Tuesday 31 July 2018

A-Z of old school blogging and ch-ch-changes

After 11 years of blogging, some days I feel a bit of an anachronism in the new fangled world of blogging.  The blogging world has changed so quickly since I started.  I enjoyed Cadry's recent post about Why don't food bloggers shut up and get to the recipe (with her pet peeves).  It made me think about how things have changed, both for blogging in general and for me personally.  So for a bit of fun here is an A-Z of changes in blogging.

A is for Advertising.
When I started blogging, it was quite unusual for blogs to have advertising.  Now it seems to be quite common.  I think this is a reflection of how blogging has changed.  It used to be about sharing personal diaries and making community connections, but now it is more about promoting a post and making some money.  As for me, I have resisted the lure of advertising income.  It is far more relaxing for me not to worry about stats being linked to advertisements.

B is for Blogosphere.
We don't talk about the blogosphere as much as we used to.  Blogging back in the noughties before social media, there was a feeling that we had a corner of the internet for blogs, a community corner in many cases.  These days social media has made the world of the web far more complicated.  Blogs are now integrated with Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and a whole host of software for keeping up connections.

C is for Comments.
Comments built communities in the blogosphere.  It was a really important way of connecting with readers and other bloggers.  Now social media has diluted the comments function.  If you post on a few platforms, you can have comments are likewise dispersed.  I used to respond to every comment but as life has been busier I haven't been able to and miss this part of blogging.  However with limited energy I try and comment on others' posts.  I have noticed that in general people seem to comment less on blogs.  Is is because we are all too busy trying to keep up with social media where we have lots of likes and shares but less meaningful contact?

D is for the Data Protection Act 2018 (UK).
The most recent Data Protection Act in the UK (and the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU) in May this year seems to have had some impact on internet systems.  Since it was introduced Blogspot urls have changed from having country codes to being just .com (happy dance), my Pinterest settings went awry and I no longer have blog comments emailed to me.  However ever since I have been blogging, it is not uncommon to hear of an introduction of a new data protection law that creates a lot of navel gazing.

E is for E-Books.
When I first started blogging no one made e-books or had newsletters.  Now they seem more common.  I like the idea of them and would be curious to try and make one if I had time but the reality is that they get lost of all my computer files.  And too many bloggers seem to use them to drive traffic.  Because if you can build enough of a following you can move from e-books to a hardcopy recipe book.  And blogging seems to have led to some really beautiful recipe books because popularity in blogging usually means beautiful photos as well as great recipes.

My FoodGawker page, July 2018
F is for Foodgawker.
Foodgawker is just one of the sites that encourage beautiful photography in blogging by having rigorous criteria for the blog photos they will feature.  When I started blogging, my photos were not worthy (and neither were many of the blogs around me).  Now many blogs have amazing photos that when I started would have been far more rare.  I worry it makes it harder for anyone to start a blog because it seems there is so much more pressure to perform well with all that learning being behind the scenes rather than as upfront as it used to be.  And yet I also yield to the pressure to try to take better photos (even if I don't always succeed as Foodgawker will sometimes remind me).

G is for Google.
Google has a huge influence over blogging.  When I started blogging, Google (Blogger) and Wordpress were the two biggest blogging platforms.  I chose Blogger which seems a bit old fashioned next to platforms like SquareSpace these days, but it has changed a lot over the years.  As well as Blogger, Google gave us Google Reader which was my blog reader of choice until it closed years ago.  Google gave us Google Plus, which never took off, Google Stats which was really great until it changed years ago.  Best of all is Google search engine which has given bloggers much food for thought on how to get the best SEO to rise up the Google search results.

H is for Headers.
Headers are so essential these days. When I started my blog it took me a couple of years to work out how to put an image on my header.  It just wasn't that important.  Now most people have personalised blog headers.  They have grown bigger and more impressive.  First impressions are so important.  And everyone is so busy that if first impressions don't wow, you might not have a second chance!

My Headers now and then:
Top is my first header screenshot in 2009
Bottom is my current header screenshot taken in 2014. 
Probably due for an update, if only I had the time,
I is for Indexes.
In the early days, many blogs did not even have a menu of any sort.  Indexes, if they existed were a list.  Now every blog has a menu bar and most indexes are pages of images.  I have resisted too many images in my recipe index.  I must prefer to scan a list than scroll through lots of photos.  I find too many images in an index makes it too time consuming to scan.

