Tuesday 30 January 2018

Brown rice salad and school holidays

So our holidays come to an end.  Back to work, back to school tomorrow.  I leave you will a fine brown rice salad and some memories of the holidays.  First the salad which I got from my mum who got it from my sister who got it from a colleague.  Frankly I am not sure where it originated (though am happy to be told).  However it is indeed good enough to have done the rounds.

The recipe I was given used curry powder and cumin for spices but I changed these to smoked paprika and mustard.  Otherwise my version was pretty close.  And I was pretty confident when I first made it because I had eaten it a few times and loved it.

It was not quite all smooth sailing.  On the night I made it, here seemed a bit too much dressing and too much lime.  I seasoned it very well.  When I spoke to my mum she said it had been too wet only once and she has made it a few times.  I wondered if this was because my limes were quite large.

However by the next night all the flavours had settled down and the dressing had been absorbed.  I loved it.  Which is just as well because there was a lot of it.
According to my photos it lasted me at least 4 nights but I know I had it for lunch a few times too.  At the end of the week I was a bit tired of it, which is why I was serving it with ravioli for some change.  But I did really love it.  Lots of crunch from the slivered almonds (which I forgot to toast), soft comfort from the legumes, and sweetness from the dried cranberries. 

The salad seemed to be the salad of the holidays given that I also had it at our Ocean Grove beach house when my mum made it and I think she might have given me some another time but can't remember when.  So here are some of the things we did on the holidays with a few random moments:

Jumping waves at the beach.  Eating out at cafes. Taking Sylvia into my workplace.  Climbing an old dredger with my brother in Maldon.  Sleepovers.  Swimming at the pool.  Starting Sylvia's 1000 piece jigsaw.  Enjoying modern artwork at Triennial at the NGV  Celebrating my parents wedding anniversary.  Watching Shadow cat slinking under the couch during thunderstorms.  Sitting in the hot tub at the holiday house.  Tidying the house.  Watching the tennis on tv.  Eating birthday cakes.  Helping a friend hacksaw blinds to fit her windows.  Getting my bike repaired.  Updating my MS Office on my computer.  Watching Gavin and Stacey sitcom.  Shopping.  Reading Harry Potter (6) aloud to Sylvia during the day.  Making sure Buzzy Bee was at Sylvia's side.

My niece came to our place for a sleepover and had quite a busy time.

We went into the city to wander through the trippy light tunnels of Arboria (a luminaria by Architects of the Air from the UK - see above photo).  Before going in I thought I would feed them with some sushi in Fed Square.  However when I stood to shoo the feral seagulls away one of them sailed past and took my tofu teriyaki handroll out of my hand.

When we got home, she then came with us to the vet because our cat Shadow had arrived home late the previous night and we noticed he was a bleeding a bit.  The vet said all his claws were broken as if he had run them along bitumen or concrete such as tumbling away from a car.  We don't know what happened but it gave Shadow quite a shock.

Lastly a couple of random notes:

  • I got to the cinema a lot of times during my 5 weeks holidays - making up for months without a cinema visit.  I saw Star Wars: the Last Jedi, Paddington 2, Wonder, Darkest Hour and Dunkirk.  The oddest one was when we saw Wonder.  We arrived late and were told there was only one seat left.  I said Sylvia and I could share it.  Oddly enough it was a Gold Class cinema (though not Gold Class prices) so we had a roomier seat than usual.  It is not quite as easy to share a seat with Sylvia as it used to be but we managed it.
  • I did not post anything for the recent Australia Day.  There has been a groundswell of opposition to celebrating Australia Day on 26 January that culminated in an Invasion Day parade on the day.  I wish I had gone along but didn't manage it.  After listening to the debate, I have decided that our current Australia Day hurts our Indigenous communities too much and so I consciously decided not to celebrate in any way.
  • Before the holiday I was keeping an eye on how many posts I had posted on my blog.  I had this crazy idea I would reach 2000 posts before the end of the year.  Then I just got stupidly busy and gave up.  Over the holiday I somehow did my 2000th post on my blog without noticing it.  This is blog post 2008, but once back at work I expect my posting to slow down again!
  • I enjoyed watching the Australian Open.  As usual I watch it sporadically on the telly and watch it more towards the end.  There is something quite soothing about watching the professional tennis players thwack the ball to and fro.  I really enjoyed watching the Mens Singles Final between Federer and Cillic.  I let Sylvia watch a little so I asked who she was barracking for.  She replied, "the ball".

