Gluten free lemon yoghurt cake

Very soon this blog will have to be re-named ‘fear-germ’ as everyone will be too scared to read it, for fear of finding yet another sad story. Unfortunately, that’s all I have for you again today but it is slightly sweetened by the addition of a wonderful Donna Hay lemon yoghurt cake recipe. I am hopeful for gentler and happier waters ahead.

A letter to our dog Elvis

I find you in unexpected places. Your ball tucked behind a chair, your jacket hanging over a balustrade.

I go to save you a snippet of cheese, salmon or sausage and realise you are no longer here.

I watch our boys reach down to where you once sat but you are gone. They recoil in confusion and tears well up in their eyes. Every night before bed, Kid 1 goes to your pillow and breathes in deeply, stating that it smells of you.

Children are more easily distracted. They move in and out of grief fluidly but when it strikes, they are hit hard. For us ‘so called grown ups’, who made the call, based on the opinion of an unknown emergency vet late on a rainy Friday night, there is second guessing and a deep unease. And for me, who spent more time with you than all of us, losing you is far worse than I could have ever imagined.

We had you fourteen beautiful years but we are greedy and it doesn’t seem long enough. The unconditional love you provided soothed all of us at varying times. Our boys learnt about responsibility, loyalty, trust and compassion through having you in their lives. (And well, buying you as a tiny puppy after our first miscarriage, The Yak and I did too.) The lads are now learning another life lesson on loss and bereavement.

We think we hear the jingle of your collar, the pitter patter of your petite paws.

Night falls, I tell the Yak to remember to take you out for a wee but you are no longer here.

Sitting on the couch, there are no more gentle snores, no more ‘hello I am here’ visits. As I go through my work-a-day-life, passing through our home, there are no more doggy-lying sunshine spots.

I could burn this house down for it’s emptiness. You were a member of our family and part of our heartbeat. You were our baby before our babies, a patient and fun-loving brother to our boys, our Happy Birthday singing diva, our cheese-loving fluffy puppy, sneaky cake-eating canine, fence-jumping pooch, Houdini style escaping hound, our ball-chasing high energy muppet, my sweet compadre and house shadow.

What will we all do without our morning lick and cuddle? We are undone, you will live in our hearts forever. I dedicate this cake recipe to you sweet dogger, in the memory of the many cooling cakes you sneakily partly devoured. We love you Elvis and we always will.

If you are looking for a tender, human and canine pleasing, tangy gluten free cake recipe then this is for you. Using lemons from our own trees surely made it more delicious. There is a link to Donna Hay’s original recipe after the photos. Enjoy.

GLUTEN FREE LEMON YOGHURT CAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
3/4 cup (180ml) vegetable oil (I used grapeseed oil)
2 eggs
1 tbl finely grated lemon zest (I used about 1 1/2 tbls)
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
1 cup (280g) Greek yoghurt (I used vanilla bean yoghurt)
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
300g gluten free self-raising flour

Lemon Icing
1 cup sifted icing sugar
1 tbl lemon juice
1/2 tsp boiling water

WHAT YOU DO
Preheat oven to 160C and grease and line a 24cm springform baking tin.
Place the oil, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, yoghurt and caster sugar in a large bowl and whisk together to combine.
Sift the flour over the mixture and stir to combine.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Allow the cake to stand for 5 minutes before removing from the tin.
To make the icing, combine the icing sugar, lemon juice and boiling water.
Turn the cake out onto a cake stand and pour the icing over the cake whilst the cake is still warm. (I didn’t do this, I iced the cake when it was cold.) Let it stand for ten minutes for the icing to set then cut it and well, tuck in.

A slight adaptation of a Donna Hay recipe, link to the original recipe is provided below.

https://www.donnahay.com.au/recipes/desserts-and-baking/lemon-and-yoghurt-cake


Roasted cauliflower, fennel and pumpkin soup

Mothers Day came and went in the place we live. For us, it was a low key day. My three sisters and I had recently returned from New Zealand where we farewelled our beautiful cousin Simon. He was a kind, funny, free-thinking, non-accepting of the status quo, shining beacon of a man. His battle with Fredreich’s Ataxia had worn him down and so, he took his leave of us. We are left heartsick and numb but I like to think he has shaken off the earthly chains of his embattled body and spirit and is perhaps dancing somewhere, to the Rolling Stones, on a warm tropical beach. He has a frangipani tucked behind his fine thatch of fiery, strawberry-blond hair and the requisite seaside cocktail in hand. Vale Simon.

