Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The day after Boxing Day

For years now it has been traditional in my family to have two big celebrations at Christmas. One on Christmas day and another, with more family members, on Boxing Day. Andrew and I usually miss out on the second one as we have a Boxing Day celebration with Andrew's family but this year we stayed at Mum and Dad's, with all my siblings and their children, and enjoyed the big, extended family, Boxing Day event.

Actually, seeing as Christmas fell on a Friday, we decided to give ourselves a break in between celebrations and had Boxing Day to relax, cook and play with all our new toys. That meant that Sunday was more relaxed even though there were thirty or so people there - aunts, uncles, Granny and cousins.

Phil and Kristin brought the most fabulous piñata. I do wish I had taken my time over the photo - nice background Amy ;)

From the youngest up, all the children and a few adults had a go at the very strong piñata. Toby gave it a good whack and managed to remove a leg but was not able to deal a fatal blow.

Bethany, in her fairy gear, gave it her best.

Jossie also gave it her all.

Even Granny had a go. All the adults took photos.

In the end it took Tim to make the reindeer spill his sweet load.

The kids pounced and asked for lollies every five minutes until we came home.

Lollies have no hold over me at all. Cake on the other hand..... I made this Malakoff Torte after seeing it at Not Quite Nigella.

It was quite delicious and I will definitely make it again. I love Tiramisu but so many people don't like the coffee in it so this is a delightful, non-coffee option - I love them both!

On Monday morning we said good-bye to Phil, Kristin and C and, in the hope of giving Mum and Dad a little bit of space after the chaos, we went out with Tim, Shona and the pumpkin. We bought chocolate at Adora (they sadly melted into a delicious puddle on the way home today) and then had lunch at Harrigan's next to the Hunter Valley Gardens. I had a lovely vegetable curry. Tim, Shona and the pumpkin then went home and we returned to Mum and Dad's for one more day in the Hunter.

Without all the people there was plenty of time to play with (read torment) the animals.

Sit here drinking almond tea, doing the crossword with Granny.

Swim - Bethany is such a water baby.

And lots of cricket playing - great job on the pitch Dad.

Today, we drove all the way home, stopping in Wahroonga for a present exchange with Sue and Ron. The drive went well, Milo was happy to see us and I am enjoying the wireless Internet access. Now to the wedding.... it's on Saturday!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Late with the first and early with the second. I forgot that once here I wouldn’t have much time or Internet access to post – no wireless. So, to take up where I left off, as a mother of young (ish) children the idea of a six and a half hour train trip by myself was really quite appealing. I didn’t think about the fact that those particular hours were ones that I would usually be asleep. It turns out that sleeping without a pillow in a long room full of people isn’t very easy. The man next to me and one across the aisle were snorers. I did manage to doze, curled up in a ball in my seat but was pleased when the lights went on at 5.30.

We arrived at Central Station at 7.30 and after making certain that my luggage was taken care of, I caught a train into the city where I walked, shopped and had a delightfully smooth coffee with some yoghurt and berries at the QVB. Back to Central again to catch another train to Singleton, this time not trying to sleep but reading and watching the city and then countryside go by. I finished Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (great to read as I loved his biography and everything else he wrote) and began Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden but I was frequently distracted by the scenery. As you leave Central and snake through the inner city suburbs, the houses are so fascinating, some ramshackle or derelict, others elegantly from another time, others still an ugly reminder of the 70s. When you get close to the Central Coast the train travels so close to the river where the hills are reflected in the smooth, glassy patches of the otherwise rippled water. We passed through towns I had never heard of, let alone visited and finally arrived in Singleton.

It was lovely to see Andrew and the kids after a few days without them and delightful to be at Tahlee with Mum, Dad and Granny. I had a nap and then Phil, Kristin and Charlotte arrived after the very long trip up from Melbourne. We were a full house with children sleeping on camp beds all over the house but it was so much fun.

The ‘magic’ of Christmas is different when little children are around. Despite the early rising of my children we managed to hold off on present opening until 8am and even then only opened Santa presents and one other. Everything else was opened when Tim, Shona and the pumpkin arrived around 1.30. More presents were followed by a fabulous lunch.