J is for Juggling.
All the pressures to have that right look means that blogging takes me more time these days then when I could post a crap photo, write a stream of consciousness and press Post.  Now there are photos to edit, links to include and getting the formatting right.  It is hard to find the right blog/life balance.  I find myself juggling time needed for work and family with blogging.  This might mean buying the ingredients and being too tired after work to cook a dish to blog; having a blog post written but not posting because I have family distractions; or taking photos during the day of food I should eat at night without natural light (but who would believe we eat without natural light if you were to look at blog photos!). 

K is for Kari.
I was sad recently when Kari of Bite Sized Thoughts wrote on her blog that she was stepping back from blogging.  I understand.  But I have seen too many bloggers fall by the wayside during my 11 years of blogging and it makes me sad.  I think this is partly because in the early days I would connect with other blogs far more easily than now when I have so much less time for blogging.

L is for Light.
The current trend seems to be lots of light in photos and lots of white space in blog design.  When I started there was more backgrounds and patterns in blog design but now it is more minimalist, more white light.  In photos there is more light on the food but also lots of white space around it.  I have noticed I need far more time to set up a photo in this way and edit it too.  I don't always have the time I need but I feel the pressure for well lit photos.  We now live in an instagram world of images where lighting and editing are considered essential tools of blogging.

My camera (EOS550D - aka to a Rebel T2i) I have mostly been using for the blog for years and assorted lens.
M is for Money.
I see a lot of people write about how much blogging costs them.  It has always been pretty low cost to me.  Yes I have bought fancier cameras but most of my kit is for people as much as blogging.  I have chosen to go with Blogger, do all my own design, and use the blogspot domain rather than spend money.  If I started now, though, it might be different.  I could be tempted to pay SquareSpace for hosting my blog and buy a domain name. 

N is for Names.
When I started blogging, it was common to use a blog pseudonym.  It was a security issue.  People seemed more wary of having a public persona that could be linked to them In Real Life.  (Or was that just me?)  It was rare to see a blog whose title was the full name of the blogger.  This has changed and now most people seem more comfortable with sharing their full name, often as the title of their blog.  Bloggers also more commonly use a photo of themselves than they did in the early days.  Are we all just become more used to being online.  I am still wary of what I post online on my blog and social media. 

O is for Old school blogging.
When I talk about old school blogging I am reflecting on how different blogging has become.  When I started out, it was more of a personal reflection on cooking, it was an invitation into someone's kitchen to find out what they loved.  They were keen to learn from each other.  Now bloggers are often coming into the reader's kitchen as the expert who can help them to make the Best Damn [Insert name of recipe].  Old school blogging is not dead but it often seems the exception rather than the rule.  I confess I delight to see a blogger with blurry recipes who is just doing their own thing rather than presenting their best face.

Bloggers potluck picnic in Princess Park
P is for Picnics and Potlucks.
When I was first blogging there was a group of vegan bloggers in Melbourne who used to have picnics and potlucks that were open to all bloggers.  It was a great way to taste some of the dishes people were sharing on blogs.  I still see some of these people at occasional picnics or dinners.  These days they organise on FaceBook rather than on blogs.  This is the sort of community that was so wonderful when I first started blogging that I don't see in blogging any more.  (Which is not to say it does not happen in social media.)

Q is for Quirky.
I really loved it when bloggers used to post quirky recipes that I would never see elsewhere in cookbooks and magazine.  Blogging didn't have to be safe.  I started blogging partly because blogs gave me novel ideas.  The very first blog event I participated in was called They Go Really Well Together (TGRWT). It encouraged bloggers to try unusual food pairings.  Such as strawberries and coriander in Berry Guacamole.  Now I think that such quirkiness is more mainstream.  And bloggers are more interested in appealing to the masses rather than just pleasing themselves.

R is for Recipe Attribution.
One thing I learnt as soon as I started blogging was to make sure I made it clear where I had found a recipe or even where I had found inspiration.  There was lots of discussion about recipe attribution and ethics.  Originally a lot of recipes on blogs were from cookbooks.  There weren't many recipes online then.  Then bloggers began to make other bloggers' recipes, often with adaptations.  It was great to be able to follow the links back through all the previous incarnations.  Then bloggers got cookbook deals and we all tread a bit more carefully about reproducing cookbook recipes.  Now blogging is now more about original recipes and less about attribution.
Fun changes to stop sign in Castlemaine
S is for Sharing.
When I first started blogging there were lots of blogging events.  Someone would give a theme, bloggers would send them in and the originator would gather them together in one post.  It was a great way to get inspiration, make connections and drive traffic.  I miss this sort of sharing of recipes.  We used to ask advice, share learnings and links to each other more than now.  I think this is partly because social media has taken over the sharing but I find it less open (because you need a membership and there are so many platforms) and more overwhelming (so it is easier to miss helpful social media posts).

