Tuesday 31 August 2010

Banana buttermilk muffins

Last week I arranged to go over to see my friend Nicki and her baby Poppy. While I waited for Sylvia to wake from her long sleep I baked muffins. I idly flicked through cookbooks until I found a recipe for banana buttermilk muffins that would use some of the items that lingered in the kitchen.

Along the way I found my orange was a mandarin and decided I needed to use raspberries that had been in the freezer too long rather than use the dates that had been in the pantry too long.

I had a lovely time at Nicki’s. She had made poppyseed, orange and prune muffins (you can see them in the photo with the green muffin paper). Both babies had a lovely time eating their muffins. Sylvia’s favourite word is ‘more’ at the moment, even when she is mid-muffin. She certainly was asking for more muffins. They were both delicious.

Nicki and I talked about children’s books. She has been thinking about them because not only does she love reading them to Poppy but she has also written one and it is being published soon. I can’t wait to get my copy. Meanwhile, I took a photo of one of Sylvia’s favourite toys at the moment – the alien in the sock who is always with her in the car – I thought it would appeal to Nicki who has a fascination for slug and bugs.

I am sending these muffins to Helen at Fuss Free Flavours for her Breakfast Club (#3) because the theme this month is muffins! There are still 5 days to get a muffin to Helen if like me you love trying different flavours.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year:
The old and the new – date scones and vego loaf
This time two years ago: Shepherd’s Pie Traditions
This time three years ago: WTSIM ... Beggars Burgers

Banana buttermilk muffins

source unrecorded (it was many years ago that I jotted it down)
Makes 12 muffins
  • ¾ cup white self raising flour
  • ¾ cup wholemeal self raising flour
  • ¼ tsp level bicarbonate soda
  • pinch salt
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 tsp grated orange rind (I used mandarin)
  • ½ cup dates finely chopped (I used frozen raspberries)
  • ¼ cup neutral oil, such as canola
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 1 banana mashed
Place dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients (if you use raspberries rather than dates then add the raspberries after you have mixed up everything else). Spoon into greased or lined muffin tin. Bake at 210 C for 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack.

On the Stereo:
Haunted Graves, Moving Waves: Current 93

Saturday 28 August 2010

Taste of Melbourne: on a sugar high

The Taste of Melbourne Festival is on this weekend. It is exactly the sort of event I often don't get around to attending despite good intentions, so I accepted SBS Food's offer of a VIP pass and $60 of Crowns. I was concerned about going once I ran my eye over the restaurant dishes and saw how few vegetarian mains were available. Consequently, I spent more time on the sugary side of the menu than I would prefer but I had a lovely time.

I arrived and had my first inkling of how busy it would be when I saw the queues at the entrance. My first impression was that the place was packed with stalls catering to those who wanted to eat meat and drink alcohol, neither of which interests me. I turned my attention instead to the beauty of the Exhibition Buildings.

I have spent a lot more of my life admiring historic architecture than dining in fancy restaurants, so I am no expert on the latter. I was more excited by the magnificent interior decoration than by celebrity chefs. I was more comfortable browsing the producers stalls than the restaurants. It was exciting to be able to try food from restaurants that I don't usually frequent but my enjoyment was somewhat dimme by the scarcity of vegetarian mains.

Fortunately Cindy and Michael have shown that vegetarians can eat well in such places but to see the offerings at Taste of Melbourne you wouldn't think so. The lack of vegetarian dishes from these high end restaurants is disappointing. Surely 14 restaurants presenting three dishes each should be able to have more than one savoury vegetarian dish among them. It implies that to eat good food you must have meat. But where is the creativity, the environmental good will and the generosity found in catering to vegetarians (or vegans or celiacs or others).

I had my crowns (tokens that the restaurants accept in lieu of cash) so I set about finding the Izakaya Den stall in the pop up restaurant who offered the only savoury restaurant meal that was vegetarian. The sweet corn kaki-age with green tea salt was delicious.Little mounds of fresh juicy corn were fried in tempura batter. Together with the amazing salt, it was a light and tasty with a perfect balance of sweet and salty flavours. It was worth trying just for the unusual and beautufully coloured salt.

