Friday, 6 January 2017

Rocky Road


It has been so odd these past few weeks, going about being festive. That isn't to say I have been dragging my feet around - having children at Christmas leaves no time for that. But for a little while, I couldn't quite function. All the to-do lists, the orders I had to churn out, the presents to buy, they were like white noise. My family and husband stepped in and it all got done, somehow, including trays and trays of rocky road and Florentines, promised to clients weeks earlier. Life goes on. I can hear her saying it. Just get on with it, idiot. 

So here I am, getting on with it. Sort of.

But it has been hard and I suppose it always will be. She is missing. It's immensely frustrating because I have so much to tell her and if nothing else it's downright inconvenient, the permanency of death. 

I have unconsciously begun to mark time differently. Today is both the 7th of January and it is also one month and two days since Katie died. Her baby boy Francis is now nearly six weeks old and doing the most inspiring job of getting on with it. We are all learning a lot from him. He is keeping Michael on his toes, mostly in the middle of the night, and appears to everyone else as a little angel, chugging down his bottles and being generally adorable during the day. 

He is mostly what I want to tell Katie all about, of course. Him and some of my little sister's funnier baby brain antics lately. They were tracking along together, Danielle a couple of months behind. Katie definitely would've seen the entertaining side of Dani waking up in a sweat and deciding to drive to Mum's to sleep in the airconditioning, then running out of petrol at 1am because she didn't want to stop and fill up in her nightie.
   
Last year went fast. We packed a lot in, particularly with the milestone birthday tour which took in Tassie, Canberra, Newcastle (twice) and Balmoral, and I'll always be happy that we saw a lot of Katie because of it. But 2017 is going to be just as crazy fast. We will have a new baby in the family with Dani due in March and then we will be counting down to her wedding in October. It's the year of Danielle. She also turns 30 but I think her brain will explode if anyone adds another event to her plate. 

As for me, I'll be in my kitchen doing my thing, perhaps with a bigger oven and using an extra day of preschool to write a little more. Of all people, Katie used to say I should.  


In robot mode recently I relied on the recipes in the Christmas section of this blog so much. I made the Christmas cake, the truffles, the Florentines, the mince tarts and the pav, and all worked without a hitch. At the pointy end of last year, I can't tell you how nice it was when things just worked.

I needed this Rocky Road recipe too, so I'm adding it now, even though everyone is probably on new year diets and thoroughly over sweets. Maybe file it for Easter. It's pretty addictive.

This is my standard recipe with the secret and quite topical ingredient of rice bubbles which I added as a texture substitute one year when told teachers' presents couldn't contain nuts.
 

The Christmas version (pictured) leaves out the snakes and adds in 1 cup sour cherries and 1 cup chopped pistachios. Scatter silver sugar balls over the top for extra bling. It boxes up beautifully as an edible gift.




Rocky Road (Makes 1.8kg in a large lamington tin)

300g quality dark chocolate
300g quality milk chocolate
3 cups Rice Bubbles
4 x Cadbury Frys Turkish Delight bars, chopped in a large dice
2 cups jelly snakes, chopped
2 cups marshmallows whole
2 cups marshmallows, chopped in halves
1 cup shredded coconut

Line a large lamington tin with non-stick baking paper, so that the edges of the paper overhang the sides.

Melt the dark and milk chocolate together.
Place the Rice Bubbles, chopped Turkish Delight, chopped jelly snakes, all marshmallows and coconut into a large mixing bowl and stir.
Add the melted chocolate and gently stir until the mixture is thoroughly covered in chocolate. 
Tumble the mixture into the prepared tin and spread into the corners to cover evenly. 
Place in the fridge to set overnight or for at least four hours. Cut into squares to serve.
  



Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A Note on Friendship


Friendship comes in many guises. Some people you meet are instant kindreds and you have a million things in common. Some can be more of a slow burn, where perhaps you work together and get to know each other’s quirks over time. Some you love for their eccentricities and some may fall away over time when life gets in the way. 

Then there are the friends you grow up with, the people who know you inside and out, who know your flaws, your secrets, your talents and your failures. They are as much a part of your structure after half a lifetime as your very bones. You may not see them as much as you see other, newer friends, but when you do, it is as easy as it is special. All of those shared experiences, the wealth of memories, the belonging – it’s like something tribal. Katie was one of my tribe. There is a group of us in this tribe – a core five or so of us from high school. Someone said the other day that we seemed interchangeable. It is something like that, yet we are all very different women. We are like pieces of a jigsaw coming together to form one picture. 