T is for Trove.
In the old days, every now and again someone lost a lot of data or had their blog hacked.  It doesn't seem to happen so often now (or I am not aware of it).  I suspect our back up systems are better these days.   We are all far more aware of backing up.  In Australia, the National Library of Victoria has an online archive of websites that is searchable on the Trove database.  I feel very lucky to be one of the blogs being archived on Pandora, not just once but every year or two.

U is for Updates.
In an ideal world, every post would be up to date with no broken links, updates when cafes have closed, and lots of external and internal links to relevant content.  Updates were always a challenge and get harder as my blog gets bigger. The other updates that are a challenge is keeping hardware updated.  I note this as our modem died today and we had to buy a new one and make sure it is compatible with the NBN (National Broadband Network) that is set to roll out soon locally.

V is for Videos.
The idea of videos and podcasts was unheard of when I started blogging.  Now it is quite common.  In fact, we now have vloggers who just blog with video.  I appreciate how videos are useful for a visual picture of how to cook a dish.  But I often skip over them as I prefer to skim text at my own pace.

W is for Writing.
Years ago, the size of pictures was a big issue.  They would slow down your internet speed if they were too big.  Hence writing was still king.  These days writing seems less valued by many but I still love it.  Cadry recently wrote about people who want to go straight to the recipe without reading.  But you can easy find recipes online without all the introductory chatter that is part of blogging.  I love to write and loving to read good writing.  When I look back at old posts, I am far more proud of the writing than the photos. 

X is for X- rated comments.
Spam was not such a big deal when I started blogging but along the way I have received a few nasty x-rated comments.  Not too many but enough to feel uncomfortable about it.  But most spam is harmless: just annoying and inappropriate.  Spam got worse and spam filters got better.  One of the best recent changes in Blogger is the ability to have all comments moderated except those from the last 2 weeks.  It stops the blog filling up with spam comments and means I hardly take much notice of them.  But I do get annoyed by constant emails asking me to promote other blogs and webpages, many of which are irrelevant to my blog.

Y is for Y am I still blogging?
I started my blog because I wanted a resource of recipes.  I am still blogging because I enjoy the creativity, I love to write, and I feel very lucky to have a blog that is a resource of favourite recipes as well as a record of moments in my life.

I wish I looked as cute as this wee wombat when I sleep!
Z is for Zzzzz
Blogging has slowed over the last few years as I get busier, older and need more sleep.  There are never enough hours in the day.  'Nuff said.  Time for bed!

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Vegemite fudge 2.0

We recently had an international visitor who offered to bake a German apple cake for our group.  So I invited him to one of our regular morning teas.  It was such a lovely gesture to bring the cake that I decided to make something quite uniquely Australian for him: vegemite fudge.

I was inspired by the caramel fudge I made for our Christmas in July lunch, which was so sweet I thought it could do with some salt.  Then I thought I could add Vegemite.  Then I didn't have white chocolate so I added dark choc chips instead.  I was very pleased with the outcome.

We had a really nice morning tea.  The German apple cake with lots of ice cream and cream was wonderful.  Others brought in savoury buns and Japanese cheesecake so it was quite a feast.  While our visitor and his wife were happy to taste the fudge, some of the other internationals I work with were more wary.  I argued that this was an easier way to try Vegemite than spreading it on toast.  Here are a few of the reactions to the fudge:

I am confused.  It tastes like breakfast but it tastes like dessert.
What is Vegemite?
It is a nice balance of sweet and salty
Vegemite?  No wonder it tasted so strong.
It doesn't taste of Vegemite.

For the skeptics, let me explain.  Our iconic dark salty Vegemite gives a depth of flavour: a little bit umami and a salty balance to the sweet fudge.  If you are not Australian, I hasten to add that adding Vegemite to fudge is not common.  I am possibly one of the only bloggers to have posted two Vegemite fudge recipes.  Yes, this is not my first go at vegemite fudge.  In fact I think it could become quite common in this household.  I rather like it! 

