being in the Masterchef kitchen. I know you’re probably thinking that only a bad cook blames their appliances but you just tell me the last time you saw frozen eggs appear in the Masterchef kitchen? That’s right…NEVER!!!

Indeed, I had NEVER EVER seen frozen eggs before either. By the way, when I say frozen eggs, I’m not talking about the ingredients of an IVF stew. Rather, I’m taking about raw hen’s eggs. I store our eggs in the fridge and somehow the temperature control had been moved and we had frozen eggs. Not all of them, just a few. When I cracked them open, they’d turned into sloppy ice cubes and couldn’t be used..especially for Nigella’s cake, which  was built on fluffy egg white. After all, I could hardly separate the yolk from the white when they were fused together in an amorphous blog of ice. Moreover, freezing destroyed the cell membranes. So, even once the eggs finally defrosted, they were completely useless and looked in need of Viagra. I’ll say no more.

So, when I blame my cooking disasters on my appliances, I’m not just making excuses. It’s true!

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“The Avalanche”…My first Attempt at Nigella”s Nutella Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache.

Indeed, I think there’s some kind of appliance mutiny or rebellion going on in my kitchen and it’s spreading beyond the fridge. In what might seem an unlikely union of forces, the fridge is in cahoots with the oven.

You see, our oven has a faulty fan. That same fan makes your oven “fan-forced”, which makes quite a difference to the temperature of your oven and cooking times. Moreover, when the fan isn’t working, it also means that your food doesn’t cook evenly and horror of horrors, you might need to open the oven door and turn things around. If you know anything at all about baking cakes, especially sponges, you’ll know that opening the oven door is the kiss of death, which deflates your lofty sponge faster than a speeding bullet.

Just to complicate things further, our oven fan sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t and turns itself on and off during a bake.

Clearly, that oven is not my friend.

So, with a faulty oven and frozen eggs, for a second time I set out to replicate Nigella’s Nutella Cake. I don’t know whether you’d say I was brave or crazy because even before I’d melted the chocolate or whipped up the egg whites, there was trouble. While all those motivation types would tell me: “Never give up” BUT haven’t they heard of what’s meant to be? Or, more pertinently, that something “wasn’t meant to be”.

Quite frankly, I don’t think it’s being a a quitter or a loser when you decide to stop banging your head against a brick wall and try something else. Use a lateral approach. Everybody’s different. We’re not all meant to fit into the one, same pair of shoes.

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Our son smothered his slice with Nutella. Found the cake too bitter. That was without the icing. Neither of our kids like dark chocolate.

The other problem I had with Nigella’s Nutella Cake is that my kids didn’t like it. My son slathered his slice in Nutella to mask the “bitter” taste and my daughter didn’t eat it. Even though the cake does have Nutella in it, which my kids absolutely adore, it also has dark chocolate which they can’t stand. Based on their comments, I’d say it’s more of an adult cake and even then, you only need small portions. It’s quite rich. I also felt it I needed raspberries and cream in addition to the generous covering of whole roasted hazlenuts found in Nigella’s original. She also recommends eating it with a glass of Frangelico and perhaps I should have tried that, but it was a busy night.

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I hope half of this is still in the fridge. I’m feeling sick just looking at all that Nutella….even though I really love it!

So, at this stage, I don’t know whether I will make Nigella’s Nutella Cake again…even with my modifications. Most of my cooking is for our family and I can’t see the point of going to so much trouble to make a cake my kids don’t like when there are other cakes and desserts we all enjoy such as Apple Crumble with fresh custard.

Although the recipe says it’s easy, you’re separating eggs, whisking egg whites by hand, melting chocolate, using two separate bowls…that’s a lot of fiddling around and cleaning up for one cake, which I still haven’t been able to perfect on my second attempt. This time, the cake was good but the icing was still runny.

Still, my husband and I enjoyed it.

On a more positive note, I’ve just returned for a second piece 24 hours later and really loved the cake…with or without the cream and will be making it again. The cake much much more moist. The icing had set and it was a great flourless hazlenut chocolate cake. Something I really would be proud to serve for guests. With Masterchef gracing the airwaves, that’s quite an endorsement.

Perhaps, I am a Domestic Goddess after all and my spirit is soaring… on chocolate wings!

My baking no longer human. It’s divine.

xx Rowena

PS I will be posting the recipe in my next post.