En route to the pop up restaurant, I had stopped at Longrain to taste the mocktails (ie the ones with no alcohol). I ordered a Virgin Calmin' Miranda of mandarin, apple, cranberry and pink grapefruit juice, garnished with passionfruit. You can see a glimpse of it in the above sweet corn photo. Not a combination I would normally choose, I found myself wishing that there was more of this refreshing juice. I don't go out to bars often these days so I don't know if the bartender's performance with the cocktail shaker is the norm but I found it over the top.

After trying the one savoury main on offer for vegetarians, I then turned my attention to the desserts. The first one I wanted to try was from Charcoal Lane, not because I was unable to attend a work dinner there last week, but because it intrigued me. The raspberry and rosella flower cannelloni with strawberry and native mint salad didn't let me down.

The 'cannelloni' was a sheet of rosella flower gel made from something called elastic gel that I was told did not have any gelatine in it. It was wrapped around a light fruity mousse. I loved how the smooth creaminess contrasted with the fresh minty strawberry chunks. It was both simple and impressive.

Next was The Bombe from The Stokehouse! Fun to order and amazing to eat! This dessert was another fine pairing of flavours and textures. It was a slice of tangy intense strawberry sorbet, creamy white chocolate ice cream, and meringue. It was undoubtedly the most impressively presented dessert of the day but I was still surprised at how good this tasted.

I don't know how they managed to have the ice cream so firm and the meringue beside it cooked crisp and golden brown on the outside. I do know that the meringue was unlike any I have had before. It was soft and sweet like raw egg white and sugar when I dug my spoon in. I will always applaud a dessert with some fresh fruit and this was no exception. The strawberries on top were the icing on the cake!

Two desserts were probably quite enough but I had the opportunity and commitment. However I wasn't sure I could continue pumping all that sugar into myself. Fortunately I passed the Yarra Valley Dairy stall and took a taste of some blue cheese for some balance. It fortified me to try the Pistachio 'panna cotta' with caramel salted popcorn from Sarti. I am not normally a fan of either. The popcorn was too sweet but I did enjoy a few mouthfuls of the panna cotta which was silky smooth and full of flavour but by then I was unable to eat much.

I decided I needed another drink. Having enjoyed the first mocktail, I returned to Longrain for another. This time I chose the Virgin Moscow Mule of fresh lime and mint topped with ginger beer. It wasn't as good as my first drink. Maybe too much sugar had passed my lips or maybe the noisy dj dulled my senses but I found it too sweet for my liking.

My fourth and last restaurant dessert that I tried was the hot date tart from Esposito. It was not served hot but I suspect the pun was more important than the temperature. It was nice with a wintery combination of spices but was quite dense and the sort of slice that I would expect to see in a cake shop than a high end restaurant. (Update: I just found a proper description thanks to Thanh - "Hot date tart made of lemon shortcrust pastry, date compote cooked in spice, orange juice, port and an almond frangipane".) I had a small spoonful or two but could not summon up much enthusiasm for it, because I had really hit the ceiling of my sugar intake. On another day, I might enjoy it more.

I should mention that one of the enjoyable aspects of the day was the many different places where you could sit and eat. The Age newspaper and Gourmet Traveller magazine were free with entry. You could choose to sit in large couches, at a high table with stools, at this lovely marbled topped table next to a cumquat tree in the photo, or even stand at a table of fake grass. Something for everyone!

Having used up my crowns (which are the only currency accepted in the restaurants), I set off to browse the producers' stalls. Being a vegetarian means developing an ability to ignore those whose world revolves around meat and enjoying what else is on offer. There was an interesting range of chocolates, pasta, cheeses, dips, jams, ice creams, olive oils. The one glaring omission was the lack of any bread bakers. Fortunately I could still admire sweet food.

The first one that caught my eye was the Chocolate Master. The chocolates were exquisite to look at. I just loved these gorgeous chocolate shoes. I sampled a couple of the small beautifully coloured chocolates (after I got home) and they tasted as wonderful as they looked. There were quite a few chocolate and ice cream stalls which I would have tried if I hadn't been on a sugar high.

I was pleased to see that Maria's Select Foods were selling small tubs of gnocchi with pesto. Someone beside me said that pasta with feta and olives was amazing but I just took the first thing available as I needed some salt in me.