More vegemite recipes:
Cheeseymite scones
Sourdough cheeseymite scrolls
Vegemite burger (v)
Vegemite and poppy seed scones (v)
Vegemite fudge - with caramel layer

Vegemite Fudge
Adapted from Bundaberg Sugar via Green Gourmet Giraffe
Makes 60 small pieces

125g butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, not packed
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tbsp vegemite
395g can condensed milk
200g dark choc chips

Line a small slice tin (28cm x 18cm x 3cm) with baking paper.

Melt butter in a large saucepan.  Add brown sugar, golden syrup, vegemite and condensed milk.  Bring to the boil over a medium heat.  Reduce to a low heat and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and add chocolate, stirring until smooth.  Pour into prepared tin immediately and spread evenly with the back of a spoon.

Cool to room temperature for at least 30 minutes.  Once set, cut into small pieces with a clean hot knife (I had to clean my knife under hot water a few times while cutting up the fudge). 

NOTES: you could try marmite or promite instead of vegemite, though it would alter the flavour slightly.  I wonder if you could try miso too.  

On the Stereo:
Absent Friends: The Divine Comedy

Sunday 22 July 2018

Fruit Christmas tree

I love a good celebratory dinner but it does often involve so much rich food.  It is always very satisfying to find ways to be a little healthier.  If you look online, there are lots of fun festive ways to shape fruit and cheeses.  For this year's Christmas in July lunch, I made a fruit Christmas tree.

Sylvia and I went to the Queen Victoria Market the previous day to buy fruit.  I had hoped there might be some fresh cranberries or out of season grapes but none to be found.  We bought lots of berries - strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries plus some kiwi fruit and pineapple.  The pineapple was to be the star as well the the yellow fruit.  I was also excited to find red kiwi fruit but it went squishy quite quickly.

We cut a hole in an apple, and sliced the bottom to get it to sit firmly.  Then we sat a carrot in the hole, trying to have it as straight as possible - ours was a little crooked.  The carrot, if you like, is the trunk, the toothpicks are the branches and the fruit is the leaves.  While I chopped fruit, Sylvia stuck the toothpicks into the apple and carrot.  She started at the bottom and cut the toothpicks smaller as she got closer to the top.

The final tree was good but could have had more coverage.  I followed Handimania's instructions and found that they didn't have that many toothpicks.  Maybe their fruit was bigger chunks.  I felt that we could have done with more toothpicks but we ran out of time.  With both me and Sylvia working on it, we took over 30 minutes and needed more time.  When people arrived I stacked the rest of the fruit around the base, which worked well.  I think that it was good to make the tree close to the lunch as some of the fruit got slightly soft even over a couple of hours.

I really loved this addition to the Christmas dessert.  It was really refreshing to have after a large main meal.  And I really enjoyed grazing on the fruit both during lunch and after everyone had gone.  It appealed to the kids too, which was pleasing.

Upon reflection, it seemed ironic to have a summery cheese board, fudge and a fruit tree for dessert for our Christmas in July when we were trying to make the most of a festive winter feast.  On the other hand, this is a Christmas dessert item that would work very well in summer, so when December comes around, I would like to try this again and make the most of all the lovely summer fruit.

More fun ways to serve fruit  on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Watermelon monster (gf, v) 
Rainbow fruit kebabs (gf, v)
Choc-nut banana and fruit kebabs (gf, v)
Christmas in July dessert cheese platter
Fruity icy poles (gf, v)

On the Stereo:
The Original Christmas Album: 20 Party Christmas Crackers - Various Artists

Thursday 19 July 2018

Oreo Christmas Tree Pops

During the recent school holidays, I came home from work one day to find Sylvia had put sticks into Oreos and was about to dip them in chocolate.  She had seen it in a Youtube video.  As I am always up for some fun with food, I said these could be a test run for a batch for Christmas in July.

Sylvia choose some chocolate vanilla splits Oreos and when Christmas in July came around she put the sticks into the Oreos without any help.

It would seem easy enough to just poke a stick between the biscuits but chocolate holds much firmer than cream filling.  Sylvia split the Oreo, melted white chocolate to glue the stick on, and then put the lid on.

