The Sweet Spot !!!

Whenever we go to a restaurant ( and I must admit that this is very rare – mainly because we are on a very low income, but also because we eat so well at home that it has to be very very good to warrant shelling out money ! ), I always go to the Dessert section of the menu first ! Then, having made a choice, I plan the rest of the meal around it !!! Who wants entree, when there is dessert ? !!! I’m afraid that I have a terrible sweet tooth, but I suspect I am not alone in that !

Having just made a pavlova as my food offering for my friend’s birthday party last weekend and also because the Festive Season is snapping at our heels, I am sharing two of our favourite dessert recipes with you : Pavlova and Carved Watermelon Fruit Salad.

Never-Fail Pavlova

With many thanks to The Australian Women’s Weekly Basic Cookbook 1988. I’m sure their newer books probably still carry the recipe!  See ‘Mini Cheesecakes, Pavlovas and Trifles’ perhaps, at : http://www.australian-womens-weekly.com/catalogue/category/1053

BlogSweetspot20%Reszd2015-09-26 19.41.38Pavlova is the quintessential Antipodean dessert ! I say ‘Antipodean’ rather than ‘Australian’, because apparently New Zealand also claims ownership. See : http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/airnewzealand/8435774/who-owns-the-pavlova-new-zealand-or-australia ). However,  food historians all agree that the dessert was  named after Russian prima ballerina, Anna Matveyevna Pavlova (1881-1931), who toured both Australia and New Zealand in 1926 and Australia again in 1929.

I have taken this dessert so many times with us to barbecues and it is the easiest thing to make. I don’t know why people seem to think they are temperamental, as I have NEVER had any problems ( my friend used to call me the Pavlova Queen !) and its taste far surpasses that of any store-bought cardboard versions !!! Also, it is so much cheaper – I was flabbergasted by price at the grocery store – $12, when I reckon my recipe would cost more like $2 !!!

I think the key is having all the ingredients at room temperature and making sure you beat it on full speed for the full 10 minutes. Women’s Weekly also suggests that you use large egg whites, which are as fresh as possible, though I have never really thought about how fresh my eggs are !!BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1171So first of all, get those eggs out of the fridge, so that they can warm to room temperature ! This is probably the time to slip in a very amusing story about my youngest daughter’s cooking lesson with my friend Nell ! Sorry Nellie, but it is just too good not to share !!! Nell was teaching my 11 year old daughter how to make a cake, while I was chatting to another (newer)  friend at the dinner table. Nell was explaining the importance of having your eggs at room temperature, so to speed things up, she used the time-honoured method of using her body warmth to heat up the eggs. When she and my youngest returned to the dinner table, my dinner guest  asked my eleven year old what she had learnt about cake-making and was gob-smacked when she promptly and cheekily responded  that it was important to have all your ingredients at room temperature and that the best way to warm up eggs was to pop them in your bra! Brought the house down ! But it does work !!! And quickly !!! Just don’t forget that the eggs are there and give your significant other (or your guest !)  a big hug ! But I digress ! By now your eggs should be ready !!! If not, you know what to do !!!

Set the oven to Very Slow ( 120 degrees Celsius) and ensure the rack is in the middle of the oven.

Separate the 4 egg whites from their yolks. I find the easiest way to do this is to use a saucer and an eggcup with a fine edge. Make sure you don’t get any egg yolk or egg shell splinters in the bowl.BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1172BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1173Beat the egg whites in a bowl with an electric mixer on high speed for 1 minute or until soft peaks form. The first photo below shows my trusty old Kenwood mixer, which I inherited from my mother-in-law. It would have to be at least 50 years old- probably more ! It has been an amazing machine !!!

Measure out 1 cup castor sugar. I usually sift it, so there are no lumps at all. Gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, and beat each addition well until it is completely dissolved before adding the next spoonful. Scrape any sugar grains down from the side of the bowl and beaters several times. Be fanatical about dissolving every last grain of sugar !!!

Beat for a full 10 minutes. I tend to add the sugar in the first 5 minutes, scrape down the bowl for remnant sugar, then beat another 5 minutes.BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1174BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1176Lightly grease an oven tray, then sprinkle it with a little plain flour and shake away excess flour. Mark the shape of the pavlova on the tray. You may mark out a standard 18cm circle with a plate or a cake tin. I have also made pavlovas in the shape of  Australian maps for Australia Day barbecues (with an over-sized Tasmanian Pavlova as well, to counteract the fact that my poor birth state has been known to be omitted from some Australian maps in the past ! ), as well as flowers, Valentine hearts, flags, you name it – you are only limited by your imagination !!! But remember if you are doing a different or larger shape, to double the recipe, so you have enough meringue ! A word to the wise at this point : DO NOT NIBBLE !!! You will end up with a sugar-induced migraine !!

