Ginger and almond slice, gluten free

Kid 1: Do you want a hug Mum?
Me: (Suspiciously) … um why?
Kid 1: Are you having a bit of a hard time at the moment?
Me: Ummmm…why do you ask?
Kid 1: Are you going through some kind of mid life crisis? I saw those tablets in the kitchen and it says that they are for ‘hormonial’ problems.

Explanation: sitting on our kitchen bench top sat an assortment of herbal tablet remedies addressing ‘certain women’s issues’, including that ‘raggedy-arse no good delightful condition of pre-menopause.’

Me: (Despite the exclamation marks in my mind, out loud I calmly said) Well, I guess I kind of am.
Kid 1: Oh, that’s badly timed with you going through a mid-life crisis and me going through teenage years! (Himself now being all of fourteen.)
Me: Yup, we really should have planned that better.
Kid 1: Do you still want a hug?
Me: Yes, yes I do.

Now that was a damned fine hug indeed.

A close runner up to that hug is this buttery innards-warming gingery slice topped with golden brown nutty slivers. The nuggets of crystallised ginger add wee pockets of chewy surprises that both delight and astound. (Ok, astound is taking it too far but they are bloody tasty.) Indeed, it has become Kid 1’s second favourite homemade slice.

ALMOND AND GINGER SLICE, GLUTEN FREE

WHAT YOU NEED
175g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
1 egg
225f gluten free plain flour
2 tbl milk
100g almond meal
1 tsp ground ginger
100g crystallised ginger or glacé ginger (I prefer the texture of the crystallised.)
70g flaked almonds

WHAT YOU NEED
Preheat oven to 190C degrees conventional (or 180 C fan-forced) and line an 18cm by 28cm baking tin with baking paper.
Beat butter and sugar together using an electric beater until thick, pale and fluffy.
Beat in the egg, then beat in flour alternating with milk.
Stir in the almond meal, ground ginger and crystallised/glacé ginger.
Pat the mixture into the tin and smooth it out evenly and sprinkle with the almonds.
Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cool slightly in the pan then lift onto a baking rack to finish cooling. Cut into squares or fingers and eat.

Recipe slightly adapted from the following website:

https://www.taste.com.au/recipes/ginger-almond-slice/0d614e62-250f-45ff-aa4b-c4c161ce186e

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Gluten free lemon biscuits

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Winter has certainly hit Sydney. Looking out onto a dreary garden scene, I observe a sun-deprived browning lawn, fallen twigs and leaves from recent strong winds and the remnants of summer herbs. The bright spot in my view is the lemon trees. We are enjoying an abundance of citrus but there are only so many cakes, biscuits and slices you can bake.

My next food goal is to ‘put up’ (as would they say in the old days) some Moroccan/Middle Eastern preserved lemons. In my minds eye, I envisage opening a jar of homemade bottled sunshine to chuck into a slow-cooked tagine or sprinkle atop an autumnal salad. Bathing in a feeling of culinary superiority, wearing muted linen colours, my well-manicured hands clutching a coffee mug in the very latest in ceramic serving ware. Totally ‘Instagrammable.’

Back to reality, I hoist my daggy tracksuits up around my waist. These biscuits are delicate, zesty,  wonderfully easy to make and are much akin to shortbread. Next time (there will be a next time), I will double the recipe.

Gluten free lemon biscuits

WHAT YOU NEED
100g butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tbl lemon zest (I used the rind of 1 large lemon)
1 3/4 cup gluten free flour
1/4 cup rice flour

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking tray with baking paper.
Combine the butter, sugar, juice and zest in a bowl and beat until combined.
Sift in the gluten free flour and rice flour and stir until smooth.
Form the dough into a ball, wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Remove from the refrigerator and pinch off about 1 large tablespoon of dough and roll into balls. Place them on the trays, 5cm apart. Flatten them with a fork ever so lightly.
Bake for 15-20minutes or until they start to brown around the edges.

Makes about 18 bikkies.