 

 

 

 

Strawberry & Macadamia Nut Muffins

Tonight, I converted a healthy punnet of fresh strawberries into scrumptious Strawberry and Macadamia Muffins with dubious nutritional worth.

Not so long ago, I could well have called these “Healthy” without a second thought. No guilt whatsoever… just like banana cake.

However, thanks to the wowsers, “healthy” has now been redefined. No matter how well you disguise it, anything with refined sugar is now evil! This means, of course, that even though my muffins are overflowing with fresh strawberries and macadamia nuts, they’re now “from the wrong side of the tracks”.

Just like me!

I’m usually not just adding evil sugar to my recipes, but also that evil of evils…chocolate!

Indeed, I was sorely tempted to add white or dark chocolate chips to these muffins but resisted.I wanted the strawberries to be the hero. I didn’t want to sacrifice their flavour to the chocolate and see how the muffins went without it.

We didn’t miss the chocolate. We ate our muffins hot straight out of the oven. With their lush strawberry flavour and macadamia nut crunch, they were scrumptious.

These muffins would make a delicious treat with a refreshing cup of tea, with enough goodness to escape being what I’d call an “indulgence” and you don’t have to feel too guilty after all.

strawberries

 

After all, strawberries are packed full of goodness. They’re an excellent source of antioxidant-promoting vitamin C and manganese. They are also a very good source of dietary fiber, iodine, and folate. Plus, strawberries are a good source of copper, potassium, biotin, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, and omega-3 fatty acids.

All that goodness tells me, it’s time to go and grab seconds before I miss out!

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Strawberries, Macadamias and Sugar…Yum!

Strawberry & Macadamia Nut Muffins

Ingredients

  • 180 ml (3/4 cup) milk
  • 80 grams butter, melted (1/3 cup or 5 1/3 Tbsp.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 475 grams sifted flour (2 cups)
  • 160 grams caster sugar (2/3 cup)
  • 2 teas baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 punnet fresh strawberries
  • 120 grams chopped macadamia nuts
  • Extra castor sugar & chopped macadamia nuts for topping.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 180 °C (400°F)
  2. Grease the bottoms only of 12 standard-size muffin cups, or line with paper wrappers; set aside.
  3. Finely chop all but 3 of the strawberries and put aside.
  4. Finely chop roasted Macadamia nuts.
  5. Melt butter in the microwave on high for around a minute.
  6. In a large bowl, beat together the milk, melted butter, and egg.
  7. Stir in the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt just until combined; do not overmix.
  8. Gently fold in the strawberries and macadamia nuts.
  9. Hull and slice through strawberries and place a slice on top of each muffin.
  10. Roughly chop Macadamia nuts and sprinkle around the slice of strawberry.
  11. Sprinkle the top of each muffin finely with castor sugar.
  12. Spoon batter into the prepared tins; sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
  13. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until golden and puffed.
  14. Immediately invert onto wire racks.
  15. Serve warm or cool.

Enjoy with Love!

xx Rowena

A Queensland High Tea.

Leaving behind Bangalow Markets, we were back onto the interminable Pacific Highway heading back over the Queensland border for High Tea at the Old Teahouse Gallery in Mudgeeraba in the lush Gold Coast hinterland. With traffic ever unpredictable, we arrived an hour early, giving us time for explorations and an impromptu photo shoot.

This was stage two of my Sister-In-Law’s 60th Surprise Birthday Party. I must admit it was getting harder to keep the secret quiet, especially when she’d asked us when we were heading home the night before. I’m not a good liar.

Although we’d been on quite a journey, this house is surprisingly well travelled. Nothing like splitting a house in two, sticking it on the back of a truck and moving it around.

In 1911, it was originally built in Scarborough Street, Southport. Salvaged from demolition, it was cut in half and moved into a historic pioneer village, The Settlement. In April 1995, the house was sold, cut in half once again and moved to its current location in Mudgeeraba, nestled among gigantic eucalypts and palms. No wonder it hasn’t moved since. It no doubt wants to put down roots and settle down.