I have written about Katie before in the lead up to her wedding. We were so excited for her. She was in love and she was loved by a great guy in Michael. There is nothing like it and I wanted that for her so badly. She had a solid teaching career, she had travelled, she had studied. This was her time to settle down and build a family. She was so close to being a mum, heartbreakingly close. But at 33 weeks in her pregnancy, she suffered a stroke brought on by complications due to high blood pressure. And suddenly she is gone, without knowing that she brought into the world a beautiful, perfect baby son. What am I even writing? How can this be possible? The truth of it wallops me every few hours. Some people can just shut this stuff away and keep functioning. For some, the pain of it will make them recoil and stop reading. I have to go here, to this place, to process it. It is the only way for me. I want to get it out, get it down, before it fades. 

All the joy of welcoming a child into the world, snatched away cruelly. She was an advocate of faith but I can tell you, I am struggling this week. Any comfort I have taken has been from old photos and the memories attached. She was such a big personality. The singing, the mad dancing, the belly laughs, her acid wit, her fabulous cooking, the calling it as it is, her shoe addiction, her pride in the home she had created with Michael. In the end she didn’t go quietly. There was a raging storm the evening she passed away. It was like she was kicking everything in sight on her way up. We used to joke about shitty endings to books. Well my friend, this is the shittiest ending I have ever encountered. I want to throw this one across the room, tear it to shreds and then burn it. 

I have so much anger and sadness at this injustice and nowhere to channel it. And I am only her friend. As for her family and for Michael, I don't have the words. It takes an extraordinarily brave person to put one foot in front of the other at such an unimaginable time. There is one small light anchoring him right now. And I mean literally small because this little light is around 2kg. It is their baby son, Francis. He is their tiny miracle. He has his mother’s big eyes and his Dad’s long legs and huge feet. He is doing brilliantly, not needing any help breathing and already doubling his milk intake. I have held him, talked to him, told him how proud of him his mummy would be and how well he is doing, how beautiful he is - all the things she would have said to him. We each of Katie’s tribe have done this over the past week for her darling baby boy. And here is the thing about our friendship. We will make sure he knows her. As helpless as we feel, this is one thing we can do. Stories about this girl, we have a life time’s worth.

Rest in peace Katie-Jane. I will miss you incredibly. I wish I made you suffer through so many more of my hugs.

xxx

Friday, 4 November 2016

Pumpkin Pie



Did you get into a bit of this last week?




We did, and if you have a glut of spooky pumpkins lying around, this pumpkin pie is an excellent way to put them to use. 

I have embraced Halloween baking in recent years for my cafes with gingerbread skeletons, ghosts and the like, but this year was our first time trick or treating. Mr LP and I didn't grow up with it, having no American connections, so we were a bit clueless! Luckily, it all worked out when we fell in behind a band of mini-vampires and witches. We told the kids to be polite and we gave them a joke to tell, should they get asked for a trick. It's a personal favourite: What's the first thing witches learn at school? Spelling.

We didn't actually decorate our house. We just mooched off the neighbours for a couple of blocks, who were all very nice, and I got to sticky beak inside their gardens and doorways which I think was the best part.


The recipe is from Simmone Logue's cookbook, In The Kitchen, which has been a great addition to my cooking library - from fresh Asian inspired salads to French patisserie, it covers the spectrum of her delicious range of wholesome food. I have been a fan since her early days in Balmain so it's a real treat to be able to cook her recipes at home.



Pumpkin Pie
Serves 8-10
(Recipe adapted from In The Kitchen by Simmone Logue*)

500g ginger nut biscuits (appx 2 packets)
200g butter, melted
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
Double cream, to serve
Nutmeg and icing sugar for dusting
Maple syrup, to serve

Filling:
185g brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
375g (1 1/2 cups) cooked, puréed pumpkin
300ml thickened cream, whipped to light peaks

Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease the base and sides of a 26cm loose-based tart tin.
Blitz biscuits and coconut in a food processor and blitz until resembling sand. Add melted butter and blitz until combined. Press the mixture evenly over the base and up the sides of prepared tart tin. 
Bake for 10 mins. Remove from oven and set aside.
Reduce the oven temp to 160C.
Place eggs, sugar and spices into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until combined. Gently fold in the pumpkin and the whipped cream.
Pour the mixture into the tart shell and bake for 1 hour or until set.
Leave to cool completely.
Before serving, dust the tart with nutmeg and icing sugar, then drizzle liberally with maple syrup. To cut the tart, run a sharp knife under hot water to warm the blade, then wipe with a tea towel and slice. This will give a clean slice and help with the crisp base.
Plate up with generous dollops of double cream.

*The main difference is Simmone uses cloves and I prefer not to use cloves ever. Also, she uses fresh nutmeg but I found the ground version in the tart just as good.







Thursday, 20 October 2016

Chocolate Chip Cookies, by Oscar


I am making cookies with Mummy. 

I stand at the bench on a chair and I watch her unwrap the butter and put it on a board. She cuts it into squares and puts it into a big silver bowl. I help her pour the sugar on top and then Mummy turns on her noisy mixer.


