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A fine winter’s morning

+ lots of adventures to be had

+ 16 guests (as well as a smattering of siblings)

+ 24 cupcakes

+ 20 chocolate crackles

+ 18 savory muffins

+ not enough fairy bread and copious sandwiches

+ various chips, dips, vegetable and fruit platters

+ cake

= 6

(And a celebration for me of six years of mothering my rowdy, sensitive boy.  Long may he enjoy tree-climbing as well as computer games, and fairy tales as well as dvds.)


A sixth birthday is on the horizon, and bringing with it a big party.  There were so many friends to invite, that it just had to be the whole class.  I’m hoping that a local adventure playground can provide the entertainment, and a (hopefully very) little effort with the catering will make it special enough.

A castle cake was chosen by the birthday boy from a library book, and simple papercut embellished invitations have been distributed.  And there has been flicking through magazines and books for inspiration.  

So much of the food I associate with parties is based on a nostalgic view of such occasions, things that were special treats when I was a kid.  Fairy bread, cocktail frankfurts, butterfly cakes, sausage rolls.  I was excited to come across an updated recipe for chocolate crackles in last year’s Donna Hay Kids’ magazine, and had to try it at once.  Although it substitutes the traditional copha and cocoa with butter and chocolate, it still has that unmistakable texture and the contrast between smooth chocolately mass and airy crispness.  Yum …

Chocolate Crackles

(Here I halved the original recipe and filled about 20 small patty pans (the size down from the large muffin cases), and used a mixture of dark and milk chocolate, as opposed to all dark in the recipe, to make it more kid-friendly.  I also changed the method a little in dealing with melting the chocolate.)

  • 50 g dark chocolate
  • 50 g milk chocolate
  • 50 g butter
  • 1/6 cup golden syrup
  • 2 cups rice bubbles

Melt butter and golden syrup in a largish saucepan over a low heat.  When melted (but not boiling) add broken up chocolate and remove from heat.  Allow chocolate to melt into the mixture for a while then mix gently until combined.  Mix in rice bubbles until well coated.  Fill patty pans with teaspoonfuls of the mixture.  Refridgerate for 1 hour, or until set.

(Edited to add image from second batch of this recipe.)

Christmas and new year’s activities seem so for away now.  As I’ve taken a fair chunk of time off work, we’re now in a summer holiday frame of mind.  Some things we’ve been up to:

  • Reading: bedtime stories.  Rex is old enough to enjoy chapter books, and we’ve worked through The Hobbit, Stig of the Dump and Harry Potter.  I’m now addicted to Harry Potter books and trying to track down the rest of the series second-hand.
  • Watching: movies!  I saw Tangled with Rex, and The Tourist with Mr. Foxy.  Enjoyed them both immensely.  I saw the 3D version of the former, and there was a most delightful moment in a scene where there were lots of lanterns floating in the sky.  Rex leapt to his feet and reached out to touch one that seemed to be at arms reach, and I noticed that all the other kids in the audience were doing the same!  Magic indeed!  And I was loving the good old-fashioned escapism of adventures in Paris and Venice with the impossibly elegant Angelina and hapless yet dashing Mr. Depp.
  • Listening: to Dickens, and I always seem to turn to the Amelie soundtrack lately.  Plaintive, wistful, charming and olde-world-French.
  • Eating: too much chocolate.  But at least the latest new family meal idea has proved to be a winner – pesto made with handfuls of parsley, baby spinach and walnuts with a small clove of garlic and a few glugs of olive oil.  So great to see the vegie avoiders getting a burst of leafy green goodness.
  • Sewing:  transforming trousers with torn knees into shorts, for both large and small.
  • Making: Kirsty’s crochet granny shrugs in small girl sizes.  A fun and not too taxing project for the holidays.
  • Despairing: at the cruelty of nature in sending devastating and seemingly worsening floods to our northern neighbours.  Even more bitter following so many years of drought.
  • Anticipating: a road trip to country Vic and urban NSW, our first holiday as a family of five!  We’re leaving tomorrow, and are still madly packing!

Happy new year!

  • frolicking in the winter sunshine after a long drive.  (Large fallen citrus fruits double as balls)
  • making flourless orange cake from home-grown oranges (I used Jill Dupleix’s version of Claudia Roden’s recipe from New Food)
  • slow cooked dinners (Tessa Kiros’s beef and carrot stew and bolognaise-esque ragu) and hot puddings (apple crumble and lemon delicious)
  • a boy who wants to help with baking (or does he just want to lick out the bowl?)
  • knitting in red and red and grey.  The aim was to make a quick woollie for growing girls, but I ran out of wool.  While waiting for more, I accidentally cast on another Shetland triangle shawl … and a cowl
  • finally finishing the cardigan, a supersized version of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s February Baby Jacket.  Not finding it easy to go out and buy buttons so considering covering some that I found in the sewing box.  Hedgehog-printed cotton on red wool – what do you think..?