Mmmm, my cousins thongs are so delicious and way more interesting than my presents.

Andrew and I love watching our children spend time with extended family and they have enjoyed it so much. The presents went down really well too. I was thrilled with the cake plates to match the cup and saucer I received last year (another cup and saucer and I’ll be all set ;)) as well as Belinda Jeffery’s Mix and Bake and a subscription to Delicious, among other things.

Everyone fell into bed early after such a big day, thankfully we had a few more days of fun to come……

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Delicious and Nutritious Truffles

Tonight a taxi is going to pick me up and take me to the train station. I'll catch the 12.31am train that will take me to Sydney and I am so tired after three days of long work hours, bike riding in the extreme heat, cooking, cleaning, washing and packing, that I really hope I can sleep, or at least doze, on the train. I'll arrive, all going well, in Sydney around 7am and will have three hours to wait for the next train to take me to Singleton. I think I'll head into town for coffee and breakfast. I can't wait to see the family, immediate and extended. It has been ages since we were all together, last November perhaps, so I am really looking forward to it.

Last night I made Nigella's chocolate cheesecake for Jen's birthday. I didn't have any but everyone seemed to like it. It hasn't all been deprivation for me. I was speaking, electronically, to Tricia the other night and she mentioned some truffles that are not only delicious but actually have some nutritional value. I wasn't able to let it go so I walked to the shops at lunch and bought the wherewithal to make them.

The recipe came from here though I fiddled with it a little bit. Don't be put off by words such as vegan and raw (not that there is anything wrong with those ;)) these are scrumptious. Sorry, I forgot to weigh the ingredients to make the recipe more friendly for antipodean types. They are called gingerbread truffles but I confess that even though I doubled the amount of ginger in them, I couldn't really taste it.

1 cup almonds
1 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sultanas
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup dried dates
zest from 1 orange
2 teaspoons of ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
150 g dark chocolate, melted

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until mixture can be formed into balls.

2. Form into balls and place on a lined tray. Freeze for at least an hour.

Melt chocolate and dip the frozen balls to cover before putting back on the tray. Refrigerate until set.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The best ever Christmas cake gets better

I have always loved marzipan. When I was young, and I shudder to think of it now, I used to quickly eat the Christmas cake just to get it out of the way so I could concentrate on the gorgeous, home-made marzipan and white icing. Now, of course, I am also in love with the cake and it would be fine to eat it as it is......but why would you when you could do this?

500g ground almonds
140g caster sugar
85g icing sugar
1 lemon
1 teaspoon each vanilla and almond essence
1 teaspooon orange flower water or brandy (I use brandy)
2 eggs

Sieve sugars and mix with almonds, strained lemon juice and essences.

Add beaten eggs gradually. This will make enough to cover a cake completely. I like it on tn the top only so just make half.

Press onto cake!

I'm not a big fan of fondant icing. The icing that has always gone on my family's Christmas cakes is, I suppose, a type of royal icing. I accidentally made mine too wet, I hope it dries out a bit by Friday.

I have never been given measurements for this icing so I just make it up. Roughly, it is one egg white mixed with quite a lot of icing sugar and some lemon juice. It melts as soon as it hits your tongue. Oh, I am going to enjoy this....

My friend Carol gave me this great Christmas decoration that her family enjoyed when her children were young. The hot air from the candles wafts up and makes the windmill thing go around. The baby Jesus, wise men and shepherds then turn around too...... except that I may not have the angle of the blades right, or maybe the candles are too short. Thankfully, it looks festive even if it doesn't go round.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Andrew's Photos

I take my camera nearly everywhere I go. You never know when something will pop up that just must go on the blog. This time of year, of course, the camera could be virtually glued to my hand with all the concerts, and get-togethers that yield photo opportunities.

My photos are functional. You can see what a costume was like or how much fun kids were having but they aren't really good.

