Friday, 28 June 2013

Wet weather gear and The Cake Shop

Today was the most perfectly rainy, foggy and overcast day for the arrival of a recent purchase.

A trip down to the post office early this morning; my son and husband returned with a big envelope. Inside, overall-style pants to match his jacket and smaller sized pants and jacket set for my daughter. Our suburban home regularly receives a lot of rain. A feature I absolutely love, some might find strange! Wet weather gear is essential. Gumboots are even more essential. 

An unexpected but very welcome excuse to visit Grandma arose. 

Growing up, The Cake Shop was only two blocks up the road and it was our favourite. The pies, sausage rolls, custard apple tarts, cinnamon buns and 'slab' cakes were amongst our regularly purchased items. Nothing compares to childhood favourites. I find it hard not to stop by when I visit Grandma. Today was one of those days. A suggested cake shop visit for lunch was met with a welcome agreement. 

My son had caught on that I was going somewhere and was curious. I don't often get to have one on one time with him during the week and when I do it's usually 'quiet time' when his sister is sleeping. Off we went. He in his gumboots, pants and jacket and me in a jacket holding a golf sized umbrella. 

Essentially it was a 'quiet time' of a different nature. We were outside with nature. The rain, puddles, the gaps between the footpath and the nature strip, the kerb all calling to be walked through. There was no stamping going on, which surprised me, just gentle walking and observation. So peaceful. So calm. This is what nature can do. Quietening the most active boy I know. We will be sure to be doing more of this over the holidays. 

It was a treasured moment for me. Walking the well worn path up the road. But this time with my now three and a half year old son. Hand in hand. No hurry. No rush. Just enjoying the rain with the peacefulness and beauty it offers. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Today's mail

Online shopping is just too convenient I find. It's much more relaxing to sit and enjoy a nice hot cup tea and tap and click away until you find the perfect item. Sometimes it takes only moments and sometimes it can take days! 

An online purchase I made recently were some greeting cards from the same artist used in this post. Today they arrived. Now I'm faced with a dilemma. I want to keep them. I want to frame them and put them somewhere where the children and I and others can enjoy them over and over. The problem is if I order more I could find myself in the same situation!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Bread and butter pudding, Gourmet Traveller style

We don't often have a sweet cake-style dessert after dinner as the little ones have fruit or yoghurt for dessert and eat much earlier that my husband and I during the week. My husband isn't a big cake eater so it would just go to waste, either the bin or mine, waist. Tonight however, I felt inspired by a now dry cinnamon bun sitting in a container on the bench. 

Gourmet Traveller's recipe was too easy not to do. Like all their recipes, they can sometimes call for something that's not in your fridge or pantry or easy to find. No need to rule it out - simply substitute, where possible. Tonight I didn't have enough cream so I used half regular cream and half sour cream. Also I omitted the sultanas and Brandy because the cinnamon bun already had plump sultanas and we had no Brandy available. Vanilla extract instead of fresh vanilla seeds. I also topped the pudding with freshly sliced strawberries tossed in coffee sugar for a little extra fruitiness and colour.

85g or 1/2 cup sultanas
2 tbsp Brandy, warmed
5 eggs
300ml pouring cream
300ml milk
55g or 1/4 cup caster sugar 
1 orange, finely grated rind only (I doubled this)
1 vanilla bean, seeds only
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 slices 1.5cm thick day old bread
60g soft butter plus extra for greasing
1tbsp demerara sugar (coffee sugar or raw sugar is fine)
To serve: icing sugar and vanilla ice cream, or cream

1. Combine sultanas and Brandy in a small bowl and set aside to cool.
2. Combine eggs, cream, milk, caster sugar, orange rind, vanilla seeds and cinnamon in jug (bowl). Whisk vigorously to combine and set aside.
3. Spread both sides of bread slices with butter and halve lengthways. Scatter one third of the brandied sultanas on top a lightly greased 1L capacity ovenproof dish. Trim bread slices to fit dish and layer, scattering remaining brandied sultanas between each layer. Pour cream mixture evenly over bread slices and stand until bread has completely absorbed cream mixture (about 1 hour)
4. Preheat oven to 18OC. Scatter demerara sugar over pudding and bake until golden and custard is firm (30-40 minutes). Serve immediately or at room temperature, lightly dusted with icing sugar, and with scoops of vanilla ice-cream or cream to the side, if desired.


And the result? Absolutely delicious! Prefect for one of those in-front-of-the-fire dessert moments when little ones are tucked in for the night. My husband enjoyed his with chocolate ice-cream and I chose frozen mixed berry yoghurt.

To drink, your choice of a freshly made pot of hot tea, espresso coffee or perhaps a glass of moscato or botrytis wine. Either way, try it and enjoy!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Margaret Fulton's Cupcakes

The Queens birthday came and went and I had every intention of making cupcakes for us all to enjoy for our afternoon tea, however, it didn't quite happen that way. It happened a much better way, I think. My husband and I had a rare opportunity in the morning to go out on our lonesomes, sans enfants*, and we took it!  More about that later. 

Later that night the cupcakes eventuated and were iced the next day. These cupcakes are lovely. I find regular cupcakes sometimes on the bigger side and with generous amounts of icing it can make it difficult for little ones to enjoy. These are made with little ones in mind. Only a small amount of mixture in the case keeps the cake and icing inside. Light and prefect for like fingers and tummies... or mummies just wanting a nibble. 

Margaret Fulton's recipe is what I'm using at the moment and they are pretty straightforward as far as cupcakes go.