More rice salads on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Asparagus, artichoke and wild rice salad (gf, v)
Bill’s broccoli rice salad (gf, v)
Brown rice salad (gf, v)
Mexican rice salad (gf, v)
Sushi rice salad (gf, v)

Brown Rice Salad with legumes and almonds
Serves heaps - perhaps 8-10

3 cups cooked brown rice
400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained
400g tin lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup dried cranberries or chopped raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 bunch of parsley or coriander, finely chopped
1 red capsicum, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped

juice of 3-4 limes
4 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp honey
2 tsp seeded mustard
1 tsp smoked paprika

Mix all salad ingredients.  Lightly whisk together dressing and pour over salad.  Toss until mixed.  Keeps for about a week in the fridge.

NOTES: I think I cooked 1 1/2 cups of raw brown rice in 2 1/4 cups of water for 20-30 minutes.  When I added the dressing it was really wet but the next day it was great.  I put 4 limes in but they were big limes, so I had amended the recipe to be 3-4 depending on size.  I used 2-3 spring onions finely sliced instead of red onion.

On the Stereo:
Black is the Colour: Cara Dillon

Saturday 27 January 2018

Kyosk, Ocean Grove cafe

While we were staying at Ocean Grove, I spied a cafe called Kyosk that was attached to a yoga studio near the main shopping strip.  So one morning when everyone else was sleeping at the holiday house, Sylvia and I woke early and headed out to have breakfast here followed by a swim.  What a great way to start a morning.

I had been intrigued by the cafe when I had driven past and when I had time I checked it out.  It looked like somewhere I wanted to go.  The sign for the yoga studio in the same building was more prominent than any sign for a cafe but there were tables and chairs out the front,

I loved the big wooden tables and the tuk tuk in the wall.  The decor was a little bit retro, a little bit Asian.  It looked like it was designed by someone who had travelled and wanted to get out of the rat race.  Lots of space, wooden furniture and succulent plants on the tables.

We sat out the back overlooking the outdoor area.  I love a place with lots of different spaces to sit.  It wasn't very busy.  I guess we were early.  Perhaps the morning yoga workshop was still in session.  Gradually some tables filled up. 

The counter boasted lots of drink and cakes.  I was pleased to see they sold kombucha.  I ordered my a bottle and Sylvia had a freshly squeezed apple juice in a tall thin bottle.  Judging by the speed with which she drank it, it was very good.  

Sylvia chose the kids French toast with ice cream.  She couldn't finish it and I tried some.  It was nice but French toast is not really my thing.

I really appreciated that the kids menu offered this sort of simplicity for her.  The rest of the menu had the sort of intriguing complexity that I like but she would shun.  Such as "hot ricotta fritters with raspberry + orange compote and a white chocolate. orange + quinoa shard and macadamia ice cream".

I ordered the "avocado with beetroot hummus, dukkah + local sauerkraut on house seed loaf (vegan and gf)".  This was truly amazing.  It was a perfect combination of colours, flavours and textures.  Even the presentation was a delight and I am sorry my photos don't do it justice.

I love a place that can make avocado on toast fancy and impressive.  However they were much more than that.  The menu boasted lots of vegan and gluten free options, as well as a few egg and bacon type meals.  I really liked that the toast options were a little unusual, including an ABC nut butter and a berry and chia seed jam.  And the lunch of spicy vegie chips with a sunflower, miso and parsley dip was calling my name.  If I lived in Ocean Grove I would definitely spend a bit of time here.

91 The Parade, Ocean Grove
0403 811 273
Hours: Mon - Fri: 7:30am–4pm, Sat - Sun: 8am–4pm

Thursday 25 January 2018

Vegetarian Haggis Burgers (vegan option)

Tonight we marked Burns Night with haggis burgers.   E loves any excuse for me to make my vegan haggis recipe.  I love the challenge of trying different recipes with haggis.  Though I have never had meat haggis, I have sat across from E often enough in a Scottish pub and watched him eat what looks very like mince meat.  And as everyone knows, there are a million and one ways to use mince meat.  It is the same with haggis.