I also enjoyed sampling the pesto at Alberto's Delicacies. The eggplant pesto was delicious but I ended up taking home basil pesto and some fresh fettucine to please the folks at home. It made an easy dinner that night. Alberto was a character, telling me how he used to wake on a Sunday morning to find his mother making pasta to the strains of opera.

Perhaps my favourite place was the Yarra Valley Regional Food Trail. This was just like browsing a really interesting farmer's market. Lavender honey, kiwi fruit chutney, rhubarb and raspberry jam, lemon myrtle gluten free shortbreads, meringues, poffertjes and plum pudding were among the foods the took my fancy here. And, like most of the other stalls, they were staffed by friendly folk who were generous with their free tastings. The Lavender Lady, dressed all in purple, of course, invited me to visit her farm.

I arrived home with a swag of purchases. Rochester Ginger Wine, Culinary Lavender and Lavender Honey from Warritina Lavender Farm, Rhubarb and Raspberry Jam from Yarra Valley Gourmet Foods, Pesto and Pasta from Alberto's Delicacies, Smoked Cheddar and Honey and Cinnamon Yoghurt from King Island Dairy, Chocolate with Cinnamon Almonds, a Raspberry chocolate and a Honey Caramel chocolate from the Chocolate Master and Gourmet Traveller. All very fascinating for little hands.

The verdict: I hope to be back, although the $30 entrance fee is prohibitive and the crowds were overwhelming at times. The lack of vegetarian dishes from the restaurants is disappointing but the food I tasted at the restaurants was inspired and shows that food can taste excellent even when not made fresh to order. The producers' stalls had a great variety of interesting and good quality foods. Good food and friendly stall holders in a beautiful setting is the perfect recipe for a relaxing and enjoyable day.

Thanks to SBS Food for a great experience. For more reviews and photos, see other bloggers who have written about the event: Iron Chef Shellie, Kitchen Wench, Off the Spork, Sweet Cherry Pie, Jeroxie, More Food = Happy Life, Melbourne Gastronome, I Eat Therefore I Am, SBS Food Blog.

The Taste of Melbourne

Royal Exhibition Buildings, Carlton
26-29 August 2010
Web: http://www.tastefestivals.com.au/melbourne/

Friday 27 August 2010

Quince Curiosity

Some months ago I listened to Aboriginal elder talking about passing culture down the generations. She said that she never expected to become like her mum but now she finds herself following in her footsteps. I feel the same way about quinces. When I was a child they were the mysterious fruit that my mum transformed into quince jelly. They were hard, ugly and inedible fruit that I could never imagine wanting to buy or cook. Yet here I am telling you about my kitchen experiments with quinces.

No quince jelly has been made in my kitchen but perhaps there will come a day when I truly turn into my mother and begin to cook up huge pots of beautiful rose coloured jelly. My mother was given her quinces by my dad’s boss’s wife who had a quince tree. Mrs M was a kind lady who seemed very old to us. My sister Fran and I loved visiting her to help make toys for charity.

The yearly quince jelly day involved a my mum stewing quinces in her huge preserving pan for ages, straining the pulp from the quinces (that I have read somewhere can make quince paste) and then filling the kitchen with jars of ruby-colored quince jelly with my mum’s handwritten labels. It was sticky and messy but the jelly had a sweet seductive fragrance. There always seemed to be jars of quince jelly in our pantry for eating on toast at breakfast. I don’t think I have ever eaten a quince jelly that my mum didn’t make. Even today the smell fills me with nostalgia.

My mum still makes quince jelly, though she no longer gets her quinces from Mrs M. She is a connoisseur when it comes to quince jelly. Sometimes we see quince jelly in shops that are selling home made jams.  My mother holds the jars up to the light to see if they are clear enough to reach her high standards. Not all are.

I read somewhere that quinces are not produced commercially. We keep them alive in our home kitchens. My mother gently persuaded me to start cooking with quinces by bringing me some of her poached quinces last year. I experimented with baking quince in cakes. I tried Stephanie’s Quince Cake, with nuts and spices. I would try this again, though maybe sticking more closely to her recipe. I also tried quinces in place of apples in a low fat vegan brownie but wouldn’t bother repeating this because it was too cakey.