Scrape all the meringue on to the circle/shape on the prepared tray (photo above on the right) and carefully cover the outline evenly with a spatula. Smooth the sides of the pavlova as straight and as tall as possible. Make vertical furrows on the outside edge  with the flat blade of a knife to add stability to the sides while cooking. Level the top of the pavlova.BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1177BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1178Bake in a very slow oven for 1 – 1.5 hours or until it feels dry and crisp. Don’t worry if the centre still feels a little soft, as it will harden as it cools.Turn the oven off and leaving the oven door ajar, cool the pavlova in the oven (1 hour).BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1179BlogSweetspot20%ReszdIMG_1199Gently push in the centre (above photo) and fill it with whipped cream (I usually add 2 tsp castor sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence) and fruit of your choice. When I made the Australian map, I used pineapple pieces for Queensland, mango slices for Northern Territory, bananas for New South Wales, cherries for Victoria, raspberries for Tasmania, strawberries for South Australia and kiwi fruit for Western Australia (for absolutely no reason, except I wanted to use them for their taste and colour !!!), all topped with passion fruit of course !!! My recent French Flag Pavlova had blueberries on the first third, then plain whipped cream in the middle and finally strawberries on the last third, representing its tricouleurs.BlogSweetspot20%Reszd2015-09-26 19.41.38

P.S. Don’t worry if there are a few cracks in the pavlova after cooking, as they can easily be patched up with cream or if the middle is still a little soft (so long as it is not runny!), as there is nothing nicer than that gooey-chewy texture ! Enjoy !!!

P.P.S. Don’t even contemplate moving the pavlova off the baking tray to a more attractive and acceptable serving plate ! It’s just not worth all the drama ! That is, unless you are very very clever !!! Just hide the marks on the baking tray instead with pretty flowers !!! And don’t worry- I do know the French flag hasn’t got a red rosebud in the middle !!!

P.P.P.S !  If you have doubled the recipe and have leftover meringue, try making snails, hedgehogs and  mice, their features decorated with fine slivers of licorice or  musk sticks for antennae, eyes, tails and noses and slivered almonds for quills.

Melon and Fruit Salad with Ginger Mint Served in a Carved WatermelonBlogSweetspot20%Reszd2012-12-21 15.04.00 - Copy

A great one for the WOW-factor at your next Christmas / End-of-Year party !

I found the original recipe in Crabtee and Evelyn’s beautiful book : Fragrant Herbal by Lesley Bremness ( see : http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/320492.Crabtree_Evelyn_Fragrant_Herbal ) and have since adapted it to a variety of fruits and a carved watermelon. It really is a gorgeous dreamy book !

Rather than using 2 Charentais melons as suggested, I prefer to use a medium watermelon for its dark green skin, which shows off the carved images  to their maximum effect. So when buying your watermelon, look for a good shape with a flat base, so it will sit stably of its own accord, and an even dark green skin. While I have done the carving myself in the past, I tend to commandeer my talented artistic daughters to carve the design, while I do the more mundane tasks (throwing in the odd suggestion occasionally !!!)

You will need a set of lino cutting tools to do the carving- just be careful not to cut yourself and always cut away from your body !!! So here goes …!BlogSweetspot20%Reszd2012-12-20 18.09.43BlogSweetspot20%Reszd2012-12-20 18.09.03BlogSweetspot20%Reszd2012-12-20 18.08.20BlogSweetspot20%Reszd2012-12-20 18.07.59