Mama RJL in front of house

If you are not familiar with Queenslander houses, they have their own unique charm and have been designed to suit the hot, wet Queensland climate:

“The Australian tropical house conjures a vision of a large sprawling timber structure on stumps with an extensive, deep, shaded verandah accessed via French doors. The roof is iron and the pitch is steep. A bougainvillaea, a Mango tree, and or a Frangipani adorn the front garden of the house. The primary reason for the development of the Queenslander was the climate. The long hot summer days often ended with a torrential downpour. A house with wide verandahs that provided shelter from these conditions was essential. The importance of the verandahs as an architectural element in a tropical Australian house cannot be underestimated because it is one area which lent itself to an informal semi-outdoor lifestyle suited to the climate. The verandah became an integral part of every house and their use an essential part of the Australian way of life. The cool space framed with white posts, decorative balustrades and brackets became a symbol of the tropical house as an essential link between the indoors and the outdoors.

http://traditionalqueenslanders.com.au/History-of-The-Queenslander.php

Roderick Street

My Grandparents’ Queenslander House.

Stepping into the Old Teahouse Gallery, we weren’t only experiencing its history. Indeed, we were returning to my grandparents’ Queenslander home in Ipswich and retracing the footsteps of my great grandparents and their parents and even their parents before them. My grandmother’s family were Queensland pioneers in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Bowen.

So, as I’m sure you’ll understand, being inside this pretty Queenslander House, brought back so many bitter-sweet memories. My grandparents have passed away. Their Queenslander home has been sold. And, we don’t cross over the border often now either.

Memories, light the corners of my mind
Misty water color memories of the way we were
Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind
smiles we gave to one another
for the way we were.

The Way We Were.

Portrait Mama & Papa

My Grandparents.

Indeed, my memories of my grandparents are so vivid and real, that I can almost reach out and touch them again. Say hello. Give them a hug. Hear their unforgettable voices again. Then, those visions brutally fade and they’re gone. Just like phantom limb pains, my renewed grief is like that macabre, intense itch on a missing foot. Memory’s now hacking through my heartstrings like a blunt knife, severing those precious ties all over again. A desperate beggar, I fall to my knees. Please…just one last cup of tea, one last chat? Then again, I can’t help being greedy and wanting more.

Indeed, I would love my grandmother to meet my kids and for them to know her. I’d love them to go fishing with my grandfather with his handmade line, frugally wrapped around an old lemonade bottle. How I’d love them to hear his stories. He was famous for his stories. They might have been the same old stories and I still remember the annoyance: “We’ve already heard that one”. Little did we know, that he’d outlive his stories, his memories and that laugh would be silenced long before we’d say goodbye.

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Visiting my grandfather with the kids, looking at my son’s Fisher Price laptop. Our visit brought his right out of his shell. It was incredible!

You see, my grandfather developed Alzheimer’s, that cruel disease which snatches away more than just your memories. Like a blasted thief striking during the night, the disease took him away too. At least, the man we knew and who knew us… not that we loved him any less. Perhaps, feeling him slip away, we even loved him more!

Goodbye

My grandfather waving goodbye as my grandmother stands at the top of the stairs.

Yet, while there were all those spangled threads of memories past, with a spider’s architectural genius, we were weaving new threads into a dazzling web. Down the end of the table, the children sparkled, back lit by the sun. Our son sat at the head of their table, surrounded by the girls wearing floral garlands…almost “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes”.

High tea kids

The kids enjoying a magical high tea.

Time for tea.

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The table was beautifully presented and we each had our own, unique vintage tea cup, saucer and plate. Nothing beats tea in a vintage bone china tea cup, except when you have a smorgasbord of specialty teas to choose from.We were presented with what I’ll call a tea tray with over twenty different varieties of tea in little jars. It was very hard to choose only one and inhaling the rich scents of “Creme Brulee”, “Fruits of the Forest”, orange, cinnamon, raspberry… What bliss!

 

I chose Creme Brulee. Please don’t ask me to describe the specifics. I’m not the tea equivalent of one of those wanky wine tasters who can find “plum” in a grape. What I will say, however, is that the tea tasted fresh and very smooth. That’s as good as my description gets.

However, High Tea isn’t just about tea and fancy dresses. It’s also about dainty, edible morsels in miniature.

Considering we hadn’t had lunch and our sitting started at 2.ooPM, our family was ravenous. Naturally, I wondered whether all these small morsels were going to be enough to satisfy our enormous appetites. Was this going to be one of those places where you need to dip down the road for “real food” after paying $50.00 for a lettuce leaf on a huge white plate? I hoped not!