I then bought some quince paste and was inspired by Haalo to use this in a cake recipe instead of dried fruit in an apple cake. This was a success. The studs of quince paste were pleasingly soft fruity bursts in the cake. However, the caramel apple cake I tried was a bit intense. I think the chopped quince paste would be better in a plain buttery cake with apple, or an olive oil one like Haalo’s.

By far the best use of quinces was in an apple crumble earlier this winter. I first tried this with some syrup from a large jar of poached quinces that I bought in a specialty store. It gave such wonderful flavour that I tried it again when I finally poached some quinces myself. I loosely followed David Lebovitz’s instructions.

I made an apple, quince and rhubarb crumble that we all loved. Sylvia loves the fruit crumbles I have been making and this was one where she sat opening her mouth for more like a little bird. It is so lovely to have peace and quiet while feeding her. Quince brings out the best of apple flavour and fragrance. I decided on a buttery crumble from Smitten Kitchen using mostly butter, flour and sugar but I think I would prefer it with an oaty crumble.

So in my beginning is my end and the quince is now my friend. I have had it baked with honey and it is exquisite but for now I think I will stick to cakes and crumbles. Maybe one day you will find me making quince jelly or baking quince to eat with icecream for dessert. And maybe one day Sylvia will learn about quinces from me, just like I have from my mum.

Below I have listed some quince recipes that have interested me. I am sending the Rhubarb, Quince and Apple Crumble to Astrid of Paulchen’s Foodblog for Weekend Herb Blogging (#248), overseen by Haalo and founded by Kalyn.
Previous on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Accidental Plastic Tart
This time three years ago: WTSIM ... Beggars Burgers

Poached quincesAdapted from David Lebowitz
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ cup castor sugar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ lemon, cut in half
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 3 large quince (I got between 1-2 quinces because mine were brown inside), roughly chopped
Place all ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until cooked (This can take up to 2 hours but mine took much less).
Banana and quince smoothie
  • 1 banana, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 kiwi fruit, peeled and chopped (or a generous handful of berries)
  • 1 cup quince poaching liquid
  • ½ cup apple juice
Rhubarb, quince and apple crumble
serves 4-6

Stewed fruit:
  • 2 cups quince poaching liquid
  • 2 cups poached quinces (see above), sliced
  • 3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 300-400g rhubarb
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
For the topping:
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
  • 1 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • 2 tablespoons castor sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 110g butter, chilled and chopped
Simmer the apples in quince poaching liquid for 10 minutes. Add the quinces and simmer another 10 minutes. Add rhubarb and cook another 5 minutes until it just starts to soften. Set aside to cool for a bit and the rhubarb will continue to soften. Check sweetness and add sugar as required (I added 2 tbsp brown sugar).

To make crumble, place all ingredients into bowl and use your fingers to rub butter into flour and other ingredients.

Place stewed fruit in a greased baking dish. Scatter with crumble. Bake at 180 C for about 40 minutes or until crumble is golden brown.
Stephanie’s Quince Cake
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion via http://www.woolfit.com/quincenutcake.html
  • 187g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 heaped teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 heaped teaspoons ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup roughly crushed walnuts
  • ½ cup poached quince, mashed
  • 1 tbsp treacle
  • 1 tbsp quince jelly
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup oil plus 1 tbsp
  • ¼ cup poaching liquid
  • icing sugar to dust
Grease a 15cm square cake tin. (NB I halved the recipe to fit a small tin instead of the 23 cm round springform pan originally called for). Preheat the oven to 180C.

Place dry ingredients into a large bowl. Mix the mashed quinces with remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and gently stir to combine.

Spoon into the prepared tin. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool the cake in the tin. Remove from tin and dust with icing sugar before serving. Mine was a little dry so I serve some with yoghurt and some with leftover cream cheese frosting.

