Monday 30 October 2023

How to make a Vegemite birthday cake (and Halloween snacks)

On the weekend we held a small afternoon tea to remember my sons Alex and Ian's birthday which will be midweek this year.  I made a Vegemite cake, something I have had on my mind for a while, especially as it was Vegemite's 100 anniversary on 25 October 2023.  Below I write about how to make it but it is too simple for a recipe - just a lot of measuring and shaping.  My daughter Sylvia was more keen for a Halloween afternoon tea and made lots of spooky treats for our platters as well as a magically glittery punch.

My vision:

My vision was a flat cake decorated with an iced picture of a Vegemite jar.  I was surprised not to find any of the sort online.  Most of the Vegemite cakes were more in the Is It Cake (tv series) style rather than my amateur hour creation.  So instead I turned to the real thing and took my inspiration from my current jar of Vegemite as well as a little Vegemite jar ornament I recently bought for when we put up our Christmas tree.  We always have a jar of Vegemite in the house.  I went over to Team Promite for a while in my twenties but somehow I returned to the Vegemite of my childhood and have never looked back.

The cake:

My vegan chocolate cake was quite small (the quantities I used  were originally for 2 x 6cm round cakes).  For once I didn't worry about the slight hump on the cake because jars aren't flat.  I did, however, use a knife to smooth a few corners.  It is a good cake that holds its shape but it is easier to make if it is made the day before. It is also literately a Vegemite cake because I put half a tablespoon of Vegemite into the mixture instead of salt.  This was not enough to make the cake taste of Vegemite.

The measurements:

Using the Vegemite jar and Vegemite Christmas tree ornament as a prototype, I did some measuring.  A lot of measuring.  The proportions of the 'height' of the jar were:

  • 3 parts - yellow lid 
  • 1 part - black Vegemite jar
  • 5 parts - yellow label
  • 1 part - black Vegemite bottom of jar

The cake was baked in a 20cm square tin but I trimmed about 6cm off the cake.  (Actually I though it was 4cm I trimmed by the measurements in the photo above say it is 14cm across.)  So I converted the proportions to my 20cm long x 14cm wide cake and measured the 'height' proportions as 6:2:10:2 centimetres.  I used a skewer to mark lines with holes.

Colouring the icing:

Getting the right colours was a challenge.  I had purchased some new food dye for the icing.  The colours I had run out of were red and black.  These are the hardest colours to get right as many dyes.  Reds are never bright enough and if not effective enough they look pink or orange.  Blacks are never dark enough and if not done well enough they look grey and murky.  I was pretty happy with the colours I mixed.  

I didn't make sure the dyes were vegan when I purchased them and then remembered that a lot of red food dye has cochineal beetles in it (E120).  I checked the bottles and found that they used E110, E127, and E129 colourings so it looks like it is vegan.  Which means the whole cake it vegan.

Planning the writing:

My next challenge was writing the word Vegemite on the 'label' area.  Sounds simple.  It took ages.  I measured the letters and worked out there were 8 letters to fit into 12cm wide and 1.5 cm high.  Most letters could fit into an equal space 1.5cm wide and 1.5 high (except the 'M' which needed more space and the 'I' which needed less space).  I wrote out the letters copying how they looked on the jar.  

I first tried to pipe white chocolate onto the letters on baking paper so I could transfer them when they dried.  But these blobs weren't worth transferring anywhere.  Then I tried a thicker nozzle and a some thick icing made out of icing sugar and water.  It was still too thick and spread after it hit the paper.  So I went to my thinner nozzle (wilton round tip no 4).  This one looked ok, when I had a go with this on the baking paper.

The diamond and piping the writing:

It seemed to take a long time until I was ready to start icing the cake.  First job was to make the red diamond on the label.  I dumped a few spoonfuls using the skewer hole lines for guidance.  It then took some spreading, spooning off a little extra icing when it began to drip down the side and scraping away some of the icing to shape it.  I let it dry a little, used a skewer to mark the spaces between the letters, piped the letters using the practice ones for guidance.  I then used a skewer to neaten a few letters.