Recipe from the following website, with a few small adaptations.

http://allrecipes.com.au/recipe/26080/gluten-free-lemon-biscuits.aspx

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More gluten free lemon muffins

Forget finding the meaning of life, running a marathon or even attempting to read an entire book without skipping to the last chapter. My personal Holy Grail (minus the white steed and medieval suit of armour), appears to be an ongoing quest for the perfect gluten free lemon muffin recipe.

Sadly, this is not it. But it ain’t half bad. It is not the fault of the original recipe but merely the curse of using gluten free flour and the tendency for such bakes to dry out quickly. (Especially when the don’t include fruit or some kind of nut flour.) The Yak really enjoyed them and they are certainly at their best on the day of or day after baking. I am most proud of our three bountiful small lemon trees that continue to provide the citrus that is the zingy backdrop to my culinary life.

The search continues but it is good to finally know my true purpose.

GLUTEN FREE LEMON MUFFINS

WHAT YOU NEED
210g gf flour
1 tbl baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar (I used brown sugar for this batch but caster sugar is fine too)
4 eggs
1/3 cup Greek yoghurt
1/2 cup grapeseed or olive oil
2 tbls finely zested lemon rind
1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
Syrup
2 tbl lemon juice
1 tsp brown sugar

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and place muffin papers in a 12 hole muffin tin.
In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together sugar and eggs until pale and smooth, this will take about 2-3 minutes.
Beat in the yoghut then beat in the grapeseed or olive oil along with the lemon zest and vanilla essence.
Add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling each about 1/3 full.
To make the syrup, place the lemon juice and sugar into a small bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds until the sugar is dissolved.
Bake the muffins for 15-20 minutes until golden or until a cake skewer comes out clean.
Transfer to a rack to cool and then immediately, poke a few holes with the cake skewer into each of the muffins. Drizzle some of the syrup onto each muffin until all the syrup is gone.

Makes 12 small muffins

A gluten free adaptation of the following recipe:

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2012/05/lemon-olive-oil-muffins-recipe.html


Gluten free pecan and vanilla shortbread

This is the pointy part of the year when our ‘busy’ lifestyles become more hectic than usual. Fighting for a carparking space and battling the multitudes at crowded shopping malls is not my idea of a good time. Completing my present purchasing early, allows me to enjoy the process and maintain some semblance of sanity.

When I think of childhood Christmases, certain gifts I received stand out (hello wholesome Sindy doll, no pneumatic Barbie for me.) What I remember most however, is that feeling where the world has slowed down. Of spending it with my crazy beautiful family, of the steadfast family friends who tethered us, of decorated pine trees hauled from the paddock next door fat and laden down with old school tinsel, Dads long walking socks used as Christmas stockings stuffed full of small and thoughtful delights.

I think of all the delicious things we ate; shiny glazed hams studded with cloves, homemade pavlovas crunchy on the outside and gooey in the middle, enough boiled new potatoes to feed an army and freshly shelled green peas – a job shared by all. Of scorching hot days when our bums stuck to vinyl car seats, us kids making whirlpools in above-ground swimming pools and running wild through sprinklers in baggy one-piece swimming cozzies. I hope one day, my own children will look back and remember the traditions created and moments spent together and not the ‘stuff’ that they received.

My goal has always been to spend the last week before Christmas away from the shops. Soaking in the festive feeling, spending time with loved ones, enjoying the Christmas lights on our street and of course baking shortbread for Christmas gifts. This year I find myself in the kitchen as the temperatures in our part of Sydney soar into the high thirties and low forties. (Celsius that is.) Working with butter in extreme heat is tricky but is manageable if you work fast. I do admit to turning on the air-conditioning once the oven starts to warm up. Pecan and vanilla is a winning combination and so far, no-one has complained. (They wouldn’t want to, there’s no saying what an overheated possibly perimenopausal baker might do if offended.)