So, as exhaustion overtook us, Mothers Day was gentle and unassuming. My boys were sweetly honest with heartfelt gifts, words and cards. In the spirit of honouring Mothers everywhere, I give a shoutout to my own Mum, whose patient, deep abiding love has been an invisible prop against my back in the hardest of times. I give a shoutout to my sisters who are mothers, how I admire their patience, far greater than mine. For another sister who is a step mum (a tough gig at times), I give her a shoutout as a steady and wise presence in the life her stepchild. For our Aunty Lyn, one of the strongest of women who has lost far more than any mother should ever have to but still loves, lives and not simply exists. For my friends who are Mums of all kinds, whether they have children, fur-babies or even plant-babies. These are women I admire, lean on, talk to and share this crazy life journey with in a real, unaffected, lack of bullshit kind of way. You know who you are.

Mum and her hubby did pop over for a simple Mothers Day lunch. We had bowls of this filling, thick and earthily spicy soup followed by a luscious gluten free custard-like apple cake that Mum had made. (Something I will certainly be baking and blogging soon.) Happy Mothers Day, yes it’s belated but no less heartfelt.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER, FENNEL AND PUMPKIN SOUP

WHAT YOU NEED
1/2 cauliflower (600g)
1 large fennel bulb
300g pumpkin
1 1/2 tsps cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsps dried oregano
1/2 – 1 tsp dried chilli (depending on your tolerance for heat)
Salt
Olive oil or grapeseed oil
2 medium size potatoes
1 litre veggie stock
1 litre water
Pepper

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and line two trays with baking paper .
Cut the cauliflower into florets, chop the fennel bulb into 2 cm chunks and the pumpkin also into 2 cm chunks.
Put the cauliflower on one tray and the fennel and pumpkin on the other, drizzle with oil and divide the oregano, chilli, cumin seeds and a tiny bit of salt between the two trays and stir to coat the veggies. (Go easy on the stock as it depends on how salty your veggie stock is.)
Roast for one hour until the vegetables are tender and slightly caramelised. Remove from the oven.
In the meantime, add the stock and water to a large saucepan, add the thinly sliced potatoes and cook until tender.
Add the roasted vegetables to the stock mixture and cook for a further 20 minutes .
Blend with a hand stick blender until creamy and smooth and add salt to taste and pepper if you so fancy it. Pour into a bowl of your choice and serve with good bread, toast, cracker or nowt.

A Cheergerm creation

https://fara.org.au


Thai green curry paste or, some like it hot

This curry paste is hot and spicy, no two ways about it. ‘Some Like It Hot’ is also the title of the 1959 gender-bending farcical movie starring the luminous Marilyn Monroe alongside the actors Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis masquerading as slightly less than easy-on-the-eye women.

Recently, I was attempting to explain to our twelve year old lad, how it would be great if males found words other than ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ to describe the appearance of a woman. Intrinsically, I was stating that these words can objectify women. (He hadn’t actually used those words but we heard them on a television show and I couldn’t resist an opportunity to rant impart my wisdom to my offspring.)

He thought for a moment and asked ‘But why is it OK if a woman sees a man and calls him chunky?’ This stopped me in my tracks, I looked at him. ‘Do you think you might mean hunky’? ‘Well’ he replied, ‘I knew it was ‘unky’ with something at the start’.

Many eons ago, before I had children to amuse me, many happy hours were spent traversing through Melbourne’s Asian groceries and Indian spice shops. All in an effort to source the more exotic ingredients required for blending and making my own curry pastes and curry powders. My senses were overwhelmed with citrusy lemongrass, stinky shrimp paste, the vivid colours of green and red chillies, peppery galangal, earthy turmeric, too many dried spices to list and the floral polarising scent of fresh coriander.

Whilst searching through some of my cookbooks recently, I happened upon The Hot and Spicy Book by Charmaine Solomon. She has been dubbed the ‘queen of Asian cooking in Australia’. This book, alongside her iconic tome, The Complete Asian Cookbook first published in 1976, were wonderful guides as I embarked upon my adventure into Asian cookery.