Completing the icing (the yellow lid and label):

Next I spread the yellow icing in a strip at the top like a lid and then I spread it around the diamond to make a label.  I had thought about piping around the diamond but it seemed easier to just leave a space around it.  Again the skewer was very useful in neatening up the lines at the edge of the icing.  I liked the look and decided I didn't need any black icing.  The dark lines of chocolate cake looked enough like Vegemite between the lid and the label.  And it was easier!  Also I am more about cake than icing!  The final part of the decoration was to draw a line across the top  a few millimetres from the bottom of the lid and then used a sharp (unserrated) knife to draw lines down from the top to the line to make the raised lines around the top of a Vegemite jar.  I was pleased with my work.

Preparing the afternoon tea:

While I was baking the cake the night before and decorating it in the morning, Sylvia was making her spooky snacks.  An afternoon tea takes planning, shopping and making the food.  Sylvia has been involved with enough of these to be part of all the preparation.  She even helped plan the menu by finding ideas online.

Pumpkin cheeseball, hotdog mummies and whipped feta dip:

Sylvia made a cheeseball in the shape of a pumpkin the previous night.  She mixed cream cheese, grated red Leicester cheese and finely chopped jarred jalapenos and rolled it into a ball.   Then she scattered more grated red Leicester cheese on a chopping board and rolled the cheeseball in it.  It was wrapped in clingfilm and then looped 4 rubber bands in a criss-cross to make a pumpkin shape.  Just before the lunch she unwrapped the clingfilm and placed a stem from a capsicum on top.  It looked and tasted great.

Sylvia also made a whipped feta dip on the day.  She blended some leftover smooth feta, greek yoghurt,  garlic and lemon juice.  It was a bit thin because I recommended more yoghurt to reduce the saltiness.  Served with truffle oil and chilli flakes, this the dip was amazing and was gone by the end of the day.

And there were also hotdog mummies.  Sylvia halved the vegetarian hotdogs with pasty strips the night before.  She kept them in the freezer overnight and defrosted for an hour or so before baking them in a hot oven until the pastry is golden brown.  She left spaces for little eyes that we have previously done with tomato sauce but we forgot to do it.  Served with bread, crackers, vegetable sticks, cherry tomatoes and garlic pizza.

Ghost strawberries , pumpkins, and spiders:

Sylvia made some simple ghosts by dipping strawberries in white chocolate and using a skewer to dab melted milk chocolate on the white chocolate to make eyes and shocked mouths.  She also made oreo spiders with pretzel legs and candy eyes.  We ran out of candy eyes and she had to improvise with white chocolate eyes and dots of milk chocolate for the pupils.  Then we found more candy eyes!  And peeled mandarins with tiny celery stalks to make them look like pumpkins.  We added some berries, nectarines and pocky to the platter.

Glittery punch:

A few years back, we made a kids punch that was easy and refreshing. It has been a regular of Sylvia's for entertaining.  She has made it often enough to substitute and eyeball the ingredients.  With a bit of tasting it always works. For this one she mixed apricot nectar, orange juice, ginger ale, some spooky green food dye, some soda stream creamy soda flavouring (never again), frozen berries, ice blocks and mint.  She also stirred in some edible glitter powder to see the swirling sparkles every time it is stirred or in the fizz if you add soda water to it (as I liked to).

A fine time was had by all:

We had just a few family around and a lovely time.  Everyone enjoyed the afternoon tea.  I was pleased we didn't have many leftovers.  Sylvia and I didn't have much lunch or dinner so the afternoon tea was our main meal.  E did dishes and made hot drinks.  My mum brought a colouful bunch of roses from her lovely garden.  

