It has been a wonderful festive season with the return of my daughter from Berlin for three weeks and long-awaited visits from old friends to relaxing lunches and beach trips on the warmer days, as well as plentiful rain, resulting in a blowsy overgrown garden, full of colour! While the roses are taking a break, except for the wonderfully generous Archiduc Joseph, the sunflower patch has been prolific and the honeysuckle has scaled the side fence.The self-seeded pumpkin, tree dahlia and tree salvia are also heading to the heavens, the latter never missing a beat after its transplantation from the Moon Bed, and a remnant kiwi fruit vine hitching a ride on the tree dahlia!Here is a sample of the plants in bloom this Summer:
Left to Right and Top to Bottom:
Heritage, Archiduc Joseph (2 photos), Ice Girl, William Morris and The Children’s Rose:
White: Gardenias; Hydrangeas; and Madonna Lilies:
Purples and Pinks: Buddleias, Poppies, Hydrangeas, Geraniums, Bergamot and Dahlias;
Golds and Reds: Dahlias and Calendulas; Meadow Lea Dahlia and Gladioli; Ladybird Poppies and Alstroemeria; Red Dahlia and Pomegranate; and Sunflowers.
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Hopefully, the flowers of the pomegranate will develop into fruit! We have had a wonderful fruit season with raspberries for breakfast every morning and now strawberries and plums.We have also been harvesting the chamomile flowers daily to dry for a relaxing tea. We only just caught the wild plums (photo above) in time after a mini-raid by a party of hungry Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos and are now watching the ripening of the purple plums with eagle eyes, in case they suffer the same fate! We are similarly vigilant with the apples (third photo), though the cockatoos have not yet discovered our Golden Hornet crab apples (first and second photos). The Elder tree (Sambucus) is also growing fast and has blossomed for the first time. I look forward to using the flowers in future years to make elderflower cordial!Here are some photos of the local inhabitants of the garden:
A blue-tongued lizard sunbaking; a butterfly resting and another butterfly feasting on a buddleia flower; and a happy snail exploring after rain :And the birds: Huge flocks of very noisy Little Corellas (photos 1 and 2), who wake us up every morning at 5 am (!); and a pair of Crimson Rosellas, grazing in the Soho Bed:With all the wonderful colour in the garden, I have been spoilt for choice and have revelled in making beautiful bouquets for the house! Here is a bucket of freshly-cut blooms, ready for arranging!From simple blue agapanthus to a single rose bloom (Lucetta):
Soft Pinks and Purples:And bright golds, oranges, reds and purples: To the vibrant colours of the Christmas table:Other creative pursuits included home-made Christmas gifts: a spectacle case for my Mum: and a table runner for my friend Heather to compliment the set of Russian vintage wooden folk art spoons, which I found for her! We have also been loving the musical sessions with both my daughters, who are keen musicians and composers. Here is a photo of my youngest Caro playing at Bodalla Dairy.I will finish with a photo of our beautiful Christmas Tree! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and enjoy your New Year!
It’s so exciting! Christmas is just round the corner, so it is time to think about those drinks and nibbles!!! The first 4 festive drinks come from a lovely book called ‘Cooking for Christmas : Timeless Recipes for the Festive Season‘, Murdoch Books, 2009, which I always consult at Christmas. They are very simple recipes, but excellent value and delicious to boot!
Mulled Wine (6)
Stud 1 orange with 5 cloves and place in a pot with 1.5 litres red wine, 1cinammon stick, 1 nutmeg, 200 g caster sugar and 200 ml brandy.
Add 250 ml water and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Do NOT boil, as the wine will evaporate.
Strain into a jug and serve warm.
Pear and Ginger Champagne Cocktail (6)
Place 230 g caster sugar, 6 cm piece of peeled, diced fresh ginger and 250ml water into a pot and cook over a low heat, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved.
Increase the heat and simmer for 30 minutes till syrup and reduced by half.