Christmas isn’t always an easy time. Grief, pressure, depression,ill-health, financial woes and difficult family dynamics don’t just disappear because the calendar tells us it’s December. Terrible things happen at any time of the year and not everyone has it good. With that in mind; whatever you do or don’t bake this Christmas and whatever kind of Christmas you are experiencing, I wish you good tidings, peace and love.

GLUTEN FREE PECAN AND VANILLA SHORTBREAD

WHAT YOU NEED
250g butter, room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or 1 tsp vanilla essence
2 3/4 cups plain gluten free flour (for non gluten-free shortbread use the same amount of plain flour)
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 tsp fine salt
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 170C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and sift the flours and salt together into a bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually (I used a mixer), beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and mix until evenly dispersed.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined.
Add the pecans and give the mixture another quick mix.
Knead the mixture lightly in the bowl for a few minutes to bring it together.
Divide the dough in half, roll each half out to a 3-4 cm log. Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for half an hour to an hour.
Slice the logs into 1-2 cm thickness, depending on your fancy, place 10mm apart on a baking tray and prick each piece all over with a fork.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and straw-coloured. (Regular shortbread will be quicker to bake, probably only 15-20 minutes.)
Cool down on wire racks.
Makes about 20-25 pieces.

A Cheergerm Adaptation of a Margaret Fulton recipe.

Cooking Notes: Gluten free shortbread can be delicate creatures so please handle carefully when rolling and cutting. When adding the flour to the mixture, I pop a teatowel over the mixer to stop the flour ‘floofling’ (an exact culinary term) all over the joint.


Maple syrup muffins, gluten free

Since moving to the northern suburbs of Sydney and its bush surroundings, a particular bird has become my steadfast night time companion. A birdwatching neighbour assisted me in identifying the resonant hoot of this avian creature. It is the smallest and most common owl in Australia, the Southern Boobook. (Or as I have nicknamed it, ‘The Hoo Hoo Bird’.) It’s voice capacity seems far beyond its body weight, some would say this fact may explain my feelings of kinship towards this evening songbird.

It’s nocturnal call has become a comforting, rhythmical backdrop to what I have dubbed the ‘3 am blues’. Upon waking around that particular hour; every bad thought, hideous possibility and nightmarish circumstance comes to mind. And due to the hour, it feels unbeatable, unbearable and imminently possible.

Too many times to mention has the rhythmic far off call of the Boobook been my lullaby back to the realm of peace and slumber. Lately, this owl has begun to roost very near our house. The closest I have ever heard it. As I write, my eyes droop and my head nods in a Pavlovian response to its soothing call, lulling me to the Land of Nod.

Oh beautiful bird, thank you for your gift of sleep during restless nights of dark thoughts, wakeful breastfeeding babies, anxious parent emotions, vomiting children, snoring husbands, asthmatic lads, grieving nights and wide eyed ‘what if’ overthinking. I wish you propagation, the protection of your bush environment, delicious treats and the continuing joy of your nightly call.

These gluten free muffins are on steady rotation in our household. The recipe doesn’t contain any refined sugar, only maple syrup which gives them a floral, caramel flavour. They are tender, not too sweet and are best eaten on the day (or day after) they are baked.

MAPLE SYRUP MUFFINS, GLUTEN FREE

WHAT YOU NEED
350g gf flour (see cooking notes)
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs (70g)
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
2 tbl maple syrup extra for glazing

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 200C (or 190 fan forced.) Place muffin papers into a 12 hole muffin tin. Spray lightly with baking oil to ensure easy removal.
Sieve all the dry ingredients into a medium sized bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs then add the buttermilk, maple syrup and grapeseed oil and stir well.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Spoon the mixture into the muffin papers and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from the oven onto a cooling rack and using a pastry brush, brush the extra maple syrup over the top of the muffins whilst they are still hot.
Eat them.