Caramel Apple Cake with Quinceadapted from Australian Women’s Weekly cakes and slices cookbook
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • ¼ cup wholemeal self raising flour
  • 1½ cups dark brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp cinnamon
  • 60g butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 2 apples, peeled and grated
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 100g quince paste, chopped (instead of raisins)
Mix flours, sugar, cinnamon, butter, eggs and vanilla with electric beaters or by hand (I can’t remember which I did). It will be quite a stiff batter. Stir in apples and walnuts and then gently fold in quince paste lumps. Spoon into a greased and lined 20cm round cake tin. Bake in a moderate oven (180 C) for about 50 minutes (and if you have a dodgy oven like mine you will need another 30 minutes on the bottom shelf of the oven.) Cool on a wire rack.

On the Stereo:Tigermilk: Belle and Sebastian

Wednesday 25 August 2010

MLLA Weekday stew, Weekend feast

My dad came for dinner last week while my mum is away on holiday. It has been a cold wet winter so I decided to make a hearty bean and beer stew with dumplings. It was from my 30 Minutes Vegetarian cookbook and as usual I managed to take longer than 30 minutes to make it but it was worth every minute.

I had thought twice about if I used a tin of baked beans, as I try not to use processed products in my cooking if possible. (You are welcome to spot the double standard since I don’t mind using beer!) But it did appeal to my lack of time these days. The flavour of baked beans and beer worked surprisingly well. I used Murphy’s Irish Stout because it was leftover from bread baking. It was quite strong and I think I might prefer a milder beer next time (and if I was more organised I would look for a vegetarian beer).

I did make some changes. I added some carrot, garlic, dried herbs instead of fresh herbs and added a shake of smoked paprika. I added cheese to the dumplings and reduced the mustard from 2 to 1 tablespoons. We wouldn’t have wanted any more mustard! I had leftovers for lunch the next day and thought the dumplings were even better after sitting in the fridge overnight.

My dad was keen to return the favour. He invited the family for a roast dinner on Sunday. We were all interested to sample my dad’s cooking but unfortunately he was too ill on the day to cook. Lunch was provided by everyone except my dad. It was delicious. We ate at my sister Susie’s place where the kids had a great time playing outside with the basketball hoop.

I took down a nutroast. I was pleased that Sylvia had some of it with some of my sister Susie’s salad, though she was distracted by all the action and much preferred climbing up to stand on the kiddie chairs and arguing with Cooper over the piggy bank. My brother’s new girlfriend Sophie brought along a few delicious dishes – an eggplant tomato bake and a pumpkin and pine nut salad – so there were plenty of veg options. For sweets, we had two apple cakes, thanks to Fran and Sophie, a pav with crumbled violet crumble and fresh watermelon and strawberries.

The pav by my sister in law Erica was especially impressive. My mum often make pavlova with peppermint crisp crumbled on it. Erica did well in choosing my dad’s favourite chocolate bar instead. The shards of chocolate and honeycomb sprinkled on the cream were very pleasing and I suspect it wont be the last time we see that combination.

I am sending this stew to My Legume Love Affair blog event, which celebrates beans and lentils. It is the brainchild of Susan from the Well Seasoned Cook and is hosted by Simone from Bricola this month (#26).

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Smoothie, Housekeeping and a Question
The time three years ago: Soup for the Leguminous Evangelists
This time three years ago: ACMI Café – sweet but no sourdough!

Bean and beer stew with dumplings
adapted from Joanne Farrow’s 30 Minute Vegetarian
serves 4
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 cup beer (I used Murphy’s Irish stout)
  • 400g tin of baked beans
  • 400g tin of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (or fresh if you have them)
  • shake of smoked paprika


  • 1 cup self raising flour
  • 50g butter
  • 50g vintage cheese, grated (optional)
  • 1 tbsp seeded mustard
  • 8-10 tbsp buttermilk (I used 10)
Heat oil in a stockpot and gently fry onion, parsnip, carrot, celery and garlic for 10-20 minutes (I didn’t time how long it took me but I did it till they softened). Add stock, beer, baked beans, kidney beans, herbs and smoked paprika. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened.

While stew is cooking, make the dumplings by rubbing butter into flour and cheese, then stirring in the mustard and buttermilk. When stew is cooked, drop 8 dessertspoons of dumpling mixture into the stew. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the dumplings are cooked through. Serve hot.

