Tag Archives: Christmas holidays

A wet and misty day in paradise.

A wet and misty day in paradise.

 

Looking very much like a scene from a Northern winter, it's summer in Sydney...not quite your postcard perspective!!

Looking very much like a scene from a Northern winter, it’s summer in Sydney…not quite your postcard perspective!!

Happy Australia Day 2015! It’s overcast, wet and even the cricket has been delayed.

Just in case you didn’t check out yesterday’s post, this was yesterday:

Mister still roasting as a very hot Australian sun sets.

Mister still roasting as a very hot Australian sun sets.

 

People often tell you that tomorrow is another day and most of the time I’ve politely nodded while feeling highly sceptical, cynical and plain unconvinced. How could my entire world change completely overnight like waving a magic wand? Surely, there would just be more and more of the same and one day surely follows another. Why would it change?

Well, overnight, we have seen an absolute change in the weather here in Sydney. Yesterday, there was blue sky and the sun was blazing overhead like an oven. I’ve always meant to actually test whether you can actually fry an egg out on the raod on days like that but eggs are rather messy and I always seem to forget. I’m sure someone somewhere has tried and can tell me if it works but that would somehow spoil the magic.

While our last day in paradise has been spent indoors, I was watching a few yachts sail past and even a couple of what I could only call zealous kayakers paddle by and then I realised that they were out there carpe diem seiziing the day despite the rain. I didn’t know whether that was a good thing or just blind obsession but as much as I love going out in the kayak, I don’t like that sensation of having wet raindrops patter again your skin. It’s sort of creepy…as in scraping fingertails down a chalkboard kind of creepy. No, I’ll stay inside.

That said, I am considering a swim in the pool. It was so balmy warm last night. You see, it has solar heating and we haven’t adjusted the settings so it was like swimming in a balmy soup. Yes, it’s going to need a good dose of something when we leave. Unfortunately, at those temperatures it’s going to become amoeba soup.

We will be heading back home tonight. Tomorrow, will be our last day of school holidays where we will be quickly trying to adjust our body clocks to the inevitable early mornings and trying to get all our ducks lined up for the real new year.

At least, I’ve made a list.

Sadly, something tells me that we’ll be relieved just to pull up at school on time with hair done, shoes on and something in the lunchbox. We are still struggling to implement our scouting motto: “Be Prepared”!!

By the way, I still have the boot on my broken foot as we start the new school year and the operatic cough is starting to look like I’ve had whooping cough. While this might excuse me from being wondrously organised for the start of the new school year, that isn’t going to help the kids get a good start or perhaps aiming well beyond our station…actually, get ahead.

Wish us luck!! We really, really need it!!

xx Rowena

Baked with Love: Our Aussie Christmas Cake.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not all that sure that I really like Christmas Cake. Being more of a death-by-chocolate chocoholic, I’d much rather some wickedly indulgent, melt-in-your-mouth, oozy rich chocolate cake. Indeed, I have been known to add the boiled up Christmas fruit to a chocolate cake mix, which was a fabulous alternative to tradition. Yet, like the Canadian salmon swimming upstream to their birthplace to reproduce, I keep returning to my mother’s Christmas cake recipe year after year and reproducing that.

To quote the great but “vintage” Professor Sumner Miller: Why is that so?

Why is it So? Professor Julius Sumner Miller

Well, while the end product might be a bit iffy, the mixture tastes sensational what with all that butter and brown sugar beaten together and that silky smooth divine sweetness when you beat in the eggs. Wow! It’s just the kind of thing that’s going to lure in little fingers, big fingers and if you’re not careful, the dog might even help themselves.

Mister supervising the mixing of the scrumptious brown sugar and butter. Yum!

Mister supervising the mixing of the scrumptious brown sugar and butter. Yum!

But delving into the deepest recesses of my memory, I’m remembering Christmases past when I also needed to stand up on a chair to reach the kitchen bench. My mother used to grease the empty butter wrappers to line the bottom of what is now a prehistoric cake tin. Of course, this shell of silver, Alzheimer’s-inducing aluminum knew nothing of Teflon surfaces and almost seemed designed to grip hold of your precious cake and rip it to bits. This was also in the days before easy-to-use baking paper when life was “Pure & Simple” or smears of greasy butter.