I help her crack an egg. It is clear and oozy and it gets on my fingers. We shake the sifter so the flour falls through. It looks like snow on small mountains inside the bowl. Mummy stirs it until the snow is all gone, then we pour in the chocolate chips. I eat some.




We roll the cookie mix into balls with our hands. It is soft and squishy. Mummy is fast.
We put the balls in lines on big trays and then Mummy puts them into the oven.



Mummy says I am a good helper and she lets me lick the spoon. This is the best part.







Waiting is hard. I can smell the cookies baking. They smell so yummy. Mummy tells me to play until they are ready. I play with my planes at her feet in the kitchen and I watch the cookies spread out in the oven. When Mummy takes them out, they are shaped like circles and they are very hot. I am not allowed to touch.

Mummy pours milk into my favourite cup and I sit at the bench with her. The cookies are warm. "Mmmm," I say.

When they are cold, I help Mummy put them into the cookie jar, one by one, until it is full to the top.


Oscar's Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Makes 16-20)

125g butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg at room temp
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
150g roughly chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips (we like a mix of half dark and half milk chocolate)

Preheat oven to 180C.
Line two large cookie trays with baking paper.
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer until pale and creamy.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again until all smooth and creamy.
Add the egg and mix on low until combined.
Add the flour, salt and baking powder and mix until just combined.
Stir in the chocolate chips.
Roll mixture into small balls and place on prepared baking trays, leaving room for the cookies to spread.
Bake for 15-18 mins - less for chewy, more for crunchy cookies.
Leave trays on wire racks until cookies have cooled enough to eat.








Sunday, 8 May 2016

Flourless Orange and Almond Cakes with Candied Pistachios


"I started it. I lost it and I slapped him. He just retaliated."

"We have a volatile relationship. We're both passionate people."

"He only yells when he drinks."

"Am I going crazy? I must be losing my mind."

"Stop talking. Just stop making it worse!"

"It's my fault."

"Oh he has a little temper, just like his grandfather."

"I shouldn't have said that. I pushed him too far. I know better."

I have heard these words in the course of my journalism work, from ordinary women and celebrities, from my friends and family, even thought them myself in the course of growing up.

There are few women I know who can honestly say they have never experienced abuse of some sort in their home life, be it violence in their childhood, emotional and mental cruelty, or verbal tirades in a relationship.

It seems to be a generational scar we carry around. Except it doesn't fade. It is perpetuated in so many cases. Man-pleasers breeding man-pleasers, treading on eggshells to keep the peace. Male victims of abuse becoming abusers. It's madness. And yet it is still taboo to speak about. You mustn't air the dirty laundry! And shameful. How could anyone love someone who hurts them? How idiotic, how self destructive. Well, when they're charming and warm and loveable the other 80 percent of the time, it's easier to make excuses for the outbursts rather than confront the ugliness.

The problem is dependence. Domestic abuse crosses cultural and demographic boundaries and so often victims can feel trapped by a lack of immediate money, shelter and protection. 

But what if there was somewhere to go. And that somewhere was a discreet house offering a network of help and support for both the now and the crucial after? Would that prompt someone to leave a toxic relationship? Or at least get out of the house before being seriously hurt or worse? I hope so. 

I first heard about my local parish's project to build Mary's House, a non-denominational refuge for victims of domestic violence and their dependent children, when I was enrolling my son for primary school. It touched a nerve.




I have two little boys of my own. They are kind and funny, cheeky and a little bit shy. They have an unashamed enthusiasm, an innocence that I want to bottle and drip-feed to them while they are growing into men. To arm them against the barrage and the burden of all the conflicting messages they will encounter about being a man in the world.

I want them to grow up into men who respect and value their partners. I want them to be able to talk through and process issues rather than bottle them until they combust. To have the skills to control emotions like anger and jealousy, should they flare. And to appreciate the good in their lives.

I offered to help with Mary's House in any way I could and so I was delighted to cater nearly 200 desserts for a recent fundraising dinner.

On the platters were salted caramel peanut tarts, blueberry ginger cheesecake bites, lemon curd tarts and my recipe offering today, flourless orange and almond cakes with candied pistachios.

You have to allow time for the oranges but these little cakes are simple to make, really pretty on the plate and they last for a week in the fridge.

It may seem odd to pair a post about domestic violence with a recipe, but I have two professional skill sets - writing and baking - and this is the best way I know of to help out in my small way.

You can find out more about Mary's House at www.maryshouse.org.au or do your own small bit to help the refuge raise its dollar target to open in September by donating to their crowd funding campaign at https://www.chuffed.org/project/maryshouse and like and share on social media with the tag #MarysHouseRefuge.

Flourless Orange and Almond Cakes with Candied Pistachios
(Makes 12-15)

2 oranges
6 eggs
250g caster sugar
250g almond meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons apricot jam
Optional: edible dried rose petals

*Place oranges in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for two hours, topping up the water where needed to keep the oranges covered. Drain and leave to cool.
*This step can be done ahead.