Covering the Oreos with white chocolate was much harder.  Sylvia had read about melting the chocolate over simmering water.  Like a lot of kids she doesn't like working over the hot stove, so she had poured some boiling water into a larger bowl and sat her melting chocolate bowl in it.  This was the best way to melt chocolate - half melted in the microwave and then fully melted over the boiling water,

I found some old polystyrene foam to keep the Oreo pops upright while the white chocolate set.  This was best done in the fridge.  We dipped only the bottom half of a few Oreos so they had a dark naked top.  I found that these were more likely to go stale quicker - for these it was more important to keep them in an airtight container.

The next day, we decorated the Oreos.  For Christmas in July we had decided to make Christmas trees.  How hard could it be to pipe a tree out of green chocolate?  Definitely not as easy as it looked.  We tried colouring the white chocolate with green chocolate colouring powder but found the green gel food dye better.  Then we cut a tiny hole in a ziplock bag and before we knew it there were three holes in the bag.  We practiced on the baking paper, as you can see below, before piping onto Oreos.  I tried again and was a little more successful but it was still hard to make that perfect Christmas tree.  I think it would need quite a bit of practice. 

Once we had done all the cake pops, Sylvia made a few chocolate Christmas trees for snacking.  We put hundreds and thousands (sprinkles) which made fine baubles but had to be used sparingly.  As you can see in the picture above, the little balls go everywhere.  The floor has been swept so many times since we made these and I swear more appear every time!  Next time I must remember to do it over a large roasting tin to catch the sprinkles.

My attempts at the stars was pitiful.  I tried to melt the white chocolate in the microwave and it seized.  I should have listened to Sylvia's tips for melting chocolate over the bowl of boiling water.  So the stars were blobs but maybe a packet of star sprinkles would be easier.  Sylvia also tried some edible pens, which seemed to work too but were not quite as striking as the coloured chocolate.  The kids loved the Oreo pops at the Christmas in July dinner and Sylvia had a few leftover for school lunches this week.

More festive chocolate treats:
Chocolate panforte
Christmas pudding bites
Christmas royals
Fruitcake with chocolate chunks
Reindeer cake pops
White Christmas

How to make Oreo Christmas Tree Pops

You will need
2 x 137g packets of Oreos
Lollypop sticks
White chocolate for melting (300-400g)
Green and yellow food gel colouring
Hundred and thousands sprinkles

Separate the two biscuits in the Oreos and place a stick into the buttercream.  Melt about 100g of white chocolate (over a double boiler or half melted in the microwave and then finished melting over  bowl of boiling water) and dab a small teaspoonful on the buttercream inside of the Oreo, press the top biscuit onto it.  Leave for an hour of so to let dry.

Melt about 200g white chocolate, dip the Oreos into the melted chocolate and let set.  I like to stick them into  polystrene foam or some playdough,  We let ours set in the fridge over night but a couple of hours is probably enough.

Melt 70g of white chocolate and dye green with a drop or two of food gel.  Pipe very thin zigzags getting gradually wider (We used a ziplock bag with a small hole cut in the corner) on the Oreo to make it looks like a Christmas tree.  Sprinkle sparingly with hundreds and thousands.  Melt remaining white chocolate and colour yellow with food gel.  Pipe on top of the tree as the star.  Let it set.  Store in an airtight container.

NOTE: I have estimated the chocolate used as it depends how thick or thin the chocolate coats the Oreos.  If you have melted chocolate leftover, leave in the bowl and pour next lot of white chocolate over it so leftovers can also melt again. 

On the Stereo:
Dr Demento presents The Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of all Time: various artists

Monday 16 July 2018

Layered nut roast for Christmas in July

We held a Christmas in July lunch on the weekend for a few friends.  It is a cosy way to celebrate a long cold winter.  Fortunately it came at the end of a week of holidays, so I had some time and energy to prepare.  Sylvia loves helping with the planning.  It is our opportunity to make some fun Christmas food without all the stress of the festive season.

Planning in earnest started on thursday two days before when we went to the Queen Vic Market to shop for food for the dinner.  Sylvia had a friend over so it seemed a fun outing (and delicious too - who can resist the hot jam doughnuts!)  She was amazed that cinnamon came in sticks.

When we got home I was perplexed at trying to work out how to get the cinnamon sticks around a vanilla candle.  Sylvia and I worked out I should put thick sticky tape on the table, line up cinnamon sticks on it and roll it around the candle.  When I looked more online, I found good advice about using a rubber band to keep the sticks around the candle.  The candles looked very festive, but next time I will put twine as well as ribbon and try to remember to add the rosemary or greenery before everyone arrived.