Traditionally, Burns Night is a time for Scots everywhere to remember their national poet Rabbie Burns on his birthday.  Burns Suppers are often held with a presentation of a haggis (which is offal, oats and herbs) and listen to a performance of Rabbie Burns "Address to a Haggis", followed by feasting on said haggis.

Incidentally it is also Virginia Woolf's birthday today.  Imagine if we had Woolf's night and Woolf's suppers instead.  I wonder what we would do to celebrate.  Eating prunes and custard in a room of one's own?  But I digress!

I saw that Jac at Tinned Tomatoes made instant vegan haggis, neeps and tatties burgers for Burns Night this year.  (Check out her gorgeous photos of the burgers.)  Being in Australia, we don't have packaged haggis I can buy from the shops like Jac in Scotland.  So I always make it.  Which means I often tinker with the recipe.

I decided to make burgers because I had seen charcoal brioche buns at the supermarket and put them in the freezer until I was ready to eat them.  I needed a fun burger for them.  So I tweaked my regular haggis recipe to make sure it didn't crumble as much as usual.  There was a bit of serendipity involved.  Using more nuts and some potatoes to avoid wasting them.  I added some linseeds and subbed black beans for kidney beans because they hold together better.  And I added breadcrumbs because Sylvia had left out a piece of bread she had rejected.

Despite some initial dreams of battering and deep frying the burgers to make them really Scottish, I kept the burgers fairly plain.  Once you have haggis and charcoal buns you don't need to do much more to impress.  E approved, as you can see from this conversation.

Me: I think it was better that I kept the burger filling plain.

E: That was good.  Not too fancy or fussy.  Maybe some mustard would have been good.  But it is not very Scottish.

Me: Well, I did use mayonnaise, which is not very Scottish.  Actually ... it was not very Scottish at all ... [at this point I showed him the bottle of Paul Newman's ranch dressing that I used because I didn't have any mayonnaise].

E: That's fine.  He did lots of cowboys movies and we love those in Scotland!

Bless!  Just let's not mention that burgers are not particularly Scottish either!  But I did serve the burger with crisps which Scots love.

All in all, I was very pleased with my burger.  It tasted wonderful, even after taking too much time photographing it.  E had finished his by the time I started mine because I told him to eat before it went cold.

Sylvia was nowhere to be seen so no complaints about the colour of the buns or seeds on top.  She might have missed our Burns supper but I suspect she was quite happy being spoilt at her grandparents.  Meanwhile we have heaps of leftovers so there might be some haggis nachos or haggis pizza in the near future.

Check out more ways to serve haggis.

Haggis Burgers
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe

Burger mixture:
1/3 cup (65g) rolled oats
2/3 cup (65g) oatmeal
1 slice of bread, ground to crumbs
1 cup mixed nuts, coarsely ground
60g butter or margarine, approx
2 medium carrots
1 large onion
70g (3 button) mushrooms
325g (5 small) potatoes
400g can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp ground linseeds (flaxmeal)
3 tsp dried herbs
Juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 lime
2 tbsp whisky
1 tsp yeast extract
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
seasoning to taste

oil for frying

To serve:
Burger buns
Tomato sauce or chutney

Melt 30g of the margarine and cook oats, oatmeal, breadcrumbs and nuts for about 3 minutes over medium heat in a large frypan. They are done when slightly browned and you can smell they are cooked.  Transfer to a medium bowl.

Finely chop carrot, onion, potato and mushrooms. (I chopped all the vegetables in my blender and it was quite finely chopped so I needed to drain them in a colander, pressing out as much moisture as possible.)  Melt another 30g of the margarine in the frypan and fry the vegetables and beans for about 5 minutes or until carrot has changed colour.

Return oats and nut mixture to the frypan with the vegetable mixture. Mix in the remaining ingredients and season as required.  Cook another 5 minutes. It should be quite hard to stir.

Take handfuls of burger mixture and shape into round flat patties.  Heat 2-3 tbsp oil in frypan and fry patties in it for 4-5 minutes until golden brown.  Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes, adding more oil if required.

Meanwhile prepare ingredients for burgers and have buns cut in half.  Spread tomato sauce (and butter if you like) onto the bottom of the burger and some mayonnaise on the top half of the bun.  When burger is cooked both side flip onto the saucy burger bun.  Place cheese on top and gently warm under grill so cheese melts.  Top with tomato slices, lettuce leaves and the top half of the bun.