125g butter, softened 
3/4 cup sugar, caster
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten (room temperature)
pinch of salt
2/3 cup of milk
glace icing
decoration 100s & 1000s

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, (scraping down side of bowl as necessary)
2. Add vanilla and beat in eggs a little at a time
3. Sift flour and salt three times and fold into creamed mixture alternatively with milk, beginning and ending with the flour. 
4. Spoon into patty cases set in muffin tins. Bake in a preheated moderately hot oven 190C for 15minutes or until golden and when a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean.
5. Cool on a wire rack. When cool, ice with glace icing and decorate. 

Makes 20 
By using only a heaped teaspoon into the cases to enjoy a delicate sized cupcake and the mixture in turn will go a little further too. This batch made 24 regular sized and 16 mini cupcakes. 

Glace Icing or Warm Icing 
A quickly mixed icing, that sets firmly to a decorative glaze. Decorations need to be added quickly before the icing sets. 

1 1/4 cups of pure icing sugar
1 tablespoon boiling water
few drops of flavouring essence (as desired)
food colouring (as desired)
lime, or lemon juice/zest would be a lovely addition

1. Sift icing sugar into a small heatproof bowl.
2. Add boiling water gradually, mixing to a smooth, thick past that will coat the back of a spoon. 
3. Place bowl over a small mount of boiling water and sitr icing for one minute. Add flavouring and colouring as deisred. 
4. Pour icing quickly over cake and smooth surface with a spatula or knife dipped in hot water. This is enough icing to cover top of a 20cm cake. 

As the children and I only eat cakes, the rest were put in the freezer for another day. My son can enjoy a sticky, messy finger activity making lamingtons another afternoon. 

Bake away!

*sans enfants - without children

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Fresh Mountain Air

We all need a break once in a while.

We had an opportunity to go to the Blue Mountains last weekend for a combined Baptism and second birthday party for two brothers, who are half French. When we set out, we thought we were going to one of the first suburbs at the foot of the mountains. We were mistaken. The address we needed to get to was on the other side of the mountains in Blackheath. An extra hour's drive.

A two hour car trip doesn't seem so long to an adult who enjoys driving or a pre-schooler enjoying the parked roadwork machinery along the way. But to a little toddler who isn't a fan of going inter-Councils, it can feel like an eternity and for me, in the first trimester of pregnancy, windy bends on the road and popping ears don't help nausea!

My husband, my Hero, saved us. How would you like to stay up here for the night? This was met with great relief! 

We missed the Baptism sadly, however we were able to join in on the party celebrations. The birthday cake was an escargot, bien sur!* 

Back on our way and now in search of accommodation, my Hero secured a room and we were able to relax. I had a much needed rest, while he took the little ones for supplies. 

We booked a Chinese dinner in nearby Katoomba. What a treasure. I couldn't help but be distracted by the lady who, singlehandedly, welcomed the arrivals, took the orders, delivered the orders, prepared and served the drinks, answered all the phone orders, prepared the BBQ pork with the biggest meat cleaver I've ever seen, attended to all requests in the restaurant AND managed to make everyone feel her attention was undivided. On top of that, it was a full restaurant with a constant stream of pick up orders! The most beautiful thing about her was that she did all of this cheerfully, genuinely and with a smile. I believe she had springs in her shoes.

A buffet breakfast awaited us in the dining room the next morning. Huge, unobstructed windows surrounded the entire dining room. Outside, all we could see was the heavy early morning fog blanketing us inside, with an intermittent light rain. I adore this kind of setting. Its what I look forward to most when going to the Blue Mountains.  

There's something so romantic, serene and peaceful about the mountains that I've always loved. Growing up our family would often picnic at Leura Cascades then meander along the damp bush paths. The waterfalls and the abundance of ferns were, and still are my favourite attraction in the mountains. There's something about nature which is so very comforting and calming.

We left Leura after a few obligatory detours and headed back to Sydney, refreshed.

A surprise holiday can work wonders. For a whole 24 hours I didn't have to think, be reminded or worry about meals or housework. The bonus was there was next to no washing as we had the lightness of no luggage! 

For us and the children alike, we had a new setting to enjoy and of course - lungs filled with fresh mountain air! 

*escargot - snail 
*bien sur - of course

Monday, 3 June 2013

Hard working hands need a 'Worker's Soap'

On my side of the family, all the men's work is a physical work using a plethora of tools. This ranges from, but not limited to - power, mechanical, gardening and electrical. There's bound to be grease, dirt and grime involved. At the end of the job, this kind of work demands a 'worker's soap'. 

When visiting Grandma and Grandfather, my son is drawn out the back instantly. He can't be content inside unless he's done a thorough round of the backyard to scope out any changes or new additions, sometimes not returning inside for a very long time. He knows there's lots for him to look at, touch, feel, work with and question. 

Any toddler or preschooler who sees work being done and can be a part of it, is in heaven. Such a strong and wonderful feeling it is to do 'valuable' work. He's with the men and he can contribute. 

There's the can-crusher that Grandfather made. They work on this together. Selecting a can, putting it carefully into position then with the 'grunt' that Grandfather uses, he mimics this sound when pushing the lever down. Cru-u-s-s-h! How satisfying! The now crushed can is tossed into the basket and a new can selected.

At the end of the job, the hands are washed, but not with any soap. The soap Grandfather uses is a 'worker's soap'.

A few weeks ago Grandfather gave him the best gift ever. His very own solvol. He couldn't have been happier. The next day, he asked for his soap. The smile was enormous. He then unwrapped it and took it straight outside to the tap under our deck. With great care, he balanced the soap on the post alongside the tap 'ready' for work. 

An opportunity came up recently. His pre-school was having a working bee and we were rostered on. When discussing with our son in the lead up, we asked him what things we could take. His list went gumboots, gloves and the solvol! 

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