Remove from heat, strain and cool. Cover and refrigerate to chill.
When ready to serve, place 185 ml pear juice (100 per cent) and 80 ml gingersyrup in a jug and stir to combine. Share out into 6 cocktail glasses. Top up with Champagne or sparkling white wine (you will need 750 ml) and serve.
Left over syrup can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Pomegranate and Rose Water Martini
Cut 1 pomegranate in half, remove seeds to a bowl and squeeze the juice into a jug.
Place 8 pomegranate seeds and 1 tsp pomegranate juice into each of 6 chilled martini glasses.
Combine 280 ml chilled vodka, 1 tbsp rose water and 135 g crushed ice (1cup) in a jug or cocktail shaker and stir. Pour over the pomegranate seeds and juice.
Blood Orange Cocktail(4)
Divide 125 ml Campari and 125 ml orange juice between 4 cocktail glasses and top up with Champagne or sparkling white wine and serve.
Now some nibbles before all that drink goes to your heads!!!
Firstly, a delicious pesto recipe from Jamie Oliver : http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/pesto/#A4OjfLKTRFIu7AG9.97If ever there was a recipe to stimulate your appetite, this one is perfect! I couldn’t wait for lunchtime to spread it thickly on warm wholemeal bread fresh from the oven! It can also be used as a pasta topping or on rice crackers or Jatz biscuits for a delicious accompaniment to drinks.We have masses of Basil growing in the garden, just starting to flower, so it was an ideal time to try out this recipe. I will definitely be making a second batch for Christmas! Pick 3 good handfuls of fresh Basil and chop finely.Grind half a clove of garlic with a pinch of sea salt in a mortar and pestle. Lightly toast a handful of pine nuts under the griller, but be careful not to burn them!!!By this stage, I had decided to switch from the mortar and pestle to the Bamix (or you can use a food processor if you own one – I don’t!). Grind the garlic, salt, basil and pine nuts together.
Grate a good handful of parmesan cheese. This is where we depart from Jamie’s gentle staged method. We just put all the cheese and a slurp of extra virgin cold pressed olive oil into the mixture and whizzed it up with the Bamix! Because we took this approach , it is not necessary to grate the cheese finally. Season with freshly ground pepper. Scoop into a bowl and top with basil if serving with crackers for Christmas drinks. As I said, it’s divine!!!Our standbys for sweet nibbles every Christmas are Rum Balls and Apricot Balls from my Mum’s old recipe book. I always double the recipe and often make 2 batches- one lot for Christmas gifts, then a 2nd batch just before Christmas for us! It is always very useful to have some help with this recipe. My kids used to love making them when they were younger!
Soak 500 g mixed fruit and 60 g walnut pieces in 1/2 cup rum or port overnight.Mix in 6 tbsp cocoa, 500 g icing sugar and 250 g melted butter.Roll in chocolate decorettes. Always buy at least 2 packets of chocolate decorettes at the time, as they disappear quickly over Christmas. If you cannot source decorettes, roll in dessicated coconut instead.Apricot Balls
Mince 500 g dried apricots. It is so much easier if you can buy them already diced!!Add a 395 g tin sweetened condensed milk, 2 cups desiccated coconut, 1 cupchopped almonds. Again using slivered almonds is so much quicker! And 3 dsp brandy or apricot nip (if you can get it- I never have!!!).Roll in desiccated coconut.Notes
I store these rum balls and apricot balls in the freezer, as I think they taste better if eaten cold.