The mixture can also be used for making a loaf - bake at 180 C in a loaf in for 40 minutes.

NOTES: The burger mixture is vegan if you use vegan margarine.  You can build this as a vegan burger if you check if the bun. cheese and mayo are vegan.  Update: I only made 4 and then could not be bothered frying more so the rest was baked as a loaf and put in the freezer but the leftover burgers were great in a toasted cheese sandwich.

On the Stereo:
Scotland the Brave: Various Artists

Wednesday 24 January 2018

The Backyard, Geelong cafe

Over Christmas after going to the movies at the Geelong Village Cinema (does anyone remember when it used to be called the Village Twin?), I spied an interesting looking cafe called The Backyard.  Soon after while shopping in Geelong, I stopped for lunch at The Backyard and was very impressed with my lunch.

It is a relaxing place with a lots of pale wood, metal and distressed furniture.  I sat by the window and enjoyed a gentle breeze.  Service was friendly.  I ordered kombucha and then perused the menu.  It offered a few promising dishes: Chocolate lamington waffle, Corn and zucchini fritters, Moroccan cauliflower.  I had to try the Superfood Bowl.

And I was most pleased with my choice of the Superfood Bowl ($17) which was broccolini, avocado, black rice, spinach, edamame, pickled cucumber, radish, almonds and sesame dressing.  It was excellent.  In fact as I ate it, only a week into January, the thought crossed my mind that this could be my best cafe meal of the year.  A big call!

As I had my laptop out and was enjoying some of the Backyard's WiFi, I decided to have dessert.  Though there were a few raw slices, it was the Raspberry and Cadbury Flake Muffins that caught my eye.  They were very nice though, especially the flaky chocolate topping and the raspberry flavour.  I would have preferred a bit more chocolate flavour but I guess Flake has always been a little light on.

I would definitely return to the Backyard.  But while I would love to try some other dishes, I loved the Superfood Bowl so much that it would be hard not to just eat that again and again.

The Backyard
188 Ryrie Street, Geelong
03 5298 1813
Open Mon-Sat: 8am-4pm, Sun: 8am-3.30am

The Backyard Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday 22 January 2018

Lentil, chickpea and tomato salad

This past weekend has been a quiet one for slowing down to tidy the house, read, chat with our neighbour and eat salads.  I love getting out of the house but I could do with a few more weekends like these.  And I could do with more salads like this lentil, chickpeas and tomato salad.

I found the recipe in a supermarket magazine.  It looked beautiful and seemed a good way to use up the parsley in the fridge and the mint in the garden.  As so often happens, it took a few days to get around to making it.  I picked some mint before the recent hot weather to save it but by the time I got around to make it, the leaves were not quite as green as in the above photo.

I was able to salvage some mint from the picked bunch and from my pots.  While the mint was straggly, it was doing better than my parsley which is struggling but hanging in there.  In previous years I have tried to grow parsley in pots and failed but this year I am hopeful I will find my parsley mojo.  It seems to grow like a weed for others so it might finally work for me.

The salad was easy to put together and really delicious.  We ate it for tea and found it really filling.  It would look beautiful on a buffet .  I really like the look of the slick of hummus. I loved the salad so much I made it again for tea tonight.  In retrospect I think I could have made the lentil and chickpea mixture for 4 people, kept half in the fridge overnight and then just added the hummus and feta on the second night.  Or maybe try it with different dips or vegies.  The possibilities are endless.

More pulses in salads on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Beetroot and lentil salad with yoghurt dressing (gf)
Cobb salad with smoked nuts and blue cheese (gf)
Smoky potato, bean and corn salad (gf, v)
Taco salad with creamy dressing (gf)
Warm pea and lentil salad (gf, v)
Zucchini, greens and chickpea salad with blueberry dressing (gf, v)

Lentil, chickpea and tomato salad
Adapted from  Woolworths Fresh Jan/Feb 2018
Serves 2

1/2 x 400g tin of lentils, rinsed and drained
1/2 x 400g tin of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
200g medley of cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
handful of parsley leaves, chopped
handful of mint leaves, chopped
juice and zest of 1/4 to 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
100g hummus
50g feta
flat bread and lemon wedges to serve

Mix lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, spring onion, herbs, lemon zest and juice and olive oil in a medium mixing bowl.  Season.  Spread a shallow serving platter with hummus and top with lentil and chickpea mixture.  Crumble feta over the top.  Serve with grilled flatbread and lemon wedges.  Dig in.