In the nature of family recipes, Mum’s Christmas cake recipe was originally known as “Deidre’s Christmas Cake”. Mum and Deidre went to Music College together and some 50 years later are still close friends and now grandmothers. Deirdre originally found the recipe in the Sydney Morning Herald. Mum has been baking this recipe most of my life and she’s renowned for her small servings of cake about the size of a matchbox. However, over the last couple of years, making the Christmas cake has become my job and I’ve made it with my kids who, of course, love the mixture, licking the beaters and being rough n’ tumble mini Masterchefs-in-training.

Howzat! Geoff gets the bowl...an act of true love and incredible sacrifice!!

Howzat! Geoff gets the bowl…an act of true love and incredible sacrifice!!

Like all good family recipes, there’s always a story to tell: the good, the bad and the ugly.

My story relates to last Christmas when the kids and I hastily made our Christmas Cake in the 3 days I had before I started chemo. While not one for catastrophising and melodrama, I was concerned that the cure might kill me, instead of the cause. With only 3 very short days to get my affairs in order, I frenetically did what I could and what was considered “essential”. For me, that meant having a proper Christmas and that meant baking the Christmas Cake, writing Christmas cards and writing about what was happening. In what was something of a funny, comic sub-plot, my daughter’s best friend who had been living in Poland for the last five years, suddenly arrived in Sydney on holidays during this waiting game before chemo. So my list of essentials also included play dates and baking the traditional Marble Cake with the girls. Miss was so excited to have her friend back and there was no way I was going to let chemo or my health get in the way of that but it was funny the sort of things you get up to while going through chemo. A time when you strangely expect the world to stand still until you’re ready to return to the real world, which, of course, never happens!!

I will blame the upcoming chemo for the “Great Christmas Cake Mistake” where I accidentally and haphazardly used Self-Raising Flour instead of Plain Flour. I didn’t know what this would mean at the time and didn’t think it would be too much of a problem. However, the end product was quite different to the usual Christmas cake. All the boiled fruit had sunk to the bottom and instead of the usually dense cake, which could well substitute a brick through a window, it was comparatively light with a top layer of cake. Rather than being a mistake, Mum and I both wondered whether it was an improvement.

Another thing I’ve discovered along the Christmas Cake journey, is that Christmas cakes are made to be eaten…especially in a hot Australian summer. After a conservative approach to consuming the cake, the weevils beat me to it and the much prized, home-made Christmas cake became bin fodder. I hate any kind of food waste but it was particularly painful throwing out my Christmas cake!

Of course, we all know that organised someone who bakes their Christmas Cake precisely 3 months before Christmas. The 25th September is circled and reserved in their calendar in bright red pen as: “Christmas Cake Day”. However, following in my mother’s footsteps, our cake was made 11 days before Christmas. Oops. I forgot. That was only the first part. There was a considerable amount of mixture left over which didn’t fit inside the pan and is now “maturing” inside my fridge. Made note to self to deal with that tomorrow. I’m very tempted to split it with Geoff and have it for dessert. We have family who eat pudding mix…aoll of the pudding mix instead of cooking it. Somehow, that seems very naughty and indulgent but I’ve enjoyed joining in and it tastes great!

When it came to making this year’s Christmas cake, time was running out and we had a lot on.So that meant baking the cake last Saturday  while Miss was at dance rehearsals and having a mother & son experience with Mister. He’s now becoming quite adept in the kitchen after all our efforts throughout the year.

Mister cuts the butter into "slices of bread".

Mister cuts the butter into “slices of bread”.

This went very well and Mister had great fun turning the slab of butter into “slices of bread” and well as sampling the mixture to ensure it hadn’t been poisoned.

There is something truly fabulous about baking with the kids and sharing that bond together…especially now that they’re not just doing their own thing and throwing ingredients into the mix master willy nilly. Stuffing up the recipe like this used to drive me absolutely wild…such waste! We’ve had a few accidents over the years not to mention experiments and “mixtures” appearing while I’ve been otherwise engaged. The worst took place just before Christmas in 2010 (aged 6 and 4) when the kids created Food-Colouring Soup in several, lurid rainbow colours. As you can see, this was splashed around the kitchen floor like a Rorshauge painting or the proverbial bomb going off.

The Kitchen Crisis...too much creativity and not enough respect.

The Kitchen Crisis…too much creativity and not enough respect.

How would you respond to this catastrophe?

How would you respond to this catastrophe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can just imagine my response. I rang Santa directly and told him not to come!!