With progeny in tow (who are far less amusing when you have to shop with them), we set off to source the bits and bobs needed to make Solomon’s Thai Green Curry Paste. Sadly, we couldn’t find fresh or dried galangal so I used fresh ginger. As The Yak is vegetarian, the best substitute I have found for shrimp paste is fermented bean paste. (This is sourced from most larger Asian grocery stores.) Blend the heck out of this until it is no longer chunky and you will have a very satisfying, bloody hot, spicy, punch in the face curry paste. No objectification intended.

THAI GREEN CURRY PASTE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 large or 8 small green chillies
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh coriander, well washed including roots, stems and leaves
1/4 cup finely sliced lemon grass (or thinly peeled rind 1 lemon)
1 tbl chopped galangal fresh or bottled (I had to use fresh ginger as I couldn’t get my hands on any galangal, it’s not the same but it is an OK substitute)
2 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsps fermented bean paste (or 1 tsp dried shrimp paste if you don’t want it to be vegetarian)

HOW YOU DO IT
Wearing rubber gloves, remove stems and roughly chop the chillies.
Put the chillies into an electric blender with the remaining ingredients and purée.
Add a little water if necessary to help the blending process.
Store any paste that you don’t use in a clean, dry glass jar in the refrigerator or do what I do and divide into convenient portions and freeze. Ready to use in your next curry, soup, stir-fry or marinade.

Recipe from The Hot and Spicy Book by Charmaine Solomon, published 1995 by Mandarin a part of Reed Books Australia.

3


Soft ricotta banana bread, gluten free

Legend has it that Cleopatra, the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt, had seven hundred donkeys milked every day so she could opulently fill her bathtub to soak her royal self in. The properties of this magic milk supposedly prevented wrinkles and assisted in preserving youth and beauty. If I were to choose a dairy product to ablute myself in, it would be a tub filled to the brim with fresh ricotta. Since our local butcher started selling this soft cheese in adorable little blue basins, I have gone on a bit of a ricotta bender (which is certainly easier on my liver than a wild drinking spree would be.)

This versatile creamy white cheese is mildly sweet and tangy and is used in both sweet and savoury cooking. It makes a beautiful breakfast when smeared on crunchy sourdough toast atop some fruity berry jam. I have dolloped it between roasted eggplant, zuchinni and red capsicum in a vegetable bake. It’s been beaten into a lime ricotta cake, stuffed into veggies and baked and makes a great filling for eggplant involtini. Huge spoonfuls have been stirred through pasta sauces just before serving as well as added to mushrooms and thyme to fill a gluten free savoury tart.

Bananas past their prime cannot be wasted and what better way to use them up than in a banana bread that also calls for ricotta? Yes sure, recipes for this ubiquitous bake are a dime a dozen but this is a wonderfully soft, tender and aromatic loaf. It is even better when topped with just a smidgen more of that fresh ricotta. Go big like Cleopatra or go home.

SOFT RICOTTA AND BANANA BREAD

WHAT YOU NEED
113 grams (1/2 cup butter), melted
3 ripe bananas
1 large egg
3/4 cup caster sugar
3/4 cup fresh ricotta (not skim ricotta)
1 tsp vanilla extract
270g gluten free plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 170C and grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper.
Pour the melted butter into a large bowl, add the bananas and mash well into a pulp.
Add the egg and beat until smooth.
Add the sugar, ricotta and vanilla and mix well.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 55-65 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. (You may need to cover the top of the loaf with foil towards the end of the bake to avoid overbrowning.)
Remove to a cooling rack and let cool for about 20 minutes before removing from the pan.
We ate the crusts of this deliciously soft and moist loaf whilst they were still warm. Just wonderful.

Cooking notes: I have been getting really good results with a gluten free flour blend from Bobs Red Mill called ‘Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour.’ It is found in some supermarkets and health food stores. I have no affiliation with this company and haven’t been paid in any way, shape or form for mentioning this brand. I just really like it and couldn’t keep it to myself, that would be selfish.

A slight adaptation of this recipe

https://www.aol.com/article/lifestyle/2016/08/01/soft-ricotta-banana-bread/21442917/


Lime and ricotta cake, gluten free

One of our next door neighbours has a prolific lime tree and kindly threw a few of them my way. (She didn’t actually lob them at my head, instead she walked over and very nicely handed them to me. We live in a civilised neighbourhood.) It makes me think of the saying ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ In this case, when someone gives you limes you should go and cook with them. Or make a gin and tonic. It’s up to you.