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However, I needn’t have worried. There was plenty and each morsel was scrumptious. There were savouries, macaroons, mille feuille, mini scones with rich dollops of jam and cream. By the way, the scones were soft and moreish and nothing approaching ammunition. Scones are hard to get right and a good test of culinary ability.

By the time the scones appeared and quickly disappeared, I was starting to think about what we’ll call “an elegant sufficiency”.

There can be a fine line between hungry and gluttony.

Thank goodness, I just made it!

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Alas! You can’t lick your plate at High Tea!

It was time to head back over the border ready for the long drive home.

Have you ever been out for high tea? Please do share and link through to any posts.

Xx Rowena

Anybody looking at savour the delights of high tea at the Old Teahouse Gallery can check out their website at http://www.theoldteahousegallery.com

 

Two-Faced Chocolate Caramel Slice

Indulgent and decadent, entire kingdoms have been sacrificed for that very last piece of Chocolate Caramel Slice. It’s that good!

To the uninitiated, Chocolate Caramel Slice is a three-tiered wonder with a coconut biscuit base, a rich caramel filling based on condensed milk and golden syrup and melted chocolate on top. When compared to the more traditional sponge cake or scone, Chocolate Caramel Slice is a relative newcomer. I remember Mum arriving home from bridge with the recipe back in the early 80’s like she’d won the proverbial lottery. That recipe must have spread like wild fire and it seems to be a mandatory inclusion for any fundraising cookbook.

These days, although you can buy Chocolate Caramel Slice just about anywhere, in my experience, the bought varieties are usually a serious disappointment. While it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate, they usually leave the coconut out of the base. For me, that coconut is a must which adds to the overall richness and beauty of this decadent slice. Moreover, the caramel filling is often undercooked, pale and insipid… not rich and golden in colour. To my thinking, the caramel layer should also be about double the thickness of the base and more than just a miserly “scrape”. When this slice is made properly and I dare say that requires a good dose of love from the cook, it has a generous slathering of rich, oozy, melt in your mouth and all over your fingers caramel, a luscious chocolate topping and a rich, chewy base infused with coconut. That, as I’ve said, is pure indulgence and something only the strictest of dieters can somehow resist. After all, isn’t there a diet exemption clause for just a little taste of pure indulgence? We can’t be good all of the time!!

You might recall that the focus of our cooking efforts at home is teaching the kids how to cook. I try to make the recipes first myself to work out whether they are suitable to cook with the kids and how to go about it.

To be honest, I don’t really recommend baking Chocolate Caramel Slice with kids and it’s certainly not something they can bake themselves with minimal adult supervision. It involves boiling fats, hot caramel and hot melted chocolate and copha. Children could easily sustain nasty burns. That said, children could do the stirring in the bowl and sifting. However, while there are much more appropriate recipes to bake with kids, our kids love to eat this slice and it’s good to make for them. My kids are very picky about their food, even the sweet treats they’ll eat and this has been a real hit!!

Being so rich, I’ve found that I only need a small piece to satisfy my rather chronically demanding sweet tooth so it’s much better for me than my usual night time treat…hazelnut chocolate. Somehow the block just seems to disappear…

Yet, as much as I love Chocolate Caramel Slice, I would have to classify it as a special, indulgent treat or what children know as a “sometimes food”. It’s full of fat and sugar and given the amount of chocolate and condensed milk involved, it’s more expensive than many alternatives which you’d bake for the kid’s lunchboxes. It is a definite treat but given how little we entertain, a treat can be for the family just as much as for guests. It doesn’t always require a special occasion although you could perhaps make up your own…International Caramel Slice Day, for example. It sounds good to me!

I have called our version of this favourite: “Two-Faced Chocolate Caramel Slice” because our version is half dark chocolate and half milk chocolate. It was quite tricky to execute but it worked and that meant we didn’t need to compromise. Everybody gets what they want but it might make fighting for the last piece, a little bit tricky. Something tells me that the kids’ milk chocolate stash is going to be the first to run out.

Be careful to allow plenty of time to bake the slice. It needs to be chilled in the fridge for at least an hour in between steps 2 and 3 and again for around an hour at the end to set the chocolate. This isn’t something you can rustle up quickly right as your guests are turning up.

The Recipe: Two-Faced Chocolate Caramel Slice

Ingredients

 

Base

  • 2 cups plain flour, sifted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 250g butter, melted

Filling

  • 2 x 400g can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 120g butter, melted

Topping

  • 60g copha, chopped
  • 125g cooking chocolate, chopped
  • 60g copha
  • 125g milk chocolate, chopped.