NOTES: I found less lemon juice suited me better but it probably depends on the size of your lemon.  You could add some other vegetables.  I added some capsicum the second night which I enjoyed and had been tempted to add a little celery.  I also served without mint the second night and it was still good.  On the second night I served this in separate plates which was easier to eat but for a buffet I would double this recipe and serve on a platter.  I think it is tasty enough to eat without feta for a vegan version or even better with a vegan feta like this one.

On the stereo:
Ugly Beautiful: baby bird

Saturday 20 January 2018

Triennial at the NGV, Melbourne

A few days ago when it was a hot 38 C, we spent an afternoon in the air conditioned National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) viewing the Triennial exhibition.  It was a fun exhibition with lots of colour and surprise.  Artists from all over the world were represented with lots of activities for kids.

Going to the NGV on a hot day is brilliant if only for the water wall out the front.  Inside is a colorful structure to relax on a snaking seat that I did not photograph.  Then you feel the awe at this giant reclining Buddha surrounded by classical nude statues, created by the Chinese artist Xu Zhen.  The statues look tiny but they were actually life sized.

Our next destination was the drinks station in the cafe to fill our water bottles.  We had already eaten at Southbank and so, sadly, did not have the time or inclination to eat in this gorgeous replication of a Moroccan tea house, designed by Hassan Hajjaj.  It was stunning with bold colourful patterns, milk crates with cushions, and beautiful hanging glass lamps.

Next we went to a room full of everyday items transformed into works of art by We Make Carpets.  At the very top of the page is a collage of lots of these artworks.  From top left clockwise the art works are all from this room except the first: i) wallpaper of soft drink bottle from cafe, ii) kitchen sponges with scourers , iii) felt (I think), iv) pegs, v) shuttlecocks, vi) pool noodles.

There are lots of interactive activities for the kids in this room.  Make a prison of pool noodles and bursting out of them was the favourite for Sylvia and Dash.  There was also an activity to make a pattern of tiles and stick felt on the wall.

Outside we saw odd squares and circles on the wall.  Sissel Tolaas, a Norwegian chemist and artist, had created this SmellScape Melbourne_PastPresentPast. 

It seemed very odd to walk along the corridor putting your nose close to the ceramic pieces to smell them.  The kids didn't like most, though they liked what Dash thought was meat and Sylvia thought was a smoked almonds smell.  Most smells were hard to name.  Some were awful (horse poo? coriander?), but others were more nostalgic (dusty old books?).

Our next stop was Yayoi Kusama’s Flower Obsession.  This was my favourite exhibit.  A whole house had been furnished with items from Ikea.  Each visitor to the house was given a flower sticker and asked to find a space to stick it.  When we visited the exhibition had been going for about a month and still had 3 months to go.  Look at how covered the above kitchen is.  You can make out the chairs but not the sink and oven.

Lots of unexpected items were covered with stickers, such as a pot plant or a guitar or a jacket hanging in the bedroom.  I left my flower on a bookshelf.  The kids were fascinated by the toilet.  Of course!

We then headed over to the South side of the ground floor where there was a lot more to see.  This huge picture by Olaf Breuning a person covered in people with emojis over their faces was so big that the kids were not even half its height.  They were quite fascinated here too.

This room by Uji Handoko Eko Saputro, AKA Hahana was quite trippy with lots of stripey patterns, woollen cylinders, and mirrors.  It took a while to get perspective on how big it really was. 

I really loved this exhibit of simple woollen weavings by Akay Koo'oila Women's Art Centre Artists from Cape York in Queensland.  It could have been a CWA craft display but was probably more colourful and looked gorgeous all hung together on fishing nets.

We walked through lots of rooms with interesting artwork such as Paulina Ołowska's paintings (the woman on the horse was stunning) and Neri Oxman's The Vespers Series with odd masks that reminded me of aliens in Dr Who.  No photos taken as I was supervising and talking.

The beautiful swirling lights in the room created by teamLab was great for kids to dance about.  I think it was called Moving creates vortices and vortices create movement.  The lights reacted to movement.  At first it seemed a very crowded room until the brain understood that there was a feeling of so many more people created by the clever use of mirrors.  It felt very other-worldly.