On the Stereo:
Set List: The Frames

Sunday 22 August 2010

Election Blues and Matrimonial Slice

I felt quite flat this morning. I found myself playing The Frames song Pavement Tune and singing along to the lyrics “I want my life to make more sense”. Australia has a federal election last night and neither of the major parties won enough seats to form a majority government. The country feels rudderless, bereft of leadership.

We are waiting to hear who will govern the country. With a hung parliament it could go either way. Postal votes are still to be counted, alliances are to be negotiated, processes to be navigated in this unusual situation. It will feel shameful if the Labour Party does not get back in because we will have such a short-lived stint with our first female prime minister.

I believe that leaders emerge in time. My organisation has finally got a new Chief Executive Officer, after eight months of working in a leadership vacuum. All of the staff are delighted. Australia will appoint a prime minister soon. I fear, based on the election campaigns of the contenders, that it may take longer to get a leader with vision and compassion.

Last night wasn’t all bad. We went to an election night party organised by my friend Yaz. He made a carrot cake, to symbolise the carrots offered to the voters by the contenders, and decorated it with jelly babies to symbolise the graphics that represent those elected in the Senate. Brian served up a plate of watermelon and political simile as he explained that it was green on the outside and red on the inside

I took along a batch of Liz O’Brien’s vegetarian sausage rolls (though they are probably better known in Melbourne as Cindy and Michael's veg sausage rolls). They went down well. If I had been thinking about symbolic food I might well have take some of my matrimonial slice.

You may know this slice by another name. It has a biscuit base, jam filling and sweet coconut macaroon-like topping. I think it was my friend Nicki C who called it matrimonial slice. I don’t know where the name came from but I assume that it was because it was so good that a gentleman would have to propose to the young lady who baked it for him. A quick search of the internet seems to suggest this is not a common name and that where it is used oats are often involved.

Matrimonial slice might be useful for our unmarried incumbent prime minister Julia Gillard should she wish to marry. It could be useful if the Greens got their way and gay marriage was legalised. But most likely is that it will be useful to the major parties who are looking at a political marriage to gain the power to rule the country.

To tell you the truth I actually made this slice because my dad was coming to dinner and I thought he would appreciate some home cooking while my mum was away. It is a slice that my mum often made for us when I was little but I am not sure this recipe is a keeper for me. It needs a bit of work.

I love the recipe because it is like making shortbread (base) taste better and macaroons (topping) taste more substantial as well as using up jam which I don’t eat so much on toast. Oh and it tastes good too. It is easy to make and uses ingredients that are kitchen staples. Sylvia and I stirred it on the floor and she helped me sprinkle the coconut topping on the jam layer. Only a bit of it got on the floor! You might also be interested to hear that cats find it fascinating!

The base on this version was a bit thin and undercooked on the bottom and well cooked on top. Below are a few other versions of the recipe to inspire me when I next try it. You might be interested to notice they are all Australian.
Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: PPN Neofolk Buckwheat Pasta Bake
This time three years ago: Blues Clues Birthday Cake

Matrimonial Slice (or Coconut and Jam Slice)
slightly adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly Old Fashioned Favourites

90 grams Butter
½ cup Castor Sugar
1 Egg
cup self raising flour
cup plain flour (maybe next time I will substitute self raising flour)
1 tbsp custard powder
cups jam (I used raspberry and plum jam)

Coconut Topping:
2 Eggs
¼ cup Castor Sugar
2 cups Coconut

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Cream butter, sugar and egg in small bowl until light and fluffy (I did this by hand). Stir in flours and custard powder until combined. Spread mixture evenly over the base of a lined 20cm x 30cm lamington tin. (My tin was a little bigger and I thought maybe I needed a slightly smaller tin – maybe my 23cm square tin.) Spread a layer of jam over the base.

Make the topping by mixing all the ingredients together. Scatter evenly over the jam layer and lightly press down.

Bake for 40 minutes and cool in the tin. NB I found this a bit problematic as my oven can be a little fickle and I think the middle could have been cooked more but there was no way to test it till it was cooled according to this recipe. I also found that my slice browned on top really quickly – by about 20 minutes – so I had to put it on the lower rack in my oven for about half the baking time.

The recipe says keeps for up to one week in an airtight container – ours is still tasting good after 4 days. I have read that it can be frozen but I haven’t tried this.