  1. Cut the top off the watermelon- ensure that it is big enough and that you make a straight cut, as this top bit will be the lid, which will also be decorated.
  2. Scoop out all the flesh from both the watermelon bowl and the lid using a melon baller, reserving the melon balls in a separate bowl. This part is quite sticky and messy, as there is a lot of juice, pips etc. Towards the end, if you think you have enough balls, just scrape out the rest of the flesh with a spoon just short of  the white pith.
  3. Carve watermelon. This is the fun creative bit ! Don’t stress too much if the cuts are not perfect- it is supposed to be home-made and everyone will be so impressed that they won’t even notice if it is not perfect !!! That is, unless you have a major disaster like Australia Day 2014 !!! My poor daughter had taken up the challenge to carve the Australian Coat-of-Arms (see : https://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/coat-arms/#Images ), complete with a cheeky speech bubble next to Tasmania saying  ‘Accessible at low tide only !’, and was just showing off her completed handiwork after 2 hours, when the whole thing slipped out of her grasp and crashed to the floor !!! HORROR of HORRORS !!! Poor kid couldn’t believe it !!! It must have been the Tasmanian Bad Fairy !!! We tried holding it all together by wrapping gladwrap firmly around it, but it leaked badly once we put the fruit salad in it and we had to admit defeat !!!
  4. Mix fruit in a separate bowl. This can include : balled watermelon, rockmelon or honeydew melon; diced pawpaw, mango, nectarines or peaches; blueberries, grapes, cherries or black/ red currants; raspberries and strawberries; whatever you fancy !!!
  5. Add 1/4 tsp ground ginger, a few drops of lime juice and several sprigs of mint and toss gently.
  6. Make a syrup of : 150ml water and 115 g sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer till thick and syrupy. Take off the heat and stir in 1 tbsp lime juice, 1 tbsp orange flower water, 1/4 tsp ground ginger and a few more chopped mint leaves. Mix the cool syrup into the fruit and serve the fruit salad in the carved watermelon bowl. Top with mint leaves and carved watermelon lid. If you are carting this dessert some distance, carry the fruit separately and fill the watermelon when you arrive. I will finish with some photos of our Australia Day disaster!BlogSweetspot20%ReszdJan 2014 035BlogSweetspot20%ReszdJan 2014 036BlogSweetspot20%ReszdJan 2014 041BlogSweetspot20%ReszdJan 2014 044BlogSweetspot20%ReszdJan 2014 039BlogSweetspot20%ReszdJan 2014 050BlogSweetspot20%ReszdJan 2014 053BlogSweetspot20%Reszd2014-01-27 16.27.19

 

 

 

 

 

 

Printemps en Candelo

What a blast! Not just the garden explosion with Spring, but it has been almost a month since I started this blog and I’ve loved every minute of it ! So stimulating writing it and so exciting getting out into the garden every day to report on its progress !!!

It has been a cold week – both outside and in our heads (!) – with a mixture of sun and beautiful soft rain, so perfect for the garden ! We even had a short storm earlier in the week, which smelt of Summer and promised exciting times ahead.Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-22 09.32.46Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-22 09.32.51Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-22 11.04.49The crab apple is in full glorious bloom and has been joined by a wild flowering plum, which is trying ( in vain ) to give the former  a run for its money ! (The plum is shown in the first photo- against the fence in front of the house,  left foreground). The giant poplar is showing tinges of green and the maples all have fine leaf cover.

The Winter Honeysuckle is looking incredibly healthy with its fresh new growth and the Banksia rose is shooting madly, as are the buddleias. All the other bare-rooted roses are well-clothed in leaf and look like they have been in for ages. Some even have little buds forming. The race is on between newcomer Cornelia and our old Soho roses Lolita and Heaven Scent. I think the latter will probably bloom first, but what they don’t realize is that the old early Hybrid Tea rose, Chateau de Clos Vougeot, which is climbing on the side of the house and was one of the few originals here, has actually beaten them to the post!!! See later !

Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1268Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1154‘The Bride’  has arrived (top photo) and even though she is young, her future holds great promise and her bridesmaids, the tiny Virginalis philadelphus and Viburnum burkwoodii ‘Anne Russell’, are developing well. In the Soho Bed, the lavenders, catmint and flowering salvias are all in bud and beside the house, Acanthus mollis spires (bottom photo above) are forming. They open white and a dusky purple-pink, which complements the house colour perfectly!Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1153Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-22 10.59.57The cutting garden has been fantastic, with lots of new anemones forming daily. All the daffodils and my magnificent tulips are out in full force and I think the ranunculas might finally be on their way!!! Even the dahlias are coming to the party! This lovely ,blowsy parrot tulip (above right) has opened out flat, but is remarkably tenacious, retaining all of its petals throughout wind and  storm. The cornflowers are growing madly and the poppies are in head, albeit a little bent and shy ! I look forward to them opening up, once the weather gets a little warmer! Photos below include a new salmon Bokassa Tulip, shy Iceland Poppies, my happy mix of bulbs and the snowball tree gradually coming into leaf.Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1170Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1168Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1183Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1246In the vegie patch, the raspberry canes are starting to get their leaves, the tiny blueberries are covered in flowers and everything is growing well. We had our first home-grown salad of lettuce, rocket and radishes the other day !!! I love it when the sun shines through the colourful stems of these chards.Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-24 13.09.46Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1255We haven’t done a lot in the garden this week due to this cold/flu freshening up, but the pergola uprights are up! Ross still has to fix the horizontal beams on top, but he did plant the citrus this last weekend. They will look good behind the moon bed and should grow well there in the full Northern sun The 2nd photo shows the order of planting from the cutting garden to the Main Pergola: a Washington Navel; a Lemonade Tree; an Imperial Mandarin; and a Tahitian Lime. We also planted another Lemonade, which was looking a little less robust than the other, opposite the cumquats, to form a colourful arch in front of the entrance to the Main Pergola. It will also form an arch (over the downhill path from the fernery and house ) with the quince tree, hidden behind Ross in the bottom photo.Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1180Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1239Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1252Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-21 13.14.04 We finally planted out the stocks, now that the frosts are in abeyance, to replace the tulips and erlicheers as they make their departure for the year.Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1256Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1257