In a seemingly unconnected recent development, our local butcher had started selling tubs of creamy fresh ricotta. One of which just happened to be sitting in our refrigerator. After a bit of thought, some ingredient kismet ensued and this moist, delectable, tangy cake ended up on the kitchen bench and in the tummies of two hungry boys. Who fortuitously happened to be in the right place at the right time. Kind of like me and those limes.

GLUTEN FREE LIME AND RICOTTA CAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
180g butter, room temperature
3 tbl lime zest (I used 2 limes)
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
250g ricotta cheese
1 tbl lime juice
1 cup gluten free plain flour
1/2 cup almond meal
3 tsp baking powder

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 160C and line a 24cm/9 inch springform cake tin with baking paper.
Beat the butter, sugar and lime zest together in a bowl (I used an electric mixer) until light and fluffy.
Beat in the egg yolks, ricotta and lime juice until well combined.
Sift the flour, almond meal and baking powder. Stir the flour mixture into the rest of the ingredients.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks are formed. Fold them into the cake batter in two batches.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour or until the cake tests clean with a skewer.
Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes before removing onto a cooling rack.
Dust with icing sugar before serving to make it look pretty. This is a light and moist cake. It makes a great dessert served on the day you make it but it is still good for two days afterwards. I recommend not refrigerating it as the texture goes very dense and firm and in my books, a bit unpleasant. I also like to warm it for a few seconds in the microwave before eating it.

A Cheergerm adaptation from this recipe http://allrecipes.com.au/recipe/23985/lime-and-ricotta-syrup-cake.aspx


Pecan pesto sauce

A traditional Italian pesto from Genoa contains pine nuts so in a way, this is a charlatans version of a much beloved Italian sauce. My recipe, through misadventure, contains pecans. The pecan derives from a species of the hickory tree, a deciduous tree native to Mexico and parts of southern USA. It is technically not a nut but a ‘drupe’ which is actually a fruit containing a single stone or pit and an outer husk. Pecans are high in monounsaturated fats and are buttery, rich and sweet.

It was another overtly hot Sydney day and we were on the verge of ‘hanger’. My kitchen possessed the majority of the requisite pesto ingredients. A massive bunch of basil that needed to be used, a wedge of Parmesan cheese, garlic, a bottle of olive oil but not a darned pine nut in sight. My kingdom for a pine nut! All that could be found were two big bags of pecans doing time in my pantry. (A pretty darned tough place to hang out, well, so all the other nuts out on parole tell me). In the past, walnuts, coriander and mint have been tossed into pesto sauces whereas pecans have been used for granolas and sweet baked goodies. Popping them into my pesto felt strangely wrong.

However, wilting and weakened and in the spirit of the Deep South from whence the pecan originated, I declared in my best southern accent, that I just didn’t give a damn. (In other words, there would be no running to the shops in a last minute manner.) Pecans were thrown in and all was well. We stirred the pesto through pasta and it was herbaceous, nutty, vibrant and just the ticket for a quick simple meal.

PECAN PESTO SAUCE

WHAT YOU NEED
1 big bunch basil (this was 3 cups of basil leaves, I know because I picked them, packed them and I measured them, so there.)
1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

HOW YOU DO IT
Pick the basil leaves and wash and dry them.
Add the basil, pecans, Parmesan and garlic to a food processor and process until finely chopped.
Slowly add the oil whilst the blender is going until all the ingredients are well combined.
Taste then season with salt and pepper to your liking.
This sauce is delicious when stirred through pasta, liven up a veggie soup and dollop a blob on top or serve alongside grilled and roasted meats or tofu.
Leftover sauce can be stored in a jar in the fridge for a few days, cover the top with olive oil to stop it spoiling.

A Cheergerm Recipe


Gluten free jam drops

Recently, Kid 1 has assured both myself and The Yak that we are not cool. I was the first to transgress after daring to use the word ‘swag’, a young persons vernacular for ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’. The second infringement came from The Yak when he attempted a ‘dab’ (a particular two arm salute currently popular with the youth of today). After both incidents, the Cool Kid informed us that we were both totally cringeworthy and embarrassing.

He is wrong, I am cool. (Sorry Yak, you are being left high and dry here.) This mother can still drop some cool jam. Well, some cool jam drops. Gluten free, melt in the mouth with a tangy raspberry centre. Enjoyed by both young and old. And that’s just swag.