So, sometimes, I need to 'borrow' Andrew's photos. They are only tiny because I 'borrowed' them from Facebook. This is Bethany being a wombat at the daycare Christmas concert.

Toby doing a duet with his piano teacher. She only gave three awards out of lots and lots of kids.

All the girls from the martini afternoon, posing on the trampoline. I was busy taking photos of the martinis....

Bethany and a favourite friend from daycare, Bianca.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Last minute Licorice Factory

I waved goodbye to my family early this morning as they drove off to their first holiday destination. I am still working until Wednesday afternoon so am home alone. Andrew and the children drove to Sydney, picked up Sare and continued on to Sare and Ty's new house in Gloucester. I will stay here until 12.31am on Thursday when I will catch a train, first to Sydney and then to Singleton. I can't wait!

Because I can't carry vast amounts of luggage on the train we had to make sure all our Christmas shopping was done before Andrew left so that everything could go up in the car. I work pretty well to a deadline so yesterday we found ourselves with only two more things to get. The thought of Wagga's shopping centres the Saturday before Christmas was most unappealing so we decided to head to the Junee Licorice Factory for the brilliant gift shop upstairs.

The children had juice and a melting moment in the cafe when the shopping became unbearably boring for them. Toby was desperate to try some chocolate covered ginger and I was most surprised when he really liked it. Watch out Dad, you'll have to hide yours when we come up. Bethany had the expected reaction.

We finished the shopping, wrapping and packing so Andrew and the kids drove off first thing this morning but my day has not been solitary. The Scotts drove me to church (I was going to ride but the temperature was heading for 35 and my fair complexion just can't cope with that in the middle of the day) and I had a celebratory lunch at the McMillans' - happy birthday Caitlin. Mim dropped me home and I briefed Jen and Leanne on how to take care of Milo. Mim came back after her jobs and we spent a lovely couple of hours chatting. I'm going to miss her so much...... I work a ten hour day tomorrow but at least I only have to make one lunch in the morning!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lemon Chiffon Pie

I remember Mum making this delightfully retro recipe. A few years ago I asked her for the recipe and made it several times as Andrew and I both really liked it. I stopped making it because I found that it was easier to have none than to keep myself to only one piece.

1/3 cup melted butter
1/4 cup castor sugar
2 cups crushed cornflakes (I use Weeties which have some nutritional value)
1 tin condensed milk (skim is fine)
2 eggs, separated
1/2 cup lemon juice (around 2 lemons' worth)

1. Mix cornflakes, sugar and melted butter and press into pie dish. This pie dish belonged to my Granny.

2. Mix condensed milk, egg yolks and lemon juice. Let thicken then fold in egg whites that have been beaten with a spoonful of sugar until stiff.

3. Pour into base and refrigerate.

I wasn't going to have any, considering my past problem, but Jossie didn't like it (?!) so I had to eat hers.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Andrew!

It does mean a rather concentrated present receiving season but at least everything is very festive for a week before Christmas birthday. I was asked by a friend at church whether Andrew was turning 40 or 41 but he is, in fact, still in his thirties thank-you very much...if only just. The photo above was taken in my Aunty Bunny's garden at Icomb in the Cotswolds during our fabulous trip last year. Andrew had his last day at work for the year yesterday so didn't have to work today. I did send in a banana cake with cream cheese icing on Wednesday. We had crumbed lamb cutlets with mashed potato and peas followed by Lemon Chiffon for dessert, celebrating retro style. Happy Birthday Andrew!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I won, I won!

What could be better than a package at Christmas time? A package full of chocolate! Last month Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella gave her readers the chance to win some goodies. We had to choose which we would like and, of course, I chose the chocolates.

I was very excited when I received the email from Lorraine to say that I had won. I do love the chocolate coloured bag.

This is the haul, I'll try not to eat it all at once.

And now in the lightbox :)

I suppose it would have been too much for me to also win the Kitchen Aid and How to be a Domestic Goddess. Too much and perhaps a little greedy as I already have a Kitchen Aid (in beautiful cobalt blue) and all of Nigella's books but I wasn't going to keep them.....