Postscript - the catflap:

My dad who had helped us get cat flaps installed in May last year, has been helping tweak them for better locking.  Our cat Shadow has been finding ways to push through the cat flap's locks so my dad has worked out how to slot a piece of wood over the catflap so Shadow cannot get out if we want to keep have screen doors open to the breeze after dark on warm summer evenings!  He finished his impressive handiwork while we were setting up the afternoon tea. He loves a challenge with his fine collection of tools.

On the Stereo:

1989 (Taylor's version): Taylor Swift

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Sir George Pub, Jugiong, NSW

Who doesn't love an Australian country pub!  I decided that was where I would stop for lunch on my Canberra to Melbourne drive.  I had never heard of Jugiong previously but my timing was excellent for discovering a new place to stop on the Hume Highway.  Country pubs are grand and imposing, commandeering your attention and beckoning you inside to a cosy and nourishing embrace.  Sir George Pub, built in 1852 to feed and water travellers, is a large whitewashed pub with an elegant wooden verandah and solid thick stone walls.  I was impressed with its vegetarian offerings, fancy mocktails and charming rooms.

The entrance leads down a corridor to a newer part of the hotel flanked by the old stone walls.  The shelves displayed some of the sourdough breads, regional wines, jars of jam and sauces for sale.  I am not sure if the blankets at the bottom were for show or for sale.  There is also a homewares shop upstairs.

I really loved the sign by the counter: "Stand awkwardly here and wait to be seated."  I could do that!  But ordering was at the counter and I found that it was best to have a table number when I ordered.

With my food ordered, I headed to the bar to order a mocktail.  I was so tempted to eat inside in this cosy area but as you can see there was sunshine calling me outside. 

I ordered the Garden Grown mocktail.  It comprised Seedip 108 (non-alchoholic gin), apple juice, lemon juice, honey syrup, rosemary, and garnished with a sprig of lavender!  It was excellent and even more fun because I was able to watch the bartender create it.  Being an audience to the joyful performance of cocktail-making - measuring, pouring, puddling, squeezing, stirring - is a rare treat for me.

Instead of settling into the cosy heritage rooms inside, I went outside for some fresh air.  This was welcome in the day mostly spent inside my car.  It was lovely to sit outside in the shade and enjoy the views of the gardens with purple flowering vines.

When I ordered I had chosen a Zucchini Lasagna from the Tagalongs menu thinking it was another set of smaller dishes.  I had not twigged until later that it was the kids menu.  But this explained when it came why it was presented quite blandly.  That is kids food for you!  

Fortunately I was wise enough to want a few more vegetables so I had also ordered a Roasted Butternut Pumpkin from the Smalls menu.  It came served beautifully with parsley and onion, romanescu sauce and almonds.  It tasted amazing with the charred skin, soft flesh, fresh herbs, creamy flavourful sauce and the crunch of nuts!

I was so happy with my meal choices.  Either alone might have been either too stodgy or too much vegetable but together they were a delight!  It was a large meal and I ended up taking some of it home to eat as leftovers.

I also loved this avenue of snow pear treats in blossom.  It was no surprise to read that the Sir George is a venue for weddings and other events.  The gardens are so pretty.  I am sure it must be popular.

I really loved Sir George Pub.  It was very inclusive as can be seen by the mocktail, the vegetarian kids meal and the wonderful vegan and gluten free pumpkin dish.  While not cheap, I was so satisfied and happy that I did not feel the need to stop for much more food on the remaining 5 hours drive home. 

With our recent Voice referendum, I had had lots of discussions about equity being beneficial to everyone.  In the menu was a fine example of that.  At the back they had a glossary.  You might think this is to help country folk and foreigners.  But, as one of the so-called "city elites", I found it helpful to see some of these fancy terms spelled out because we all have a lot to learn!  And we are better people and kinder company when we are doing it together than with all the ugly division the No vote in the Voice referendum has created.

I am delighted to have discovered the Sir George Pub at Jugiong.  I don't often drive along the Hume Highway but when I do I hope to return here.  Meanwhile I am very happy to recommend this splendid pub, with its beautiful spaces and delicious food, to others.