Directions:

Turn oven on to 180°C and line a deep 32cm x 23cm lamington tin with baking paper, ensuring that the baking paper comes up the sides of the tin. I always spray a bit of spray oil underneath the baking sheet to hold it in place.

Step 1- Making the Base.

  1. You can simply make the base in a large mixing bowl using a large stirring spoon. You don’t need to use a food processor at all.
  2. Sift flour into the mixing bowl.
  3. Add brown sugar. When measuring the brown sugar, it should be firmly packed. This means you press it down with the spoon. This can make quite a difference to the amount of sugar used.
  4. Stir with a large wooden spoon or equivalent.
  5. To melt the butter, place butter inside a small bowl with steep sides (prevents splattering) and put in the microwave on high for 1 minute or until butter has melted. This may be a job for the supervising adult. Add to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.
  6. Stir until ingredients are well combined.
  7. Press base into prepared tin and bake for 10-12 minutes or until light golden in colour. Be careful not to overcook the base. It will be baked again with the caramel sauce on top and you don’t want it getting too hard or burned.
  8. Put the base aside to cool down for 15 minutes. This is about the length of time it takes to make the caramel filling.

Step 2- Caramel Filling

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium-large saucepan on moderate heat. Stir for about 8 minutes or until golden in colour and butter has melted.
  2. Pour over prepared base and spread evenly with a butter knife.
  3. Bake in a moderate oven for about 8-12 minutes or until firm.
  4. Refrigerate for about 1-2 hours to set the caramel before adding the chocolate topping.
  5. The caramel can be made successfully in the microwave but I haven’t tried it.

Step 3-Chocolate Topping.

Perhaps, your family is easy to please and shares the same preference for either milk or dark chocolate.

In that case, place 250g chopped chocolate and 120g chopped copha into a largish heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until melted. Pour over the caramel. Refrigerate to set. Skip forward to serving instructions.

However…

If your family is like our family where my husband and I both like dark chocolate and the kids refuse to eat dark chocolate and only eat milk, read on. Our kids are so fussy that our son won’t even eat Cocoa Pops!

This means that I often have to choose between using milk or dark chocolate when I bake and that means someone is always a bit disappointed. This usually means going with the milk chocolate because I need something for the kids’ lunchboxes and they need the calories more than Geoff and myself. I hate throwing any food out but throwing away my lovingly prepared home baking, is too much to bear. Quite often, I end up eating it myself but I certainly don’t need an entire, double-strength Chocolate Caramel Slice all to myself. That will undo at least a year’s worth of walking the dog!

Anyway, because this is a double mixture, I decided to make a half n half topping- half dark and half milk chocolate.

Good idea, but getting the chocolate to stay put proved rather tricky.

Two-Faced Caramel Chocolate Slice with Milk and Dark Chocolate.

Two-Faced Caramel Chocolate Slice with Milk and Dark Chocolate.

Directions for Half ‘n Half Chocolate Topping.

  1. Place the caramel slice onto the bench and find a butter knife and stick that halfway along to act as a barrier or retainer for the chocolate.
  2. Melt the milk chocolate and Copha first in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until melted. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to cool down so it is not so runny. Pour over caramel. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to contain the spread.
  3. Now melt the dark chocolate and Copha in the same heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. There is no need to wash the bowl in between as the dark chocolate in stronger in flavour.
  4. Rest the dark chocolate for about 10 minutes again so it is not so runny and is easier to contain. Carefully pour the melted dark chocolate onto the other side of the butter knife and spread to the edges of the tin.
  5. Refrigerate until chocolate has set.

To serve

  1. Lift the slice out of the tin onto a large chopping board.
  2. If the slice is too hard, then leave it on the bench for about 30 minutes so it’s easier to cut. Run a large, heavy knife under boiling water. Wipe it dry and press down into the slice and cut into squares, trying not to crack the chocolate.

Indulge!

Xx Rowena

Absolutely scrumptious!

Absolutely scrumptious!

Confession Time…How it really went!

If you have read any of my previous baking posts, you will know that I am a bit of a “je ne sais quoi” in the kitchen. That’s not to say that I’m a bad cook. I’m actually quite a good cook but things happen. I could excuse myself by saying that I still have chemo brain but there’s always been an element of chaos in me. These organisational “challenges” begin with my “organised enough” pantry and end with me sending Geoff on an urgent sprint mid-cook to hunt down and slay the missing essential ingredient, the modern equivalent of the traditional animal hunt.