I made caramel fudge on Thursday.  It was pretty quick to make.  I left it in the fridge overnight and cut it straight from the fridge.  This meant it was rather brittle and there were lots of fragments.  Next time I will cut it when room temperature.  Sylvia organised red and green sprinkles to put on top which looked quite festive.

We also started on the oreo pops on Thursday.  Sylvia had another play date on Friday but we had a little time in the morning to finish these.  I have posted separately about these Oreo Christmas Tree Pops.  They were Sylvia's idea and were just served to the kids.  A great success.

Sylvia brought cupcakes home from her playdate which she thought might be good for Christmas in July.  I convinced her to put them in the freezer for school lunches because we had enough sweet food.

Once Sylvia was gone to her friend's place on Friday I made the nut roast.  I planned to make it a simple smoked cheese and carrot nut roast that I had made before.  Then I threw some parsley in with the breadcrumbs in the blender.  They looked so good I decided to make a green layer.  And why not a red layer too!

E was given a box of fruit and veg the previous weekend with a lot of herbs.  The Italian parsley was easy to recognise but the others stumped me.  After using the parsley, I wanted to put the rest in the middle layer.  So I put out a photo on Facebook in desperation.  After I had thrown them all in, I got some helpful advice that most of the herbs left were indeed a different variety of parsley and the long thin leaves were curry leaves.  If I had been more on the ball I would have recognised the curry leaves and not added them.  The herb layer was very herby and the tomato layer was very tomatoey but in the whole nut roast with gravy they worked.

And the layers were not quite enough for me.  I decided to make some holly leaves to decorate the loaf.  I did these on the bottom of the tin so it would be on top when I turned it out.  The green layer was quite stiff and easy to mould.  The red layer was a lot softer and more difficult to shape.

I also made gravy on Friday evening, made lemonade with excess citrus fruit, roasted some eggplant and red capsicum, and chopped up potatoes, parsnip, pumpkin and sweet potato to be left in large bowls of water until they were roasted the next day.  Below is my vegie shopping list. (I had meant to also roast garlic but forgot it.)We had some leftovers of all the vegies.  I love leftovers and was a bit sad that there were not many leftovers.  Just enough to last us dinner that night and lunch the next day.  After that there was only a good cup of gravy and a stub of nut roast.

Shopping list:
1.7 kg potatoes
1 small wedge of pumpkin
1 large parsnip
1 eggplant
2 red peppers
1 sweet potato
2 or 3 cups of Brussels spouts
2 onions in gravy- more than plenty


Mulled wine and home made lemonade (made by K)

Candy Cane Pizza (for the kids)
Layered nut roast
Spinach and cheese pie (made by D)
Roast vegetables - potato, pumpkin, parsnip, red pepper, eggplant, sweet potato
Steamed Brussels sprouts

Oreo Christmas Tree Pops (for the kids)
Fruit Christmas Tree
Cheese board

I had good intentions of tidying the house but didn't do much until Saturday morning before everyone arrived.  It is so much more fun to cook!  First thing Saturday morning, Sylvia and I rode to the shops for olive oil before making candy cane pizza and roasting vegies.  It was the usual rush but the house looked as neat as it gets by the time everyone had arrived.

I felt a bit behind because we were still making the Christmas tree of fruit when guests arrived.  I will write more about the fruity Christmas tree.  I also had not set the tables and did not have enough time for many photos!  Sylvia looked the party with a santa jacket on that we worked out we had bought for her in Scotland when she was 3 years old (almost 6 years ago).  Her bear also squeezed into an old santa jacket.

I had the candy cane pizza ready to heat up and this was the first to be served.  It is for the kids who all seem to eat pizza and want to eat and play.  This year marked a milestone.  Other years I have seated them around the little red Ikea kids table.  This year I decided the kids were getting too big for kiddie chairs.  We cleaned up a green table from the backyard and put a nice table cloth on it and some folding chairs around it. The kids had finished eating by the time I served the adults.

I would have liked more time to prepare, especially as that fruit Christmas tree took ages.  But by the time everyone arrived, everything was cooked.  All I had to do with heat everything up.  Then I discovered that my oven had gone out, which put me a bit out.  Everyone was happy to have some mulled wine while they waited.  But I eventually had it ready for everyone to serve themselves before taking a seat.  You can see the holly on the nut roast in the above photo.

