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My aunt, Auntie Marion, was known as Blossom in her family when a small child with two older brothers and a younger sister (my mother). She was born at the time the farm’s fruit trees were coming in to bloom. She initially embraced the name, but was indignant when she realised that this was the name also given to one of the cows. So the name only seemed the stick amongst her brothers.
Auntie Marion was perhaps my favorite aunt. She seemed incredibly exotic to my young self. She had lived in Papua New Guinea, and then lived in sub-tropical Queensland. She was full of fun and would use funny words like wizzel-wozzel. She would help me cook things like cannelloni and Italian cakes with ricotta cheese and glacé fruit (this doesn’t sound remarkable now, but was unusual in the 70′s). She wore batik sundresses and was always travelling, not to the usual holiday destinations, but the more remote or romantic sounding places. In the 1970′s Australians didn’t travel as much as they do now, so Laos, Russia, China and Finland seemed the stuff of adventure. She would bring me back a doll from everywhere she visited, so I would vicariously try and imagine the wonder of those far-off places. Even now, Auntie Marion’s most recent trip was to Nepal at the age of 79.
My middle name is Marion, and my mother would always put my discontent at living in suburban Geelong and more eccentric behavior down to my taking after Marion. I certainly seem to have inherited her wanderlust and curiosity about the world, some of her sense of adventure and seeking of new experiences.
So when Auntie Marion recently turned 80 and hosted a family gathering at her home, I wanted to give her something special. She didn’t want or need things, so I thought something that I made, something useful and beautiful and a bit more advanced than a quick project would be called for.
Enter the Shetland Triangle. I had been dying to knit a fine lace shawl, and others had said that this was one of the easier and not too time consuming options. And the results certainly belied this, it looked incredibly intricate.
I used Bendigo Woollen Mills Luxury 4 ply in Koala, a nice but non-boring neutral that would mix well with the batik and tapa prints that I imagine Marion in. After a few repeats, I had memorised the stitch pattern and it just flew. I think the whole thing took three weeks. It was so addictive that as soon as I cast off, I wanted to cast on another.
The only difficulty I had was blocking. I tried three times as I couldn’t get it even or the points as scalloped as they should be. Next time I’ll try blocking wires like Suse’s.
All in all I’m quite happy with it, and it was ready in time. There will definitely be more Shetland Triangles in my future.
Oh, and the lace stitch pattern is the Shetland pine cone design, a nice parallel with the great pine windbreaks that are one of my strongest memories of the farm where Blossom grew up.
… cake heavy with fruit and nuts and spice. I make this cake every year for my Dad, who is diabetic, as it has no added sugar (or fats for that matter, though I suspect nuts are rather high in oils). As such it is a relatively healthy choice for a festive munch if excess is becoming tiresome. I clipped the recipe out of The Age newspaper more than ten years ago, and corrected what I guessed to be a few typos (a tablespoon of salt didn’t seem right …)
I haven’t posted a photo as I’m yet to cut the ones just out of the oven, if I don’t give the other away as well, and it looks fairly ordinary in its uncut state. It’s one of those cakes that you slice thinly so the mosaic of fruit and nuts look like a lead-light window! So here’s a photo of a festive crocheted star instead:
Whole Fruit and Nut Cake
- 300g of whole nuts (this time I used a mixture of almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans and macadamias)
- 400g mixed dried fruit (I used sultanas, raisins, apricots and figs)
- 200g glace cherries
- 2 tbsp brandy (or sherry) (I tend to be a bit on the generous side as this doesn’t seem enough for the amount of fruit)
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups SR flour
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg and salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Put the fruit in a large bowl, add the brandy and mix through. cover and leave to soak overnight.
- The next day preheat oven to 180 degs C. (moderate)
- Mix nuts and flour into the fruit, ensuring everything well coated with flour.
- In a separate jug or bowl, beat together eggs, vanilla, spice, salt and baking powder. Add to fruit and nut mixture and mix well.
- Spoon mixture into a lined 26cm round cake tin. Cover with buttered paper then foil. (Like my Mum, I save the butter wrappers in the fridge for this purpose and lining tins)
- Bake for about an hour, though check sooner if using a fan-forced oven.
- Cool in tin, then remove and either wrap in baking paper and string for a gift, or slice finely and eat.
- Have a very wonderful Christmas full of smiles, hugs, candle-light, music and laughter. And good food and beverages. Love Pinry xxx
(edited 29 December to include a photo of the last small piece of cake!)
I used to be quite good at Christmas. Amusing myself by styling my wrapping and decorations, planning a traditional yet seasonally appropriate menu, baking and decorating and making well in advance. Then when I had children, there was less time to think, plan and enjoy fussing with such things. Priorities changed, and I was more interested in creating memories for my son of the magic of Christmas. I would love to do more and actually feel disappointed that I haven’t as I realise with shock that there is less than a week until Christmas. Just because I had organised the tree, cards, wrapping and bought most of the gifts ahead of time, I smugly rested on my laurels. Until now, realising that I have no free days before Christmas (that is, I’m either working or looking after the children) I realise what I haven’t done.