While researching for this cooking project, I came across this wonderful French professional cheffing term, or should I say method: “mise en place”. Literally translated, it means “put in place” and refers to having all your ingredients measured and ready to use as the recipe directs. This means transforming my “cook as I go” cooking chaos into something like a TV cooking demonstration. You know what they’re like. They always magically have something “prepared earlier” and all the ingredients are precisely and clinically measured and ready to go. Unfortunately, we don’t have one of those kitchen fairies. Instead, we have the pantry monster who devours ingredients which were clearly left where they belonged in their specific place on the shelf. Of course, we have a place for everything and everything in its place but then the greedy, devouring pantry monster comes along and gobbles it all up when my back’s turned…or it takes great delight in hiding things and shuffling everything around behind my back.

That’s what happened to the coconut while I was baking the Chocolate Caramel Slice. I was sure there was coconut in the pantry somewhere. It’s an ingredient we use quite a lot and I can usually direct my hand through the rubble and locate it immediately. Not so yesterday and rather than pulling everything out performing a serious search and rescue operation, I sent Geoff to the shop on his way home from work. I was spared!

The slice has been a big success. However, not everyone shares my philosophy about the biscuit base (coconut and all) being an essential part of the overall taste experience. Our ten year old son, in typical kid fashion, ate the caramel and chocolate off the top and then called out: “Can I give this to the dog?

No respect! Absolutely no respect!

Road Testing the Iced Volvo…I mean Vovo.

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It’s shaped like a Volvo and moves like a Volvo but the Iced Vovo is actually a biscuit. In Portuguese, “vovo” means Grandpa, which seemingly has nothing to do with the actual biscuit. After all my extensive investigations, I still have no idea what a “vovo” is. It just doesn’t have 4 cylinders.

The biscuit itself was first registered by Arnott’s in 1906 and their web site describes it “as a symphony in pink.” I don’t have anything against Iced Vovos, however, I’d hardly call them a symphony. After all, it is a fairly plain, subdued biscuit and its demure shade of pink  conjures up afternoon teas at the nursing home….nice but nothing flash.

For awhile there, the Iced Vovo was looking like a bit of a has been and just couldn’t keep up with the likes of the Tim Tam and Mint Slice. However, just when you thought it was gasping its last breaths, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd brought the Iced Vovo out of the closet (or was that the pantry?) in his 2007 Victory speech:
“Friends, tomorrow, the work begins,” Rudd said.” You can have a strong cup of tea if you want, even an Iced Vovo on the way through. But the celebration stops there.”
Arnott’s subsequently sent a pallet load of Iced Vovo’s over to Parliament House and the Iced Vovo was back.

That’s a little bit of history.

Recently, Mum and my husband, Geoff, were discussing the Iced Vovo convinced that they weren’t quite what they used to be. Somehow, the icing wasn’t quite as spongy and had become quite hard. Mum and Geoff both like coconut ice so I could understand why they fancied the humble Iced Vovo but I couldn’t really comment on its finer subtleties. To me, they’re the biscuit you have when you’re not having a Tim Tam, Mint Slice, Monte Carlo, Kingston and it is possibly ranked just in front of Orange Creams…perhaps a tie with Scotch Finger Biscuits.

In other words, they’re not a favourite.

It’s never crossed my mind to bake Iced Vovo’s before. I don’t think I’d seen a recipe for them either. However, I came across one while sorting through some old recipes and thought I’d give it a whirl. I noticed that you have to melt pink marshmallows to make the pink icing and that seemed kind of fun. I’ve always loved toasting marshmallows on a stick over a hot camp fire. It’s quite magical really.

So let’s get started.

Making the biscuit part was pretty straight forward. I powered up the Sunbeam and everything went according to plan.

Then the fun began… melting marshmallows…Mmm! Yum! I had to melt the marshmallows in a saucepan with a bit of butter. My daughter and I loved watching the marshmallows melt away into a hot and sticky puddle and she loved doing the stirring. We added the icing sugar and it all came together well. Now things started to get a bit more tricky. I had to spread a stripe of icing on either side of the biscuit, leaving room for a stripe of raspberry jam in the middle. As much as I thought the kids would enjoy doing this bit, I was too much of a control freak to let them have a go. I had to do it myself…at least this time round. I had to get them right!