Another amazing interactive room was the Alexandra Kehayoglou woollen rug that created a landscape and was reflected by mirrors on the ceiling.  We were invited to take off our shoes and lie on the rug.  Looking up at the reflection of the rug with people lying on it really did give a different perspective.  And it was very relaxing too.  I could have just lain there all day.

The bulk of the Triennial exhibition seemed to be on the ground floor.  There was more on the higher floors but I found it a bit harder to navigate.  Maybe a map would have helped.  Once my mum, Dash and Chris had left, I went up in search of Ron Mueck's skulls.  Having only seen pictures of the pile of skulls I was quite surprised to come across this giant skull in the European paintings rooms.

Even having seen one of the giant skulls I was still surprised at seeing 100 skulls a few rooms away that were so much bigger than I had expected.  I am sharing a photo with people in it so you can get some sense of the size.  Even given that the skulls were made of resin and too big to be real, there was something disturbing about all these skulls, all this death.

I highly recommend the Triennial as a place to visit if you are in Melbourne in the next few months. I would love to go back and am more likely to do so because it is free.  It would be great to go through and look at some of the exhibits we missed or skimmed over and be able to enjoy a bit more of the issues as well as the fun.

NGV International
St Kilda Road, Melbourne CBD
15 December 2017 to 15 April 2018
Entrance charge: free

Also check out  "NGV Triennial: astounding blockbuster grips the heart ... and repels the nostrils:, The Guardian, 17 December 2017.

Thursday 18 January 2018

Tree house birthday cake

Sylvia and I love browsing birthday cake books.  When it was her cousin's birthday recently we knew exactly which birthday cake we wanted to make for him.  A tree house seemed just right for an active, adventurous kid like Dash.  I am not sure it was quite the easy party cake the book promised but it was fun and we were pleased with our cake.  So was Dash.

We baked the cake the day before the party and decorated it early on the day of the party.  We ignored the instructions to take the cream filled centres out of the oreos and when the  oreo trunk was not so stable we realised that melted chocolate holds far better than cream and we replaced the cream centres with oreos.  We also found that the hold in the middle of the cake seemed much bigger than the oreos.  I was tempted to plug it with melted chocolate which would have made it more stable but perhaps too much chocolate!

I decided that the cake needed more than just some (coconut) green grass and some mint leaves, which was what the Australian Women's Weekly book had.  So Sylvia and I had fun using chocolates and lollies to make a bit of garden around the tree house.

When it came to building the actual tree house out of ice cream wafers (we bought these in the section of the supermarket that had ice cream cones), I found that my experience of making gingerbread houses was really helpful.  I used the same method of holding up the walls with whatever was on hand until they dried.  I had to trim the wafers a little to make them fit when putting the house together but it wasn't too hard.  However I would not claim this was easy.

On the picture in the book you could not see the joins between the wafers.  I am not sure how they did this and got the wafers to stick together.  I did wonder about using white chocolate instead of dark but as tree houses are rustic creations I was not too concerned.

Yet again we had trouble finding pretzel sticks (as had been the case last year).  We tried quite a few shops - not just the supermarket.  Finally we did find some but they were thicker and had sesame seeds on them so we bought some chocolate pocky.  This actually worked well because you didn't see the chocolate joins.  I was relieved about this when we had to fix the ladder a few times. 

Finally our tree house cake was finished.  We were proud of our achievement.  The next challenge was to take it in a car an hour down the freeway to Geelong.  Sylvia often sleeps during the drive to Geelong and as we drove I could see her dropping off.  The cake was right beside her.  Which would be good for her to check on it.  But was worrying as she nodded off and her head kept drooping in the cake's direction.  I kept watching her in the rear vision mirror and finally had to wake her up for the sake of the cake.

Despite our best efforts, the tree house came off the perch and broke a little and the trunk fell over.  I had feared this might happen and taken along my melted chocolate pot and some icing.  You never know when you will need to patch up a cake.  We were able to fix it quickly once we got to my parents.

Other than cake dramas, there was lots of fun happening when we arrived.  Lots of presents.  Check out this cool lego birthday cake.  Dash's parents are amazing party planners so it was a great celebration. 

His dad had made one of his amazing mocktail punches for the kids.  And he had drawn colour your own placemats for the kids.  Something for them to do while everyone arrived.  (See Sylvia's below.)  Some of the kids were outside playing cricket as it was a really lovely sunny day.

