Tag Archives: company

A Winter Camellia Wonderland.

Yesterday, I visited my parents for the first time in a year. Geoff was going down to work, and so he dropped me off on the way, and I was expecting to be there for a good six hours. Well, I can assure you that even after not seeing me for a year, my Dad didn’t think he could talk for that long, although their was the possibility my mother could, but she sleeps irregular hours and so she was also a bit of an unknown quantity. The other thing I came to consider, is that they’ve had very little face-to-face contact with anyone since Sydney went into lockdown last June and so even having their dearest daughter land on their doorstep for the day might’ve been overwhelming, and my Dad recently had an operation as well and so isn’t in prime form either. I guess it suffices to say they’re in their late 70’s and have slowed down a bit.

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I packed a book and my journal and looked forward to playing the piano. However, it was a glorious sunny day and they have a magnificent cottage style garden which is quite a camellia wonderland. Indeed, now in the depths of Winter, the camellias are in flower and were absolutely beautiful. As you walk down their driveway, there’s what I think is a Ted Craig Reticulata which is 15 centimetres in diameter and absolutely magnificent. To use a classic quote from Kath & Kim, it’s shouting out: “Look at me! Look at me!” it’s hard not to.

Their garden also has quite a few deciduous trees and there was some stunning yellow Autumn leavers out the front and the neighbours have a towering Liquid Amber which is now mostly a skeleton of branches and all those leaves have fallen somewhere and been swept or raked away. I dare say, many of them have dropped in my parents’ garden and while I was there, I found myself sweeping the front steps until I found myself down on the driveway. It was alright when I started out. I seemed to be making progress. However, a wind had come along and it was literally snowing leaves and they were almost falling faster than I could sweep them away. Of course, I started to see a sort of futility in all of this. Do I end up becoming a sweeper just to keep up with the never-ending tide of leaves or do I simply leave them be? Well, it’s easy for me to say, because I don’t live there and we don’t have any deciduous trees here, except our jacaranda but it rains purple flowers instead. That’s why I guess sweeping up all those Autumn leaves was such a thought-provoking novelty. It’s not something I usually think about.

Anyway, I wanted to share that going round and working on your parents’ garden can be a great way of spending time with or around them while not being underfoot or tiring them out too much. My uncle showed me the way here. He used to go round and work on my grandfather’s garden. This way you can have a chat and a cup of tea, do some gardening. Have another chat and maybe even talk about the garden or they could sit out their with you too.

Their Driveway

By the way, I should also mention that I took over some Date and Apricot All Bran Muffins which they love. Home baked treats also keep to make a visit special.

Are you into gardening at all? Or perhaps you have elderly parents. What enhances your visits? It would be great to share some ideas and special memories.

Best wishes,

Rowena

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

Nigella’s Nutella Cake with Rowena’s Raspberry Cream

After a very extensive preamble, here is my revised version of Nigella’s Nutella Cake. The ingredients are the same but I’ve added more detail to the directions after I encountered difficulties.

If you check out Nigella’s recipe online, she writes: “Not only is this one of the easiest cakes to make, it happens – joyously – to be one of the most delicious. My household is totally addicted!”

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Yum! Just check out all that Nutella and melted chocolate.

To be perfectly honest with you, this cake is NOT easy to make. You have to separate eggs and whisking the egg whites by hand, is open to disaster and exhaustion and after two attempts, we’re still fine tuning the cooking time. It also generates a lot of washing up.

However, there’s something about this cake that encourages me to persevere. It definitely improves after a night to set in the fridge and I love it served with fresh raspberries and cream and I needed a good coverage of roasted hazelnuts on top to break up the richness of the cake. They also provided that much sought after “crunch”.

So, I would consider this a special occasion cake for adults.While my kids do have a very sensitive palate and don’t like dark chocolate, they found the cake “too bitter” and really didn’t like it.

As I found Nigella’s icing too runny after two attempts, I have included an alternative recipe for dark chocolate ganache, which has worked for me in the past.

Nutella Cake

Ingredients

For the Cake

6 large eggs (separated)

1 pinch of salt

125 grams soft unsalted butter

400 grams nutella (1 large jar..NOT the jumbo size)

1 tablespoon frangelico (or rum or water)

100 grams ground hazelnuts

100 grams dark chocolate (melted)

Dark Chocolate Ganache

  • 250g dark cooking chocolate, chopped
  • 1/3 cup double cream

100 grams hazelnuts (peeled weight)

Raspberry Cream

Double Cream

1 punnet fresh raspberries

Sifted icing sugar to taste.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4/350ºF.
  2. Melt chocolate in the microwave, following packet instructions. Put aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl 1: whisk the egg whites and salt by hand until stiff but not dry. This means soft peaks but not until the foam starts to ball up. Put aside but you need to move quickly or the foam will liquefy.
  4. In Mix Master bowl 2: Beat the butter and Nutella together, and then add the Frangelico (or whatever you’re using), egg yolks and ground hazelnuts.
  5. Into Bowl 2: Fold in cooled, melted chocolate, then lighten the mixture with a large dollop of egg white, which you can beat in as roughly as you want.
  6. Bowl 2: Fold in remaining egg white a third at a time.
  7. Pour into a 23cm/9 inch round greased and lined springform tin and cook for 40 minutes or until the cake’s beginning to come away at the sides, then let cool on a rack. The cake will still be moist and wet inside, so do not overcook.
  8. Hazlenuts: Toast the hazelnuts either in a moderate oven or in a dry frying pan until the aroma wafts upwards and the nuts are golden-brown in parts: keep shaking the pan so that they don’t burn on one side and stay too pallid on others. Transfer to a plate and let cool. It’s imperative that they’re cold they go on the ganache while If your hazelnuts have skins on then after toasting in the frying pan transfer them to a slightly dampened tea towel and rub them while they are still warm to remove the skins.

To Make The Icing

  1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the cream, liqueur or water and chopped chocolate, and heat gently. Once the chocolate’s melted, take the pan off the heat and whisk until it reaches the right consistency to ice the top of the cake

Assembling The Cake

Unmould the cooled cake carefully, leaving it on the base as it will be too difficult to get such a damp cake off in one piece.

Ice the top of the cake with ganache, and cover with whole, toasted hazelnuts.

Slice cake into small portions, as it is quite rich and plate up with a generous scoop of raspberry cream.

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Enjoy and if you do make the cake, please let me know how it goes. I’m rather curious.

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