Preheat oven to 160C. Spray a 12-hole muffin tin with non-stick baking spray.
Place the oranges in a food processor and blitz until a smooth pulp.
Add the eggs and caster sugar and blitz until thick and pale.
Transfer to a large bowl and stir through almond meal and baking powder.
Pour into a jug for better control when filling your tin.
Fill each muffin hole to just below the rim and carefully place tin into the oven.
Bake for 20-25 mins until golden and coming away from the edges.
Leave to cool for a couple of minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Prepare glaze by placing the apricot jam into a small saucepan and bringing to a boil, then sieve the jam. Use a pastry brush to spread the sieved glaze on the top of each cake. Pile candied pistachios on top, and rose petals if using.

Candied Pistachios:
125g pistachios
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon water

Place a sheet of baking paper onto a large baking tray.
Place nuts, sugar and water in a bowl and toss to combine.
Pour into a frypan and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted. The mixture will crystallise but continue to cook for about 5 minutes until the crystals melt into a lovely toffee. Coat the nuts in the toffee, taking care not to burn them, and pour onto prepared baking tray.
Use any left-over candied nuts on top of ice cream or as a decadent topping for muesli, fruit and yoghurt.



Friday, 25 March 2016

Satellite Island, Tasmania


These are the years, the memory makers. Spend them with the people you laugh with so much your face hurts. Make time to cook. Travel somewhere breathtaking, even for a few days. Be in the photo. 

Sideline yourself once in a while, it is good for your soul. And if you make the time, Satellite Island, a tiny private island off the east coast of Tasmania, is the perfect place to slow down. 




Spend your mornings wrapped in something soft, sipping tea and watching the early sun stream across the channel and into the Summer House. Or maybe you have chosen to sleep waterside in the Boat House, where you might lift the shutters and simply lay there. How long has it been since you had a genuinely lazy morning?

Photo: Siobhan Rogers

Contemplate breakfast. Take advantage of the fresh eggs laid by the hens and forage in the herb and vegie garden. If you're lucky, the island's owners will leave you a gift of fresh ocean trout, as they did for my friend Siobhan, the birthday girl and the reason for our recent getaway to this remote and startlingly beautiful place.



After breakfast, take a stroll to the back gate to feed Henry and/or Burt apples from the bucket of Granny Smiths supplied for their breakfast. They're very friendly and very photogenic.



Read about the history of the island in the notes provided and then take an hour or so to explore it on foot, either on the rock shelves or above on the cliffs, where you might catch a glimpse of the grazing deer herd or spy a pod of dolphins out in the channel.




When you get back, take the plunge into that cold, clear water to be slapped awake. Feel every cell in your body sing as you swim out a little way to where the depths turn inky blue. You could even see a school of salmon tumbling and churning up the water just meters away. Time to go in. Maybe take a kayak out there later. Or tomorrow.

Eat a late lunch of freshly shucked oysters (Richard, the island's manager will teach you how to cut them from the rocks around the jetty and prize them open). It will be the freshest, cleanest taste of the sea you will ever hope to experience.


Add a glass of local House of Arras sparkling, and let the world go.

Later, when the chill sets in, light the brazier and gather around. If you have caught your dinner from the jetty, all the better. 



Siobhan brought her own quilts to the island

This is a wonderful place to take a family with teenage kids or proficient swimmers. It allows time to reconnect, to explore, to lose yourself in books and wage boardgame wars. We plan to take the boys when they're older.

It is also a brilliant place to escape to with a small group for a relaxed break or low key event. We went to celebrate a milestone with our friend, who made us Aperol cocktails and cake, and she also made us do craft. So there were cocktails and wonky flower crowns and lots of laughing. There were photos on the rocks in our dresses, which no one was specifically asked to wear but we know her well... 















Later, marshmallows were roasted over the firepit and we played the music we grew up with, sitting around in the dark, singing badly and proving that nothing really changes when you are with your tribe. Milestones be damned.





Take a day to explore Bruny Island, where you can stock up on artisan bread and cheeses from The Bruny Island Cheese Company and try the local vintage at Bruny Island Premium Wines. We also took a "flight" of whiskey tastings, including the celebrated Sullivan's Cove, at Bruny Island House of Whiskey, and we climbed the stairs to this view at The Neck, the narrow stretch of sand joining North and South Bruny.

Bruny Island has quite a few unsealed roads, so hire a car that can handle the terrain and seek out some of the more remote beaches. Or not. This photo was taken among what was considered a crowd of tourists. I had some sharing issues after having an island to ourselves for a few nights...
I urge you to try it.


www.satelliteisland.com.au

* We travelled to Satellite Island at our own cost.