GLUTEN FREE JAM DROPS

WHAT YOU NEED
150g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups gluten free plain flour, sifted
1 1/2 tbls raspberry jam

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and line two trays with baking paper.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until it is light and fluffy.
Add the flour and beat to combine.
Roll one large teaspoon of the dough into a ball, place on the tray and slightly flatten it with the palm of your hand. Repeat with the remaining dough, I got 15 biscuits.
Using your thumb, place an indentation in each biscuit then spoon in about 1/4 tsp of jam on each biscuit.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes until each biscuit is very lightly golden.
Let the biscuits cool on the tray for about 15 minutes (don’t try and move them too quickly as they are delicate and could break) then place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Eat them.

Recipe from http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/gluten-free-jam-drops/9c314daf-e2b9-4374-b3ea-9dd54abf4976


Tofu in BBQ sauce for hot, muggy days

One of the greatest delights of this blogging malarkey has been meeting (albeit virtually) many wonderful and interesting bloggers along the way. One of those peeps is foodisthebestshitever aka Graeme, aka Grazza, aka Mr Red Bearded Carnie Man. This witty blogger shares his fresh, vibrant recipes using his own unique turn of phrase and the odd spot of colourful language. (In others words, severe language warning to all of you who may be offended.) He resides in northern NSW with his missus Jen, who also knows her way around a kitchen and their two gorgeous lads. They opened their restaurant The Stockpot Kitchen in the Bangalow Bowling Club, about a year or so ago. I look forward to the the day that we find ourselves in the verdant NSW hinterland and we are able to chow down on some of the delicious sounding US-Southern style grub. Grazza lives and breathes food and surely could be named the Carnie King of Fiery Outdoor Cooking and Artisanal Condiments.

Around the end of November last year, Grazza sent me a muchly appreciated gift of four precious bottles of liquid gold. You see, he makes his own Big Red Brand condiments that they sell from the restaurant. The sauces are not just a sucker punch but have a subtlety in their blending and a deft balance of sweetness, tanginess and heat. Sadly, they are not yet for sale in these here parts but who knows what the future will bring?

Lately, the weather in Sydney has been very, very hot and extremely muggy. The humidity is a killer. The easiest meal I could think of for my annoying coeliac vegetarian beautiful husband was marinated tofu to accompany leftovers of potato salad and Lebanese green beans .

This is not really a recipe. Simply chop up a block of firm tofu (in this case 350g), throw it in a bowl and dollop a generous few slugs of Big Red Brand Smoky BBQ sauce over the tofu, stirring to coat it. (Of course, most of you will not have a bottle of this on hand so you can either make yourself a batch of one of Grazza’s barbecue sauce recipes which is surely the next best thing or purchase a top quality sauce from a deli or food purveyor.) Let the tofu marinate in the fridge for a few hours, overnight would be even better. Heat up a frypan, splash in a few glugs of olive oil and pan-fry the tofu on every side until a deep golden brown. This can also be grilled on a BBQ of course. Once the tofu is cooked, heat up the reserved marinade and dribble it over the top. Smoky, spicily sweet with a vinegar sharpness. This is the good stuff. (Annoyingly, I now have to hide this good stuff from Kid 1 who has discovered a penchant for quality sauces. Bugger.)

The Stockpot Kitchen Facebook Page


A camping we did go

First night back from camping, I sat in bed and whilst it was lovely to be reclining once again in familiar comfort, something was missing. Walking to one of our bedrooms windows and pushing my face against the scratchy mesh of the flyscreen, I gulped in cool night air like a drowning person. Closing my eyes, the gentle hum of cicadas and rustling leaves of trees washed over me. That is what I was missing. Sister Three had declared that upon returning home from camping, she would have to live outside as she couldn’t bear to be stuck inside once more. Once again disconnected from nature.

Supposedly camping re-sets our circadian rhythms and whilst this light earplug-wearing ninja sleeper may not be able to vouch for that, what I do know is that our children run free, unfettered from the every day bane of television and overt technology. They play games, bike, swim, walk and carry on like pork chops. As adults we also walk more, talk more, chill more, read more, laugh more, puzzle more, connect more and carry on like pork chops more. All this is accomplished in the great outdoors that this very beautiful country provides for us.