Here is my rather full plate.  I love a good roast dinner and then was most satisfying.  However it was a little cooler than I had planned.  I don't make lots of meals where lots of dishes need to be served at one and can still find that a struggle to juggle it all.

Sylvia had told me that when the fudge appeared there would be a stampede of kids.  In fact we gave the kids the oreo christmas tree pops and then they were happy to play outside.  So by the time I served the fudge, they were nowhere to be seen but I think they did sample some of it.  The fruit Christmas tree was quite popular with them.

I also served cheddar cheese, toffee cheese, camembert, beetroot lavosh crackers and charcoal crackers.  I do love to graze on dessert while chatting about stuff like the plastic bag ban, the flu and piano lessons.  However later, I reflected that the dessert would be perfect for a summer Christmas dinner.  Ironic really, given that one of the reasons to celebrate Christmas in July is to have a cosy winter feast when the weather is more suited to stodgy rich festive food.

Having said that, there was a good amount of stodgy festive food leftover once everyone had helped with the dishes and left.  It is always so relaxing to rest after hosting a lunch and just nibble on leftovers rather than a proper tea.  Even nicer when surrounded by fruit and flowers.

The nut roast was a success so I am sharing what I did.  It is not a nut roast to make quickly, but it looks quite impressive for a special meal.  Perhaps I will try this again when Christmas comes around.  Yes, one of the nicer things about Christmas in July is that now it is only 5 months until Christmas in December!

I am sending this nut roast to Baking Crumbs.

More Christmas in July dinners on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Christmas in July dessert cheese platter (2017)
Christmas in July lunch and fruit mince flapjacks (2016)
Stuffed nut roast for Christmas in July dinner party (2015)
Christmas in July smoky cheese and barley nut roast (2014)
Hubert the Hog’s Head (2005)

Nut roast with herb and tomato layers
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe
Serves 4-6

1/2 cup hot water 
1 tsp vegemite (or other yeast extract)
275g (2 cups) nuts coarsely ground
125g cheese, grated
110g breadcrumbs (about 3 ends of a loaf)
1 cup caramelised onions
1 tsp seeded mustard
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp seasoning mix (or salt and pepper and herbs)
2 medium carrots, grated

Green herb filling:
6 tbsp cashew cream
2 bunches of parsley
65g breadcrumbs

Tomato filling:
1/4 cup cashew cream
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp smoked paprika
65g breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 180 C and line a loaf tin.

Mix hot water and vegemite and set aside. Mix nuts, cheese, breadcrumbs, caramelised onions, mustard paprika and seasoning in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in vegemite water mixture.  [Do not stir in grated carrots until you have made the fillings.]

Make the green filling by taking out 1/4 cup of the nut mixture and mixing with cashew cream.  Then add the breadcrumbs and parsley (I blitzed the breadcrumbs and parsley together). 

Make the tomato filling by mixing 1/4 cup of nut mixture with the cashew cream and smoked paprika.  Then mix in the breadcrumbs.

Finally mix the grated carrot with the rest of the nut mixture.

Now arrange in the loaf tin.  (If you want to make patterns on the top with the green and red, go ahead.  I made holly leaves.  This pattern will be at the top when you turn out the loaf.)  Spoon in a little less than half the carrot nut mixture into the tin and smooth with the back of a spoon.  Spread the green mixture and then the tomato mixture and now carefully spoon dollops of the carrot nut mixture and smooth out.

Bake for 45 minutes or until cooked around the edges.  Wait at least 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving tray.  The roast will slice well if you cool it and then reheat it on the serving tray.
If you eat it straight away it will probably be less neat to slice.

NOTES: I used cashews and a few almonds but other nuts would work here.  I used dairy cheese this time but in the recipe I based the recipe on, I used vegan cheese,   I would have used more cashew cream if I had had it for the green filling because it was so dense but it actually turned out soft once it cooked.  If you want more contrast with the layers, use a plainer version of the nut roast without carrot and cheese.  I have made a few variations of this recipe (adapted from the the Vegan Society) and it works every time.  Other festive herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme would work here.  I also added a handful of curry leaves to the green layer but am not sure I would do it again.