Despite the advice of the carefully laid-out action plans of the lifestyle magazines, I have failed to do ANY Christmas baking or think about what we might need to buy for the day’s meals. I have not obtained gifts for my father or brother. There’s still bits and pieces to be wrapped that I always end up doing sneakily once their intended recipients are already in the house. I haven’t organised a much-needed haircut for goodness sake! And as for the shawl I’m knitting my mother, I just can’t seem to get time to work on it. Since returning to work, I feel that my life is a complete shambles.
But, ’tis not the season to dwell on the negatives. Good things I have done:
- took Rex to see Santa. Yes, it was in a local shopping centre, but there was a spark of magic even there as he shyly sat next to the red and white-clad man and shared a whispered conversation.
- enjoyed using hand-printed paper and recycled* ribbon to wrap gifts for dear friends. And allowing Rex to dispense and place the stickytape, even though this was bound to be slower and less neat than I would normally tolerate. (*note use of ribbon and bells salvaged from a certain Easter confectionery item).
- made time before bedtime to sit on the couch with Rex with the Christmas tree lights on and talk about, at his repeated request, Christmas when I was little. Strangely he seems to fixate on the fact that I did not save any of the lollies I received as a child to share with him.
- remembered to buy glace cherries. Not sure what for, but Christmas isn’t Christmas without them.
- caught up with a few lovely friends. Morning tea at our place, and a lovely lunch here.
- ordered new candles (the proper type) for my German candle pyramid, a Christmas favourite for the last few years since a friend who lived in Berlin at the time sent it to us. (My attempts in the past to substitute candles did not work, evidenced by the charred edges of the wooden windmill.)
- actually sent out the Christmas cards
- bought a new outfit for me from here. And earrings from this lovely lady. (…well, not sure if this counts as a good thing …)
And still to do:
- convince myself that it is OK to purchase gifts for my father and brother at the supermarket
- wrap up a stand-by gift for my mum
- just get to and wrap up everything else I have got lying in wait
- try and finish my granny twinkle garland
- plan an antipasto Christmas day lunch to consume with prosecco, and leave the turkey for Boxing Day at my parents’ place.
- contribute to our annual Oxfam gift at work, where instead of buying gifts for workmates, we all put in for a goat or such-like.
- listen to Christmas music on the radio
- enjoy the sunshine
As much as I love the tasteful, the pale-coloured, the witty and the rustic decorations that now abound, sometimes only shine, glimmer and glitter will do. Especially when a four-year-old is involved, anyway. Great excitement as we put up our (admittedly small and artificial) Christmas tree – the boxes of decorations were gleefully opened and pored over. “What’s this thing?”, “Oh, look at this!”, “Look at this beautiful one!”. No, there was no way those lengths of tinsel were going back in the box. And they do look so festive and cheerful, and so reminiscent of Christmases past. I remember my own excitement as a child when the decorations would come out – the coloured light bulbs, the glittery angels and the shiny silvery icicles. Yes, no doubt about it that glittery and shiny means special. And there will be time enough for tasteful in the future.
And I’m enjoying a time when there’s a clamour to open a window on the advent calendar to see what picture is there. Six down, eighteen to go …
Meals for our four-year old are always a challenge, with refusal to eat anything outside of baked beans and vegemite sandwiches the norm. One exception is spaghetti bolognaise (into which I smuggle a goodly amount of grated vegies) which is enjoyed by all. One evening Rex was so disappointed to discover that the babies had polished off the remainder of the previous day’s bolognaise for lunch, that I improvised this lentil bolognaise. It was really quick and tasty, and will definitely become a regular.
Quick Lentil Bolognaise
- 1 tin of lentils, drained and rinsed (the Italian ones have the prettiest labels)
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 medium zucchini
- 1 tin of diced tomatoes (again, I like the Italian ones)
- 1 sachet (or 2 tbsp) tomato paste
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- pinch dried thyme and oregano
- salt and pepper
- about a tablespoon of olive oil
- pasta and parmesan to serve
Grate onion, carrot and zucchini and add to saucepan with olive oil. Stir over medium heat until starting to soften. I add a bit of salt at this stage so that the vegies let out a bit of juice and don’t catch as easily.
Before they start to brown, add the tomatoes, about half a tin of water and the tomato paste and stir well. Add garlic and dried herbs and bring to boil.
Reduce to a simmer and add lentils. Cook for about 10 minutes or until tender.
Season to taste and serve with pasta and parmesan.
Otherwise, there is always the What’s-in-the-fridge bento special …