Sir George Pub

320 Riverside Dr, Jugiong NSW 2726
Phone: 1300 345 613
Open Tues - Sun for lunch and 7 days a week for dinner

More posts from my trip:


Sunday 22 October 2023

A retreat on Lake George NSW near Canberra.

A few weeks back I drove from Melbourne to a visit a friend at a retreat centre on the banks of Lake George near Canberra.  Yarrow is working with a partner as resident coordinators of a large country property.  It was great to catch up with them in a beautiful location with sunshine, blue skies and chilly evenings.  This was just the relaxing break I needed: good home cooked meals, baking, chatting, walks and reading. 

After visiting I read about Lake George after my trip and was surprised to find it is a endorheic lake, which to you and me means saltwater.  I was surprised to read the lake is quite shallow and has dried up completely during droughts in the 1940s and from 2002 to 2010.  Apparently farmers graze sheep and cows on it when dry.  How will it cope with some of the hot weather we are told is ahead of us!  On an early Spring day after some mild summers, it contributed a great deal to the charm of the property.

The downside of arriving in early Spring was arriving in the dark.  I saw a lot of rabbits during my stay and many on the slow drive down the unsealed road leading there.  It was lovely to enjoy a home cooked carrot soup and fall into bed at the end of a long drive.

In the morning I slept in and finally got up to eat some home baked sourdough bread and peanut butter for breakfast.  Then I stood with my friends to watch a resident brown snake slither slowly across the front lawn.  A bit freaky but the birdlife did not seem at all bothered.  I do not envy my friends who were planning to deal with groups of guests while the snakes are around. Apparently snakes are particularly present in Spring.

When we went for a walk so I could see some of the grounds.  We went to see the orchard, the lake, the creek and some of the amazing old trees.  I wasn't the only curious one!  A couple of kangaroos came to watch us.  There was also a sacred fire circle, an Elders tree, an area where groups could camp out.

We had great views across the lake and were able to see the wind farm turbines.  A fine sight!

Unfortunately the walk made my feet sore as they were swollen from reaction to a medication and did not cope with being squeezed into my boots, which I wore because they seemed much more likely to protect against snake bites than my other more flimsy shoes.  It meant I didn't do much more walking after that - just a gentle stroll or two around the gardens by the house.

We had picked some salad leaves in the orchard.  Yarrow dressed the leaves and served them with Indian bites, yoghurt, pickle and chutney.  It made a very good lunch.

Then I helped out with some baking.  Yarrow used some sourdough starter excess to make crackers.  It was a simple exercise of kneading in some flour, seasoning and seeds, rolling it out thinly and scoring marks for breaking it into crackers once it was baked.  I really need to try this!  

We also tried a few recipes that I suggested from my blog, and while there was time to cook between group visits.  The carrot miso soup was less sweet than I remember it but still lovely.  We added cocoa to a flourless whole oange and almond cake (gf) and it was so good.  We made my favourite vegan chocolate cake that I got from the food co-op where we were both members when we first met.  

Lastly (an not all on one day) we also peeled and chop lots of apples for an apple and  rhubarb crumble.  This was Yarrow's creation and really delicious for dessert after soup and also with Greek yoghurt for breakfast.  The drizzle of balsamic vinegar on top before baking was surprisingly good.

The lunch the next day was a delicious bowl of chilli beans, guacamole, cheese and corn chips.  There might have also been some yoghurt in there.

Instead of a really long walk, we went for a drive around the property.   As we walked to the ute, we saw a snake on the driveway.  I took this above photo.  It looks like a stick but I would not have dared to go near it. 

The land is really amazing to drive past and admire, even with the bone shaking of the vehicle on the rutted road.  We passed lots of gnarly gum trees, colourful birdlife, an old homestead chimney ruin, fallen trees, kangaroos, and of course the banks of Lake George.  Yarrow showed me where they needed to bushfire-proof the property, expressed frustration at the invasive blackberry bushes, noted lots more weeds to be conquered, and checked the recently planted trees which were protected from kangaroos and wombats.