2. If giving these as gifts, allow 2 of each per person and wrap in red or green (or both!) coloured cellophane, tied at the neck with gold or green metallic curling ribbon.And finally my much celebrated and delicious Lime Cordial, whose recipe comes from Sally Wise’s book ‘A Year in a Bottle’. This recipe makes 3 x 750ml bottles and only takes 30 minutes to make, so excellent value, except when the limes are expensive that is!!! It is much more economical if you have your own tree or access to one!!!Finely grate the zest of 6 large or 8 medium limes and 1 lemon and set aside, then juice all the fruit.Place zest in a large jug with 1 tbsp citric or tartaric acid, 1 kg sugar (Sally uses 1.5 kg, but I think you can get away with less!) and 4 cups boiling water and stir to dissolve sugar.Add juice of the limes and lemon to the syrup and stir to combine.Leave to stand overnight or till cool, then strain through a fine sieve.Pour into sterilized bottles and seal. The cordial can be used at once. Because there are only 3 bottles, I tend to keep them in the fridge. Dilute the cordial 1:4 with chilled water or soda water. That’s 50 ml cordial and 200 ml water for you mathematicians!!! Enjoy all Summer long! All year really, when it comes down to it!!!Have a great Pre-Christmas Party!!!
It’s the end of November and Christmas is just around the corner! I always try to be on top of things coming up to the Festive Season, so I can enjoy it, rather than be stressing about getting everything done at the last minute!
Some things cannot be done until the day itself, like cooking the turkey and decorating the ham ; Some things need to wait until December, like decorating the Christmas tree or writing Christmas cards, though these days, instant email has a lot of advantages. I do still like Christmas cards to hang on a string across windows or decorate the mantelpiece, but I’m very selective now with my Christmas card list, especially given the price of postage these days!
Christmas gifts are often bought during the year, when I see the perfect present or a great sale price!
And I really like to prepare my Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake by the end of November at least, so their flavours can develop!
There are so many wonderful recipes for these Festive offerings. These are my favourite standbys :
Light Christmas Pudding
I found this recipe in a book called ‘Creating Gourmet Gifts’ by Barbara Beckett, which I bought over 20 years ago. It is a lovely book with many wonderful culinary gift ideas, so well worth searching for in secondhand bookstores.
I really like this recipe, as it is comparatively healthy and much lighter than the old suet-based recipes. Remember to allow extra time, as the fruit needs to soak for a few days before cooking and make sure all family members are present in the house on Pudding Cooking Day to make their wish for the coming year!
A few days beforehand
Slice 1.5 cups of prunes and put in a bowl with 2 tbsp mixed peel, 1/2 cupraisins, 1 cup sultanas, 1/2 cup currants, 1 grated carrot and 1 gratedapple (I like to use a Granny Smith apple).
Pour over 1/2 cup brandy and stir well. Cover and leave to macerate for several days.Pudding Cooking Day
Put the zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange, 2 tbsp sugar and 2 eggs in a bowl and whisk well. Stir into mixed fruit.Add 1 tsp grated nutmeg, 1 tsp ground allspice, 1 tsp ground cinammon, 3 cloves ground, 1 cup fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs, 1 cup sifted wholemeal self-raising flour and 1/2 cup slivered almonds. Let stand for 1 hour.Meanwhile, double-grease the pudding basin to ensure the pudding turns out easily. Grease the bowl well with butter, put in the fridge for 15 minutes, then grease it again and refrigerate until ready to use. In the old days, I used to tie the pudding mixture up in a boiled, sterilized calico pudding cloth, but it was messy to clean up at the end and in the hot, humid Queensland Summers, I would invariably end up with a mouldy pudding by the time Christmas arrived. It is so much easier and quicker to use a bowl, so it is well worth investing in a classic pudding basin!Clean and sterilize pudding silver and let dry before use. I have a much prized collection of old shillings, sixpences and threepences, which I count out every year after eating the pudding, as they are not so easy to come by now. When our family was young, we also bought each family member their own significant sterling silver charm – a lyrebird for Ross (which has disappeared since) , a thimble (well-chewed) for me and a pig, camel and hippo for the kids, representing their alter-egos. Note that the silver used must be sterling silver, so modern currency cannot be used. Also, be extra carefully when eating, so that you don’t swallow the charms or break a filling or dentures!!!