This was where the trouble began. You see, I’m more of a broad brushstroke type…an expressionist. I’m not really into fiddley detail. When it comes to things like colouring in, I couldn’t really be bothered staying within the lines. Boundaries are meant to be broken, challenged, extended, aren’t they?!!

It turns out with all these straight lines, that the Iced Vovo is actually quite a fussy little biscuit to make, requiring great attention to detail. That’s not my scene. To compound things further, as everybody knows, melted marshmallow is sticky, very sticky and quite elastic. It doesn’t just sit on the biscuit and stay put. It has a mind of its own. It’s extraordinary stuff really. As much as I like melting marshmallows over a camp fire, it’s quite a different experience having melted marshmallow icing stuck all over your fingers. It actually feels quite yucky in a way and I had to keep washing my hands. Perhaps I am a little bit fussy after all.

I also struggled to apply the marshmallow icing in perfectly straight lines and perhaps a ruler might have been useful but the coconut hid a few sins… so far so good.

Next, it was time to apply a GT stripe of warm raspberry jam along the centre of the biscuit. My jam had a few lumps of fruit, giving the biscuit a slightly blobby or even exuberant appearance depending on whether you want the Lady Gaga version bursting at the seams or something more demure. They do look quite indulgent from a distance with all that jam oozing out.

In the end, the results weren’t too bad. Actually, they were pretty fabulous but they were a lot more exuberant and irregular than the packaged variety. Anyway, what could I expect? A handmade biscuit isn’t going to look anything like something made by a machine. It’s going to have imperfections and irregularities which are, of course, part of their charm. That is a big reason for home baking… you don’t just want to replicate what you can already buy in the shops. Moreover, home made always tastes so much better as well!

The Iced Vovos were an instant hit with the kids. Jonathon’s biscuit had a huge gloop of marshmallow icing dripping down the side. He said: “Mummy, it’s like bubblegum.” That’s all he had to say. He was halfway through his biscuit by this stage and all he could manage was a thumbs up. Amelia loved them so much that she actually ate three for afternoon tea. She eats like a sparrow so that was a very positive endorsement. She won’t even eat my most scrumptiously scrumptious choc chip cookies so that was a glowing endorsement. I loved them and were a vast improvement on the commercial variety. I enjoyed mine with a cup of camomile tea in my butterfly teacup. Geoff loved them too but did point out that you couldn’t package these up.

The last word, however, has to go to the marshmallow icing. When this stuff sets, it has some very interesting properties. The mixing spoon was literally glued to the plate and as you’ll see in the photos, you could hold the plate upside down and it didn’t fall off. I wouldn’t say it was superglue but it did a pretty good job. It tasted great too. Perhaps, there’s an untapped market there… marshmallow glue!

Now, it’s your turn.

Enjoy!

xx Rowena

 

The Recipe:   Iced Vovos

Ingredients:

For the Biscuit:

  • 60 g butter
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup plain flour
  • 2/3 cup self-raising flour

For the icing:

  • 1 (100 g) package pink marshmallows
  • 40 g butter
  • 1/4 cup sifted icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/3 cup raspberry jam

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Line oven trays with baking paper.

To Make the Biscuit:

  1. Beat the softened butter and the sugar until light and creamy.
  2. Add the egg and beat until combined.
  3. Fold in the sifted flours.
  4. Turn dough onto floured surface and knead gently for 1 minute or until smooth.
  5. Roll dough out between two sheets of baking paper to 4mm thickness.
  6. Use a knife or fluted pastry wheel to cut dough into 5 x 6 cm rectangles and place on prepared trays- allow room for spreading.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden.
  8. Cool on trays and then transfer to a wire rack.

Cool on the trays.

Icing:

  1. Combine the marshmallows and butter in a small pan and stir over low heat until melted and smooth.
  2. Stir in icing sugar.
  3. Put coconut on a sheet of greaseproof paper and working quickly, spread about a quarter teaspoon of icing along each side of biscuits, leaving a bare strip the length of the biscuit in the middle.
  4. Dip the iced biscuit in the coconut and shake off the excess.
  5. Put jam in small pan and heat gently until thinned and warm.
  6. Spread the warmed jam down the centre of the biscuit.

ENJOY!