For the first week of our two weeks this year, there were five families, 17 all told. We were back at our old haunt, the riverside camping ground in South West Rocks on the mid north coast of New South Wales. Sure, there was the odd unpleasant moment or two. Strong winds that sent tarps or tents flying can frighten both both young and old and a day or so of rain can kind of get you down. (Trying to dry towels whilst camping is one of my bugbears, don’t care if it ain’t clean but a damp towel seems so well, unnecessarily uncivilised.) Setting up camp is rather exciting but breaking down a camp and going home is well, far less so. There is usually fevered talk of burning the whole lot down and starting again next year, thus far, sanity, economy and a wish to stay of jail has won out. But any camping benefits far outweigh the negatives, making for the kind of holiday that allows you to totally check out of the everyday humdrum of life.

As usual we ate and drank very, very well and nobody starved. This part of the world is beautiful. White sand, turquoise waters on bright sunny days and the everchanging darker hues that the ocean provides on days that the sun refused to shine. Tall dark green Norfolk pines stand as silent sentinels, ever watchful and noble. Surely there is no greater marker of the Australian seaside than a stand of these magnificent trees?

Last year brought some sad changes to our lives and it was good to nudge them to the side, even if that sadness was merely simmering under the surface. This year brings new adventures for our family as our no longer chubby-legged big boy heads off to high school and into the somewhat scary state that is adolescence. As we purchase uniforms, pencils and new shoes I wonder where my little headstrong blonde curly haired lad has gone. He still likes a good argument but his body is lengthening and the planes of his face are refining, no remnant of baby fat is left except in this mothers memory. The Yak and myself are re-evaluating career paths alongside personal goals and right now, even though things feel wobbly, we know more than ever that life is bloody short. As cliched as it sounds, there are no guarantees (only death and taxes boom-tish) and our intention is to make the most of this life we have been given. So thanks South West Rocks, until we meet again.


Christmas 2016

Christmas was spent somewhere different this year. Mr Bagpipes was housesitting a lovely large property in White Rock, outside of Bathurst in country NSW. This once working vineyard is perched on a hill in a charming bucolic setting. The Yak, myself and sproglets had visited there before and we were excited to celebrate Chrissy with all of our extended family. Our special guest was ‘Christmas Alf’, harking all the way from Manchester in the UK. (Not a real elf of course but the funny, kind and gentle man who happens to be Manchurian Bro-in-laws Dad.)

It was good to be together somewhere different and somewhere so very beautiful. In this freefall Christmas, I think we all felt a smidge unencumbered and a dash unrestricted by tradition. We kept that which suited us and gently nudged aside that which didnt seem necessary in this new setting.

Christmas Eve morn and our gaggle met at The Hub. Good coffee as always and darned good nosh. My poached eggs, asparagus, spinach and mushrooms on black rye arrived topped with hollandaise sauce and crispy sage. Be still my beating heart. (As long as my heart still ticks after that rich and creamy sauce.)

We stuck to our Christmas evening meal and more relaxed Boxing Day brunch. Two ethically sourced hams (yes, it does matter to us), were expertly glazed by Mum and devoured over the 4 day period. There was a delicious vegan gluten-free lasagna (the handiwork of Sister 2) for Christmas dinner, as well as a more traditional turkey, some much discussed ‘pigs-in-blankets’ that the Mancurian bro-in-law threw together, crispy stuffing balls and of course, a motza of side veggies. Desserts this year consisted of Sister 4’s fabulous pistachio ice-cream cake draped in a berry sauce and crowned with fresh berries as well as a batch of mini gluten-free, vegan sticky date puddings that I conjured up. We sat out on the vine draped patio, talking, laughing at ridiculous Chrissy cracker jokes, eating and drinking. The cicadas buzzed their Chinese operatic cadences and the sun set.

For Boxing Day brunch, the Yak made his now famous (well, within our circle) Boxing Day Fried Potatoes . They were as good as ever, and ‘it was said’ that they were the best thus far. When faced with a bag of heat affected ‘just past their best’ peaches, Sister 2 was inspired to throw together a peach puree. We added this fragrant mixture to some fizzy wine for delicious brunch bellinis and to soda water for a non-alcoholic tipple. (Nothing goes to waste when we roll.) There were fruit platters galore, fried eggs, croissants, homemade pickles, chutneys and jam.

The children ran and played endlessly; soccer, cricket, sword fights, Harry Potter incantations and movie making being the order of the day.

Naturally, there were some sad moments and those who died this year were remembered both aloud and quietly. Every one of us left our family get together with at least one precious memory, tucked safely away, to take out and savour in the year that is to come.

img_5992