I was also thankful that I hadn’t renovated the house at the time. The mess was heartbreakingly bad…widespread destruction!

However, as much as the mess, the accidents and deaf ears can drive me over the edge, cooking is certainly bonding our family together and makes excellent glue. We are now having quite a lot of fun together and the kids are learning very valuable and practical life skills and becoming independent.

So here it is:

A tried and tested tradition: pinching the mixture!

A tried and tested tradition: pinching the mixture!

Mum’s Christmas Cake

The cake is made in two stages. In stage one, the dried fruit is boiled in a saucepan and left to “mature” overnight. Stage 2, is the cake mix.

Boiling the Fruit: Ingredients

2 packed cups Sultanas

1 packed cup Raisins

1.5 cups Currants

1/2 packed cup Prunes – very finely chopped

1/4 cup Mixed Peel (I leave this out)

Finely grated rind 1 lemon & 1 orange

1/4 cup of each of orange & lemon juice

1/4 cup Sherry

1/4 cup Marsala

 Directions

Place the above ingredients in a large saucepan. Cover and cook on low heat stirring occasionally until the fruit is soft. Watch closely as the fruit mix can easily burn. Leave overnight.

Mixture:

210 grams of butter

1.5 cups packed brown sugar

5 eggs

1 lvl tablespoon Plum Jam

10 oz Plain Flour (1 cup + 2 tablespoons)

1/2 Teas Baking Powder

100g Glace Cherries halved

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Blanched Almonds or macadamia nuts

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven on to 150˚C .
  2. Using your mix master, cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add eggs one at a time and then add jam.
  4. Sift dry ingredients and add to mix.
  5. Fold through fruit mix and add chopped glace cherries and blanched almonds or macadamia nuts.
  6. Grease tin and line with baking paper to prevent bottom from burning.
  7. Top cake with blanched almonds or macadamia nuts unless you intend to ice the cake.
  8. Cover cake with foil and check during cooking to prevent the top of cake from burning. Remove during cooking time.
  9. Bake in a slow oven at 150˚C for 3 hours.
  10. Splash a bit of sherry over the top of the hot cake.
  11. Cool in the tin.
  12. Nigella Lawson recommends: when the cake has cooled, wrap it tightly in a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment (parchment paper) followed by a double layer of foil and then store it in an airtight container or tin in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Do not wrap the cake directly in foil as the fruit in the cake can react with the foil. If you are making the cake more than 3 months in advance then you will need to “feed” it occasionally to help it to stay moist. Feeding involves brushing the surface of the cake with a couple of tablespoons of alcohol (brandy, whisky or bourbon are the most popular choices). This is usually done after the cake has been baked, but if storing for a long period we would suggest unwrapping the cake and feeding it every 4 to 6 weeks then re-wrapping it after feeding. http://www.nigella.com/kitchen-queries/view/When-to-Make-Christmas-Cakes/270
  13. Store the Christmas cake in a cake tin, NOT a plastic container as it can go moldy.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry and Blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!!

Love Rowena, Geoff, Mister, Miss, Bilbo & Lady.

Lego Santa Loves Christmas Cake.

Lego Santa Loves Christmas Cake.

Taking the Road Most Travelled… the Pacific Highway.

Being beyond the flow, I usually take the road less travelled. However, when January comes round each year, our family is usually on the road most travelled…the Pacific Highway.  Just like birds fly south for the Northern Winter, we head North for the Australian summer chasing the sun and often the surf.

The long summer holidays can be a bit difficult for us with the kids and so Geoff usually takes time off work and we go to visit family near Byron Bay, on the Gold Coast and onto Brisbane and Ipswich.

Before I push the pedal to the metal and get started on a series of holiday snapshots, here’s a bit of road-building history.

Location Pacific Hwy.svg

see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Highway_%28Australia%29

The Pacific Highway is 960 kilometres long and connects Sydney and Brisbane and was completed in 1958. While the Pacific Highway has evolved from what seems like a one-lane goat track and now has stretches of freeway and numerous by-passes, there are still plenty of cracks in the bitumen. You see, the Pacific Highway might lead to paradise but it certainly isn’t the Yellow Brick Road. It still has hundreds of kilometres of single-lane road and it has a dreadful accident record.

Yet, the Pacific Highway is also a bit exciting. It has always meant holidays for me.