We transplanted the strawberries to the berry section of the vegie garden (just in front of my neighbour’s washing line in bottom photo!) and sweet peas to climb up a feature tripod beside the chard (top photo on left side).Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1263Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1266 - CopyAnd we had visitors…

: a local horse, who slipped his paddock – I’m so glad my neighbour caught him before he munched into my roses and tulips!Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_0691Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_0690

:a flock of acrobatic silvereyes foraging for insects in the new foliage of the maple…Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-23 08.41.56Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-23 08.41.20: a return visit from the Kings ! This super-quiet pair are obviously very familiar with Candelo verandahs ! I think I might call them ‘Oliver’ and ‘Twist’ !!! We are a bit tough on succumbing to their cadging – when they realize no food is forthcoming, they retreat to feed on the Prunus blossom, which is where they should be !!!Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-23 08.12.01Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-23 08.12.12Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-23 08.11.30Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-23 08.14.10: The next-door neighbours now have two very cute  sheep to mow their lawn!Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1236Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1197: And a very noisy ultralight did a flyover the morning after our late midnight French sojourn! Assuming it was red and navy blue, the colours were appropriate, so we forgave him!!!

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Yes !!!  We went to France at the weekend! My neighbour Anne had always planned to celebrate her 60th birthday in Paris, but plans had changed and so Paris, like Methuselah, came to her instead !!! It was a great night and wonderful for us to meet all the locals. Everyone dressed appropriately from very glam and sophisticated (not me!) to arty and flamboyant. If you click on our photo, then click on his neck, you will see Ross’s concession to dressing up !!! Anne had done a wonderful job with the decor from black cardboard cutout lampposts on the walls to an Eiffel Tower of fairy lights, surrounded by photos of her younger self.Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1205Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1207We had a magnificent feast, with everyone taking a plate of food. I made a quintessentially Australian dessert, pavlova, but shaped in a French flag with the tri-couleurs represented by blueberries, cream and strawberries (see ‘The Sweet Spot’ on Thursday ! ) . I couldn’t resist adding our first rose bud (Chateau de Clos Vougeot), even though it is not part of the French Flag ! We very carefully carried the pavlova, down the hill to Anne’s place, on an old, but firm, blue plastic tub lid, then decorated the outside of the tin pavlova tray with flowers (white plum blossom, forget-me-knots and periwinkle) to hide the ugly cooking marks!!!Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_1188Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-26 19.41.38

We also took along a bottle of Rosé ( albeit Australia’s Jacob’s Creek!) ; a bouquet of red, blue and white anemones in a recycled jar of our favourite delicious imported French jam, St. Dalfour, (blueberry jam of course!), and a gift of one of my hand-embroidered felt cushions, based on French themes, in red, blue and white, with a backing fabric of a Paris street map and wrapped in tricouleur tissue paper, complete with a handmade Eiffel Tower card !!!Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-15 16.19.29Blog Printemps20%Reszd2015-09-15 16.17.22Here is how I made the card :

  1. Google, select and cut-and-paste an image of the Eiffel Tower to a Word Document, resize if necessary and print out.
  2. Fold an A4 black card in half and place on the cutting mat with the card join at the top.  Using a tracing wheel , transfer the pattern onto the black card and cut out.
  3. Open up the card and cut out the negative space on the front of the card only.
  4. Using a silver pen, mark in the girders, as well as the inside window, write your message and put your logo on the back. Voilà !Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_0569Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_0575

I have always had a love affair with France, so much so that I think, in the interests of getting this post published, as well as not overstepping the mark with the length of my posts (though I am well aware that I already have!!!), I will reserve sharing my passion with you for a Random Thoughts post later this coming month !!! But it is great to know that I have some fellow Francophiles right here in Candelo !!! Especially my front neighbour in her beautiful blue house !  Au revoir !Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_0693Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_0696P.S. Would you believe it? Our amazingly generous camellia is still blooming. Talk about the gift that keeps on giving! She deserves a few more photos in recognition of her wonderful service and generosity !!!Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_0692Blog Printemps20%ReszdIMG_0695