There was party food.  Cheezels, chips, sausage rolls, cocktail frankfurts, sausages (yes Dash likes sausages), fairy bread, Tim Tams.  And the cake.  The kids had a discussion about blowing out the candles that amused me.  They decided you couldn't blow too hard or you might blow the tree house over.  Everyone enjoyed the cake.  I was really happy with the frosting that was really creamy and chocolatey and not to toothachingly sweet.

Then there was the watermelon pinata.  As usual there was the queue of eager kids and the concerned adults.  However now the kids are older, the first little boy to bash the pinata with a cricket bat felled it with one hard blow.  The pinata was strung up again but it fell to the ground quickly, even with a broom handle instead of cricket bat.  After a bit of bashing it on the ground it collapsed, as did some of the whizz fizz packets inside.  Lots of fun for the kids!  Then we headed off to the beach to end the day with swim and sand.

I am sending this cake to Tin and Thyme for We Should Cocoa

How to make a tree house birthday cake
Adapted from Australian Women's Weekly Easy Party Cakes

You will need:
1 mud cake
2 packets of oreos
dark chocolate 
1 batch chocolate fudge frosting
mint leaves
sour strips
other green lollies
crunchies and chocolate sultanas
1/2 to 1 cup desiccated coconut
green food colouring
wafer sheets
pretzels (or poky)
mini oreos

Use a 4cm diameter scone cutter to cut a hole in the Cut a 4cm hold in the cake.  (Discard cake or save to crumble and use as dirt for garden sections.)  Scrape the cream out of the oreos and join together with melted chocolate stacking in the hole in the middle of the cake as you go.  This is your tree trunk.  (Don't be tempted to keep cream in oreos or the stack is less stable to hold the tree house.

Rub a few drops of green food colouring through the coconut.  Spread frosting over the top of the cake.  Arrange mint leaves, green lollies, crunchies and chocolate sultanas around the edge of the cake to make the garden around the edge.  Sprinkle coconut over the rest of the icing while it is still damp so the coconut sticks.

Make ladder with pretzels or poky sticks.  Break one stick into smaller rungs.  Use two sticks to be the sides of the ladder.  Use melted chocolate to glue the rungs to the side sticks.  Set aside in a safe place (ie it is quite fragile.)

Make the tree house.  Cut wafers to make windows and a door.  Glue wafers together with melted chocolate: Put some melted chocolate in a longish tub so you can dip the edges of the wafers into chocolate.  Place aside to dry and gently use a knife to prize off surface.  I did two layers of wafers for the floor to make it more stable.  When you put together walls, use boxes to keep walls upright while they dry.  Then put on roof and hold for a bit to dry.  If you are concerned about roof falling off you can put something underneath the edges to stop it slipping.

Once tree house is dry use melted chocolate to place it on tree trunk of oreos.  Make a few little branches of mini oreos and use melted chocolate to attach one to the tree trunk (I trimmed this one and had it on an angle) and one coming out of the tree house.  Use green strips from sour strips and mint leaves to decorate tree and tree house.

Mud Cake
adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe

250g butter, chopped
150g dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot water
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups GF plain flour
1/4 cup GF self raising flour
1/4 cup cocoa
2 eggs

Grease and line 22 cm round cake tin. Preheat oven to 160º C.

Combine butter, chocolate, water, sugar and orange juice in a large bowl and microwave (or heat in saucepan) til melted. Cool slightly (if you have time and patience).

Add flours, cocoa and eggs and mix til combined and smooth. Don't worry if not 100% smooth mixture - just mix in as much as you can or sift flours and cocoa if you can be bothered.

Pour into prepared cake tin and bake 1 1/4 hours. Cake should be cooked but slightly gooey (ie the sort of gooey where it doesn't look like cake batter).  Sit at least 10 minutes (I did overnight) before turning out onto rack to cool.

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

1/2 cup dark chocolate melts
3 heaped dessertspoons of margarine
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp water, or as required

Melt chocolate and margarine together.  Cool until treacle consistency rather than water consistency.  I find melting in the microwave helps to melt at a lower temperature.  Gradually stir in icing sugar.  Add a dribble of water to loosen up.

On the stereo:
Tigermilk - Belle and Sebastian