On the Stereo:
Workers Playtime: Billy Bragg

Friday 20 August 2010

Fitzroy Gardens with soup

This week Sylvia and I rugged up in our warm coats and scarves before heading out to the Fitzroy Gardens on a cold wet winter's day. The Fitzroy Gardens is a favourite place that I have been visiting ever since I can remember. It is a green space in the middle of the city with lots of fascinating places.

Our first port of call was Cook's Cottage. I still find this place fascinating. These days I am far more painfully aware of the ramifications of Captain Cook's 'discovery' of Australia in 1770. However, I continue to be amazed at his parents' mid-Eighteenth Century house being shipped from Yorkshire to Melbourne in pieces and reassembled like a box of lego to pay homage to the nation's hero in 1933.

It is not a place I regularly visit, because there is an entrance fee, but the weather was so foul that I decided it would be a nice sheltered place to take Sylvia. The cold weather meant that we had the house to ourselves, which was just as well. No one was around to watch me constantly pulling her away from the roped off areas and making sure she didn't attempt the stairs alone. It is a tiny house but I quite enjoyed the simplicity of the place.

Next stop was the Fairy Tree, designed by Olga Cohn in the 1930s. As a child, I loved seeing the fairies surrounded by familiar Australian animals. This tree is a special place where generations of Melbourne's children have gazed in wonder. So many fascinating details! I still get a little shiver of delight when I read her words on the plaque at the base of the tree:

"I have carved in a tree in the Fitzroy Gardens for you, and the fairies, but mostly for the fairies and those who believe in them, for they will understand how necessary it is to have a fairy sanctuary - a place that is sacred and safe as a home should be to all living creatures."

Here is one lovely detail. You can see just how cleverly the carvings follow the shape of the tree. The little fairy baby is surrounded by family and watched over by the dark owls. Olga Cohn brings the bush scenes to life and feeds young imaginations.

Right next to the Fairy Tree is the miniature Tudor village. You might think this is where the fairies go to sleep at night but I never thought so as a child. Just as the Fairy Tree connected me to the Australian bush, these tiny houses connected me to my British heritage. It is like a page out of the history books.

These miniature cottages with thatched rooves and timber frames encouraged my romantic images of England as quaint, charming, even enchanted. They seemed more real for being sent from an English village and including houses of Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare.

Next we walked up to the playground that I don't remember visiting before. I suspect it wasn't there when I was young enough to play here. I wouldn't have forgotten a giraffe swing! Sylvia loves any swing. Once on, it is hard to get her off.

Not only a giraffe swing but also the coolest slide I have ever seen. Can you see the dragon head where you climb up and then slide down the tail. Sylvia might have spent more time here if the rain wasn't threatening to pour down. So we made our way back across the muddy lawn to the footpath.

Sylvia was too tired for the cafe and by the time we reached the conservatory, she had fallen asleep. I wondered in to look at the palm trees and flowers in the company of a group of Japanese tourists. I took some photos of plants but none interested me so much as the garden architecture. You can see, in the above photo of the conservatory, that many of the trees were quite bare and it was easy to see the sky scrapers of the city through them.

I did look at the menu of the cafe and hope we might be back for brunch or even a picnic on a sunnier day, though I doubt it could be as peacefully quiet as it was this week. But today I will share with you a cauliflower cheese soup that suited the day. It was a plain and simple weekday meal made with just the contents of the fridge, rather than a recipe, to guide me. It was great comfort food while the rain fell outside.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: Beaut bush buddies (gingerbread)
This time three years ago:
Midweek Mock Fish

Cauliflower cheese soup
serves 4
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ decent sized cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 tsp seeded mustard
  • dash of smoked paprika
  • 140g vintage cheddar cheese
Heat oil in a large saucepan. Gently fry onion, celery, carrot and potatoes until softened (about 10-15 minutes). Add garlic and fry for about a minute. Add vegetable stock, water, cauliflower, mustard and smoked paprika. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes with the lid on until cauliflower is tender. Puree with a hand held blender. Remove from heat and stir in cheese.

On the Stereo:
Let no man steal your thyme: the Shelagh McDonald collection