I was sad to leave but I had things to do back in the big smoke.  I left on another lovely sunny day, stopping to photograph these roadside mailboxes, before turning onto the major highways and freeways that led to the Hume Highway via Canberra.

More posts from my trip:

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Sweet bones, street art and statues in Canberra

Before driving home from my friend's place, I stopped in Canberra for something to eat and to soak up the vibe.  If you listen to the media you will find elites, suits and a bubble in our national capital.  But Braddon, where I stopped for a vegan brunch, was more of the urban hipster variety.

When I think Canberra roads I think grey roundabouts that are confusing and soulless.  This rainbow roundabout was unexpectedly colourful.  It was on the corner of Lonsdale Street where Sweet Bones is located.

Sweet Bones at first sight appears to be one of the boring modern buildings of Canberra.  But the front door feels welcoming with a wooden sign, cacti and a wheelbarrow of plants. 

A mural at the back of the cafe continues the Western aesthetic.  However I could not work out what "eat like you give a damn" until I googled it and found it to be the title of a vegan cookbook, and suddenly it made sense because a vegan diet is come from caring about animals and the environment.  (Also I found that I had made a favourite kale salad from the book.)

I really liked the vegan menu.  It was a treat to have multiple options of tofu scramble and coconut bacon.  I ended up passing on the Breakfast Burger and Rusty McMuffin in favour of The Big Breakfast.  On the menu it was "Tofu scramble, sautéed mushrooms, sourdough lightly toasted, hummus, coconut bacon, smashed avocado, spinach, tomato wedge and mixed spiced seeds." ($25.50) 

My plate was so full that it took a while to realise the spinach and mushrooms were missing.  I really loved the meal.  The seeds were an excellent and unusual addition.  I mentioned the missing vegies at the counter and the woman casually said she forgot but I could have a free cupcake.  I chose a bliss ball that was really nice though I was full and saved it for during the long drive to Melbourne.

Then I wandered around the area and enjoyed taking some photos of street art before my parking meter was expired.  I really liked Braddon and there were a few nice cafes nearby.

Quite a bit of the street art I liked was in the driveways of the car parks.  Does that make it driveway art?  I wouldn't mind some of my local car parks.

Then I had a drive to see some iconic buildings such as Parliament House and the War Memorial.  I am not sure if this is "Civic" which was how my Canberra friends would refer to what we can the City.  I felt quite nostalgic for previous trips to Canberra when I drove through the older suburbs past the lovely 1930s bungalows like in this photo.

I ended up on the majestic Anzac Avenue that links the War Memorial and Parliament House with great views from either end.  I have never stopped to explore the monuments on the side of the road and was quite impressed, although I could not find the World War II memorial.  I started with this Boer War memorial with great movement in the horse riding statues, that represented an old way of war.

The World War I statue was an old fashioned horses and riders statue on a plinth.  Simple and victorious!

The Vietnam War memorial was more modern with the complexity of that war reflected in the pictures and a wall of quotes.  I would have liked to read all of them but had to move on to start driving home.

The last memorial I saw was the Korean War memorial.  This is a soldier I would not have wanted to come across.  I was not sure if the poles represented forests or prisoner of war camps but it did represent how war places barriers around us.  I looked further for the World War II memorial and then started the 7 hour drive home.

Sweet Bones Bakery and Cafe
8/18 Lonsdale Street, Braddon ACT  2612

Friday 13 October 2023

Roadtrip Melbourne to Lake George near Canberra

A few weeks ago I travelled to visit friends at Lake George near Canberra.  Driving about 7 hours each way by myself was tiring but my spirits were lifted by the gentle green hills along the Hume Highway from Melbourne.  I also enjoyed quite a few stops to stretch my legs and feed my hunger.  It is amazing how much easier a smart phone and the internet help me to find places to stop than on my last trip up this way over a decade ago.