  • enjoying listening to podcasts while rinsing dishes and stacking the dishwasher, and – if I’m lucky – while knitting.  Currently engaging are classic novels and chat via CraftLit, Cast On back catalogue and Fibre Beat.
  • for the under-two’s, talking is the new walking.  Long time favorites are “bird”, “shoes” and “(ba)nana”, but vocabularies are quickly expanding.
  • seeing Toy Story 3 at the cinema.  I probably don’t get out enough, but this was the best film I’ve seen in ages!  Funny and heartbreaking.  (Anyone else in tears at the end?)
  • noticing that spring is in the air, the wattle is in flower and blossom is starting to appear in the neighbourhood.

I don’t know why, but I have a deep-set conviction that the all tasks that need to be performed should be able to fit in to the time one has available.  Of course reason tells me otherwise, but the expectation tends to cause feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration when I’m unable to get everything done.  If I worked on what “should” be done every waking moment, there would be no time for what are really the important things, like spending time with the children and general enjoyment of life.  Like the medieval Persian poem*, I crave to meet the needs of the soul as well as more prosaic ones.

So with the narking presence of a sink full of dirty dishes, a full dishwasher, baskets full of clean and dirty washing, general domestic mayhem and nothing planned for dinner, other things tend to get done.  Like playing snakes and ladders, gazing at and chatting with chirpy little girls who love pointing at birds, and making souffles on a whim.

The recipe reproduced below is from Food in Vogue: From Boulestin to Boxer, Pyramid Books, 1988.  I made half quantity in three individual ramekins, as with souffle leftovers just aren’t the same.  These are so quick to make and not difficult, and it helps to think of them as a quick treat for instant scoffing rather than a fancy classic french dessert for a dinner party.  Here is my method, updated from the 1934 version for a lazy person of 2010.

Lady Colefax’s Chocolate Souffle (for 3)

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp milk (or cream would be good)
  • 70g dark chocolate (ok, I used 80g and divided the rest of the 100g block between the bases of the ramekins – this may have affected the rising a bit)
  • butter for greasing ramekins
  • cream for serving

Preheat oven to 180 degs. C

Beat egg yolks with sugar until combined and thick.  Melt chocolate with milk (I used the microwave – it took a couple of 10 second goes, but go carefully) and add to egg yolks and sugar mixture.  Beat egg whites until peaks form.  With a metal spoon mix a spoonful into chocolate mixture to soften, then combine rest. (Do not over mix.)

Spoon into well buttered ramekins and bake until risen (about 5-10 minutes, but watch carefully).  Eat at once with cream.

*If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft
And of thy simple store two loaves of bread alone are left
Sell one, and with the dole,
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul.

Muslih-uddin Sa’di

Today a boy turns five

a boy with a brow furrowed in concentration as he draws

a boy who engages in raucous sword fights

a boy who loves “cool stuff”, like super heroes and action figures

a boy who wonders about magic, wicked witches, fairies and dragons

a boy who’s not too old for cuddles and fairy bread.

Happy birthday Rex, my delightful, challenging, tender, noisy, beautiful boy.

We had a party on the weekend at a local park with kids galore, games, playing, eating, present opening and lots of shiny stuff.  And a cake shaped like a dragon, of course  (inspired by a google search and some like this).

[And the magnificent hobby-dragon (like a  hobby-horse only more magical) in the top photo was made by the lovely and talented Michelle]

Things that are inspiring and delighting me at the moment …

  • Cooking with my boy.  Anzac biscuits and “Gingerbread men” again, this time using Nigella’s biscuit recipe from How to Eat.  A winner.
  • Actually LEAVING THE HOUSE without children to see some beautiful films in the Jacques Demy program at the Melbourne Cinemateque.  Sigh!  Followed by very fine tapas and drinks at Movida.
  • Attending a real life Stitch’n Bitch meetup, in person, and spending some quality knitting time with some lovely ladies.
  • A lovely box in the mail.  I bid on a couple of items in the Uniform Project‘s accessory auction, not expecting success, and actually won both.  The 365 days of reinventing the little black dress have ended, and apart from raising money for educating underprivileged kids, Sheena has made so many rethink their consumption of clothing.  Limitation inspires creativity.
  • Soba noodles – everybody here likes them!
  • Following Amy‘s example, I have graduated to washing my hair with bicarb soda and cider vinegar – shampoo free via Beauty and the Bees hair washing soap.  I feel a small sense of triumph at this.
  • Being able to wear my woollies again.
  • Dragons and knights and dinosaurs and Peter Pan!

I had made it a modest ambition to make peach chutney this year.  It’s our favourite preserve, and I haven’t made it for quite a few years now.  I had visions of buying a large bag of the last of summer’s fragrant peaches from a farmers market, but a quick dash to the fruit shop in my lunch hour had to suffice.  We’d left it a bit late – the mandarins were already appearing in the shop – so some not-so-succulent-looking clingstones were purchased.