My earliest memories of the Pacific Highway were driving up to Newcastle in the old Morris Minor to visit my grandparents. I remember waiting and waiting and waiting as traffic stopped while they blasted through the Sydney Sandstone to build the toll road. I later remember stopping to pay the toll just North of Hornsby. Subsequent trips in the HR Holden were less eventful although my brother and I held some fierce battles in the back seat. This was long before the days of in-car DVD players or electronic games. We didn’t even have air-conditioning.  I’m not sure if we even had a radio but Dad used to sing We’re off to See the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz, Oh What a Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma and the  Jamaican Farewell. I think all dads have their quirks.

Anyway, perhaps my favourite holiday of all time was when I drove solo from Sydney as far North as Maroochydore in my not so stylish Mitsubishi Colt… my first car. It took me at least a week to reach Brisbane as I stayed in Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Byron Bay.  I then stayed with my grandparents in Ipswich and visited friends in Maroochydore. I particularly loved staying at the Youth Hostel in Byron Bay and it was still in the day when Kombis with surfboards on top were still lined up around the beach and Byron Bay was still a hippy paradise. I made a new friend and we had our Thelma and Louise experience heading out to Nimbin and visiting my favourite and very inspirational primary school teacher. He showed us round the local Steiner school and I still remember all the butterflies out there. It was a magical place and I wasn’t quite the same when I went back to work in the Sydney CBD in my poky little office with no windows.

That was the life of a single Rowena…poet, writer, photographer and dreamer.

My husband has his own memories of travelling along the great Pacific Highway…especially in his first car the legendary Datsun 120Y. The 120Y might have been a fairly ordinary, small car at the budget end of the market but in our household it’s legendary. Geoff took the 120Y on an outback adventure covering 4500 KM in just two weeks and even made it out to Birdsville and back. That is truly in the outback or as we Aussies like to put it “out the back of whoop whoop”.

Anyway, Geoff was driving up North on the Pacific Highway in the legendary 120Y. He’d reached Macksville, which is just over halfway to Byron Bay, when he was turning a corner and felt the back end of the car steering all by itself. For those of you like me who aren’t mechanically minded, this was serious. Geoff pulled over and discovered that the wheel was only attached by one wheel nut, instead of four and was about to fall off. He was lucky not to have a serious accident. He had had the tyres replaced before the trip and the mechanic hadn’t tightened the wheel nuts properly.

Geoff and I in the Sprite.

Geoff and I in the Sprite.

My first trip up North with Geoff in the Austin-Healy Sprite was also memorable. Geoff was taking me up to meet his Mum for the first time. This isn’t so much a story of the Pacific Highway as we were diverted due to flood waters at the end of the freeway and had to take the New England Highway. We were driving over the Tenterfield Ranges after dark through pouring rain when the car kept getting caught in potholes ripping the exhaust pipe off. Reapplying the exhaust pipe in the dark and in the rain was great fun especially as it was very easy to get burnt. I remember a lot of stop start driving waiting for the car to cool down and plenty of frustration. I also remember wearing a raincoat in the car. For some strange reason, historic British cars aren’t that watertight. While I was discussing the romance or otherwise of our first long trip together in the Sprite, Geoff implied that I’d travelled in relative comfort. The previous trip up North, he had worn his wet weather motorbike gear because he didn’t actually own a roof for the Sprite. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds because you didn’t get wet driving over 80 KPH but there are a lot of 60 zones between here and Byron Bay.

There’s obviously a lot they don’t tell about these cute little sports’ cars.

Our trips up North have certainly changed since we had the kids. When they were babies, we seemed to stop for eternity breastfeeding at McDonalds, which was great for nappy changing as well. As the kids have grown bigger, there’s the attraction of the McDonalds playgrounds. We now try to break things up a bit and eat packed sandwiches or stop at some local food spots. We are very fond of a bakery in Bulladelah. They have the best cinnamon buns I’ve ever tasted.

These days, even I am starting to dream of an A to B drive straight to Byron Bay. Actually, I’d just like to click my fingers and magically be there. After all, it’s a ten hour drive from the Central Coast to Byron Bay and about 13 hours to Brisbane. That’s a lot of games of I Spy.

Stay tuned for a series of postcards from our trip starting out with a Postcard from Coffs Harbour.

Do you have any stories about travelling along the Pacific Highway or another road trip?