In the morning before I left home, Sylvia put together some wraps with vegemite and cherry tomatoes and I had a few other snacks so I didn't need to buy much food on the journey out.  I stopped in Euroa to stretch my legs and look for something nice to buy as thank you gifts for my stay.

I stopped at The Weekend Local (43-45 Binney Street, Euroa) which was a very attractive cafe and providore.  I bought some fancy oils, condiments and chocolates for gifting and to take home.  For the journey I bought a sourdough cinnamon scroll that was very nice but hard to eat on the go so I ended up eating the remainder after I arrived.

I took this photo at Euroa partly for fans in my family of the Collingwood AFL footy club that was headed into the Grand Final.  There were a few notices in shops about the local team also called the Collingwood Magpies.

I drove on enjoying the charming countryside and stopped once or twice to take photos.  This one was just outside Violet Town.  The hills were a lovely green that might be not quite so pleasant by the end of what is predicted to be a scorcher of a summer.

Then I stopped just over the NSW border at Albury to buy a drink and go for a walk.  This photo is from outside Adairs where I stopped to buy some floral sheets.  I had seen them in Melbourne but the shop did not have my bed size and I hadn't found time to look for them since.  And they were on special.

This signal box street art with Wiradjuri language was a reminder of the local Aboriginal people of Albury.  (eg "Yiradhu Marang" = Good morning)  But walking up Olive Street past the crystal shop and the candle shop to Olive Health Foods for a watermelon and mint kombucha, it felt as thought I had never left the big smoke of Melbourne.

On my last leg of the journey, I put my destination into the GPS and didn't notice it reverted to George Lake.  That was what I had been using as an approximate destination earlier.  I was unceremoniously directed to the emergency stopping lane of the Federal Highway by the lake. It was dark by the time I got to my friends. I will write more about my stay which was lovely and relaxing.  A few days later it was time to head home.

On the way home after Canberra and Jugiong (posts on the way), I stopped at a favourite place on the Hume Highway: the dog on the tuckerbox memorial.  It reflects the song that lots of school kids used to sing - "the dog sat on the tuckerbox 5 miles from Gundagai" - which in turn reflects the history of the area that was tough with bullocks clearing the land and bringing supplies over rugged terrain.  When the bullocks got bogged, the dog sat on the tuckerbox minding their food while the bullocky went for help.

In fact the Dog on the Tuckerbox stop outside Gundagai is one of the best places to stop and photograph this splendid scenery.  But as I drove past all these lovely green grassy landscapes I wondered how it would have looked to the Aboriginal people before the Europeans cleared the land.

My last proper stop was Tarcutta to see the National Truck Drivers' memorial.  As I drove into town I saw this World War II street art and was taken by the cheeky look on the soldier's face.

I found the National Truck Drivers Memorial wall and garden far more emotional than I expected.  I don't remember seeing any signs about it when I last drove this way.  But I was glad I stopped.  The long lists of truck drivers killed on the roads, many in their 20s and 30s, was quite confronting and made me more patient with all the trucks on the highway. 

It was not just sad but also uplifting to see all the nicknames of the truck drivers.  They show a lot of community and humour.  Some of the ones I love most were Milkshake, Bunyip, Lumpy, Mr Have A Chat, The Padre, Big Merv, Bugshifter, Little Billycan, The Big Fella, and Swervyn Mervyn.  These are names the make me think entertaining chats and great friendships!

After that when I saw it would be at least 9pm before I got home, I went without more stops, other than a quick pitstop. I didn't even stop for dinner because I knew Sylvia was keeping some of her Tomato and Chickpea Orzo for me.  Once past the hillier stretches where I didn't get good radio reception (hello 1960s easy listening and Taylor Swift's Evermore) I really enjoyed listening to Tony Wellington: How the music of the 60s and 70s changed the world forever on the ABC.  It was good to get home to my own couch and a home cooked meal.