On the Stereo:
The Best Aussie Christmas: Greg Doolan

Friday 13 July 2018

Lettuce, broccoli and pea soup after Luna Park

We went to Luna Park on Monday.  It was my first trip there and, while I am glad to have been, I don't have a big desire to go there again.  I took Sylvia and a friend who had an awesome time.  The lowlight would have been the beige food.  So when I got home I really needed my greens.  And there was a huge lettuce we had been given that was good for nothing but soup in the middle of winter.

Let's start with some photos.  Here are the girls at the iconic entrance.  The amusement park was built in 1912 in Melbourne, modelled after the original Luna Park on Coney Island in the USA.

I have had travel sickness too often to ever find crazy rides any fun.  The first ride we ventured upon was the Twin Dragon Pirate Ship.  It looked rather tame but started to swing up at rather alarming angles (as seen above).  Sylvia wanted to get off and her friend was nauseaous so I kept saying, lots of deep breaths.  We were all happy to get off.

We then went on the Skyrider, which is actually a ferris wheel.  Though unlike most ferris wheels I have been on, it only seated two per carriage.  Which meant I went alone.  Luna Park was very strict on safety, including instructing punters not to carry a camera or take any photos on any rides.  I am afraid I was not compliant!

 This is the view from the ferris wheel of the park.  The castle houses the dodgems that the girls enjoyed.  The tram is just for parties.  Beyond the scenic railway you can see the sea.

And here are the two little girls looking like they are indeed riding in the sky.

We considered the Ghost Train but the little carts were just big enough for two people.  So instead we went on the Silly Serpent.  This is a mini roller coaster.  It was far easier on the stomach.  The scenic railway was closed for maintenance.  Ironic, given that it boasts that it is the oldest continually running roller coaster.

I also had a go at the Coney Drop, which was tame enough for me.  You can see the Pharaoh's Curse in the background, another pendulum ride which takes the punters upside down.  No amount of screaming and adrenaline will make this enjoyable.  I don't blame Sylvia that she preferred the flying elephant ride.

We had fun wandering around and looking at the sideshows and rides.  The girls really enjoyed the giftshop.

On the website, it claims that "our range of food caters for vegetarians too with a healthy selection of meals to choose from."  Obviously their idea of healthy and mine are different.  I could have had nacho toppings on chips but didn't because I wanted to share them.  Instead we had waffle fries, onion rings and mac'n'cheese croquettes.  Beige, beige, beige.

If you want colourful food at Luna Park, your best bet is some artificial colouring.  Like these huge sticks of fairy floss.

My best bet for healthy colourful food was to head home.  E had been given this box of fruit and vegetables on the weekend.  The lettuce took up half the box.  It was almost as big as the fairy floss.  I actually had some potato and cauliflower soup that was meant to be purple like the vegetables but it turned out a murky colour like gruel.  I needed greens.

I based the soup on a Spinach, Lettuce and Pea Soup but used what I had on hand.  It ended up being a bit grassy so it was nicknamed Grass Soup.  My mum said that grass soup made me sound like a Nineteenth Century Irish peasant during the potato famine.  (Though I did have potato gruel which my Irish ancestors would have given an arm and a leg to eat!)

I really loved this soup, despite the texture not being as smooth as it would be if I used the high powered blender rather than a stick blender.  It was a great refreshing meal with a toasted muffin.  In fact, I was sad to finish the soup today for lunch.

I am sending this soup to VegHog for Eat Your Greens and Gluten Free Alchemist for #G2BGF (with Glutarama)

More green soups at Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Asparagus, potato and quinoa soup (gf, v)
Broad bean, courgette and pea soup (gf, v)
Broccoli, zucchini and blue cheese soup (gf)
Greens, rice and yoghurt soup (gf)
Nettle and silverbeet soup (gf, v)
Pea and garlic soup (gf)
Summer minestrone (gf, v)

Lettuce, Broccoli and Pea Soup
Serves 4-6

1 large lettuce, washed and chopped
1 head of broccoli, trimmed and chopped
2 cups frozen peas
1 zucchini, chopped
500ml stock
500ml water
1/2 tsp seasoning mix (or to taste)
1/4 cup cashew cream

Bring stock to the boil.  Add vegies and cook about 10 minutes or til broccoli is soft enough to push a wooden spoon through.  Puree.  Add cashew cream.  Check and adjust seasoning.

On the Stereo:
Son of Evil Reindeer: Reindeer Section