Put the coins in the pudding mixture.
Assemble all the family to each take their turn at stirring the pudding mixture and making a wish for the coming year, eyes shut of course !Fill the pre-greased pudding basin with the pudding mixture and smooth the top flat. Cover the top of the basin with 2 layers of Gladwrap for a tight seal, then 2 layers of aluminium foil and tie around the lip of the bowl with string, then create a string handle to lift the bowl in and out of the boiling water.Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, then lift in the pudding basin and replace the saucepan lid. Make sure you don’t put too much water in the saucepan, as the pudding bowl will displace water. If the pudding bowl is sitting on the bottom of the pot, put a folded teatowel between the bottom of the pot and the pudding bowl, so the heat is not concentrated on the base.
Steam pudding for 4 hours, covered. Check the water level regularly and keep topped up with boiling water. When the four hours is up, remove the pudding basin from the hot water very carefully with the string handle and let cool.When cold, refrigerate pudding till Christmas.
On Christmas Day, boil for another 1.5 hours before eating.
Remove pudding from the basin. It should slide out easily. Serve upside down on a Christmas plate and decorate the top with a holly leaf or greenery.When you reach dessert, remove the decoration, then pour over spirits – rum, brandy or whiskey and set it alight! When the flames have died down, cut slices for everyone, hiding any exposed silver as you go, and serve with Hard Sauce or Rum Butter, both recipes of which also come from Barbara Beckett’s book ‘ Creating Gourmet Gifts’ and both of which can be made days or weeks beforehand.
Hard Sauce for Christmas Pudding
Mix 1/2 cup caster sugar and 1/2 cup milk powder together.
Add 1/3 cup melted butter and 3 tbsp rum and mix well.
Chill and serve cold with hot pudding.
Put 1 cup unsalted butter in a bowl and stand in a saucepan of simmering water.
When the butter has melted, stir in 1.5 cups soft brown sugar.
When the sugar has dissolved, pour in 1 cup brown rum slowly, whisking all the time.
Add 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 tsp grated nutmeg.
Pour into a butter dish and when cool, cover and keep in the fridge. This recipe can be made weeks beforehand.
For the last few years, I have used an Irish Fruit Cake recipe, as I love the idea of soaking the fruit for three weeks, turning it every day and dreaming of the coming Christmas. It’s an exciting time! Here is the method :
Three weeks beforehand
Chop 360 g raisins, 360 g sultanas, 90 g dates, 90g glace cherries, 60 g mixed peel, 60 g depipped prunes and 30 g glace pineapple.
Combine in a large screwtop jar with a tight seal with 1 tsp grated lemon rind, 1 tspgrated orange rind, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1/3 cup whiskey and 1/2 peeled grated green apple.
Shake well to mix fruit evenly.
Store in a cool, dry place for 3 weeks, reversing the jar every day.
Baking Day :
Line a 20 cm square tin with Gladbake, extending 5 cm in height above the top edge of the tin. Set the oven to 150 degrees Celsius, with the baking shelf in the middle of the oven.
Add 30 g chopped walnuts and 60 g ground almonds to the fruit mixture in a bowl.Sift 1.5 cups plain flour, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg and 1/4 tsp salt.
Cream 180 g butter and 3/4 cup caster sugar and add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well.Add fruit and nut mixture to the above, then fold in the flour and spice mix.Pour into tin and flatten the top.Decorate with blanched almonds in your desired design.Bake in 150 degrees Celsius oven for 1 hour, then reduce the temperature to 140 degrees Celsius for 1.5 – 2 hours, covering the tin with reflective aluminium foil, if the top of the cake looks like it is burning .
When cooked, brush with 1 tbsp whiskey, cool in the tin and wrap in greaseproof paper and foil.
Remember to leave a slice out for Father Christmas with his beer on Christmas Eve ! Happy Feasting!!!