Jars were rustled up and Sunday afternoon saw some chopping, measuring, simmering and stirring until nine jars could be filled with hot, spiced, amber-hued chutney.

Peach and Date Chutney

  • 6 peaches
  • 125 g dates, stoned and chopped
  • 125 g raisins
  • 2 onions, chopped finely
  • 375 g brown sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tbsp grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
  • contents of 6 cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 300 ml tarragon vinegar

Plunge the peaches into boiling water, remove skins and stones and slice.  (I found the skins weren’t easily removed from clingstones, but they weren’t thick so I left them on).

Put all ingredients into a large saucepan.  Heat gently until sugar is dissolved.  Bring to boil then simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring from time to time, until mixture is thick.

Put into hot, sterilised jars, cover and store for at least a month before serving.  (I sterilise the jars by washing them in hot soapy water, rinsing and placing upside down in a 100 degree (celsius) oven for a while).

I made double this recipe, which yielded about 3-4 litres of chutney, filling 9 decent-sized jars.  This chutney is especially good with grilled or fried chicken.

[Recipe from Jill Norman’s Jams & Preserves, Doubleday, 1989.]


I’ve made some mention already of the beautiful new book Sunday’s Kitchen.  A wonderful combination of social history and recipe book, it documents food and lifestyle at Heide, the home of influential art patrons John and Sunday Reed.  Sunday was a talented, intuitive cook interested in european styles of cookery before they were widely popular in Australia, and made an art of growing and preparing food and keeping house, along with fostering and feeding some of the greatest Australian modernist artists.

I was lucky enough to take part in the test kitchen for the book, and through good timing, MY cake appears in the book on the desserts chapter heading and on the back cover!!  The recipe is Von’s Heide Fruit Cake, by Evonne Harris, wife of poet and John Reed’s publishing partner Max Harris.  Von  made this cake to bring on the train from Adelaide to visit Heide.  I used Evonne’s actual recipe, which has since been somewhat standardised in the book.  It was fun to interpret and recreate.  It is an unusual light fruit cake with ground almonds and cherries, and is topped with marzipan (which I have never made before).  Von’s final instruction (which doesn’t make it into the book) was “Paint an artwork on the top”, with her daughters note that Von always drew a face.

Well, in the interests of historical accuracy, I had to comply – and what better than a face from an iconic Heide-associated artist?

Lovely Mr. Foxy-Woxy

Born Melbourne, 1959

(After Gethsemane by Joy Hester)  2009

brush and blue food colouring on marzipan

22 cm. diam.

(since devoured by the artist, cake-maker and staff of Heide Museum of Modern Art)

Well, Mr Foxy said he was better at drawing than I (which is probably true), and that he should do it.  It did look fabulous, and was a great hit with the staff at Heide.  The cake itself was also enjoyed, with many who don’t normally like fruit cake saying that they liked it.  The painted top is not included in the book, but I love that you can just see an intriguing touch of blue in the photographs.

This easter I am:

  • trying to celebrate the traditions, and making new ones as a family
  • alone in eating hot cross buns on Good Friday (no one else is keen on them)
  • going to buy a bunch of Easter daisys
  • making Pashka for lunch at my parents’ on Saturday.  (I always try to make this at Easter time.)
  • thinking about decorating eggs with collaged tissue paper with Rex – inspired by these
  • making omelette with the blown eggs
  • having Colomba Pasquale for breakfast
  • hiding chocolate eggs in the garden early on Sunday (do you think it would be OK if I did it the night before?  No?)
  • loving the sweet Easter cards (see below – though I can’t get a good photo for some reason) my mum made and sent to the children.  She draws these on the computer using Paint – no fancy graphics programs for her!
  •  Wishing you a very happy and safe easter.



  • 1/2 cup sultanas
  • 3 tbsp brandy
  • 125g butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup ricotta
  • 125g cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp vanilla essence
  • 100g chopped dark chocolate
  • 60g chopped toasted almonds
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots

Beforehand, soak sultanas in brandy for several hours.  Cream butter and sugar, add sour cream, ricotta and cream cheese, lemon juice and rind.  Beat until well combined.  Stir in vanilla, chocolate, almonds and dried fruits.

Spoon mixture into a muslin-lined clean flowerpot about 18cm diam. (I use a shaped plastic flowerpot that I keep for this purpose).  (It’s important that your mould has holes in the bottom.)  Place on a plate, cover and refrigerate over night.

To serve, unmould on to a plate and decorate with fruit, flowers or easter novelties.


This is very very good – I love the tartness of the apricots and the hard bitterness of the chocolate with the sweet, soft cheese base.  Due to the uncooked brandy, it’s not really suitable for children, but you could substitute this with orange juice if your children like fruited desserts.  (Recipe from Gabriel Gate’s Television Recipes, 1992, now out of print.)

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