Cooking notes:
In regards to gluten free flour for these muffins, I like to use a blend and this will change depending on what I have on hand. The two blends that provide a lovely, tender muffin are: A. 150g chestnut flour and 200g plain gf flour blend such as the Orgran brand. B. 100g Bobs Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour and 250g plain gf flour.
If you don’t have buttermilk you can make your own by adding 1 tbl of lemon or vinegar to 1 cup of buttermilk and let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes.

Maple syrup muffins original recipe link

The call of the Southern Boobook


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


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


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


Ginger shortbread for Christmas

Just as ginger is spicy and hot, I too, am a bit of a hot mess. Losing two absolutely beloved people in one year and all that comes with that, alongside some health issues; my blogging and writing mojo is sporadic at best. Frankly, my Cheergerm soul is weary, low and well, not so cheery as of late. As I tried to write this post, nine year old Kid 2 was beside me, wrapped in my doona; bouncing, rolling and banging his skinny bony knees into me. Asking me the same question over and over again. I snapped at him, then felt bad. He told me his new job ‘is messing up beds.’ This made me laugh. No chance of an idealised writing environment in my life, where is that solitary attic with a wooden desk that I once dreamed of?

Its been hard to get excited about Christmas, a season that usually provides much delight. Having children pushes me to make an effort. Writing the stripped back truth about your feelings can smack of self-pity and over-introspection. Whilst I am more than happy to read of others struggles, to write about my own leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable. In the midst of it, I also know that things are so much worse for so many and that our children are healthy and happy. Rather than continue in this vein, here is a list of little joys I have collated from this past week.

The young kindergarten lass at the school Christmas concert on Friday night who raucously and joyfully sang ‘la la la’ shaking her head (much as a headbanger would at a Metallica concert).

Watching Kid 2 at the same concert, impersonating a kookaburra during a song with great abandon, all self-conscious anxiety placed aside for a moment.

Our twelve year old Kid 1 picking out small Christmas gifts for his kindy buddies, selflessly and of his own volition.

All the appreciative folk who view our street’s Christmas lights with gratitude and wonder.

The ongoing support of family and friends and the camaraderie I have found in this online blogging community.

The Scottish people, my ancestors, for creating that delicious biscuit called shortbread. Attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 16th Century, it was an expensive luxury for the ordinary folk. In Shetland, it was once traditional to break a piece of shortbread over the brides head as she crossed the threshold of her new home. (Not sure how I would have felt about buttery crumbs through my hair but this shows how special this biscuit was.)

My creation this year combines warm spices with small nuggets of ginger that add a chewy, toffee-like surprise. I used a brand that stated it was ‘un-crystallised bare ginger’ but it still has some cane sugar on it, so I am not quite sure what the difference is. (I imagine it contains less sugar.) There is nothing quite like giving something homemade as a gift. Pop your baked goodies in a vintage tin or wrap them in some pretty cellophane and finish off the parcel with a darling bauble. Another little joy to add to my growing list. Merry Christmas to you all.

GINGER SHORTBREAD, (CAN BE ADAPTED TO GLUTEN FREE)

WHAT YOU NEED
250g butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 3/4 cups plain flour or gluten free plain flour
1/4 cup rice flour
2 1/2 tsps ginger powder
1/2 tsp mixed spice
30g bare uncrystallised ginger, finely chopped (if you can’t find this ‘naked’ stuff just use crystallised.)
Extra white sugar for sprinkling on top

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 170C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper Sift the flours and spices together into a bowl.
Cream the butter in a stand mixer then add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy then stir in the finely chopped ginger.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined.
Knead the mixture lightly to bring together to a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half, place onto a floured board and pat each into a square.
Using a rolling pin, roll each square into a 16cm by 16cm square, roughly 1cm to 1 1/2 cm thick. Gently lift the squares onto the prepared trays and cut each square into 12 rectangle fingers.
Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork. (This helps in releasing moisture as it cooks, making the shortbread crisper.)
Sprinkle extra caster sugar over the shortbread.
Bake in the centre of the oven for ten minutes then reduce the temperature to 150C and cook for about 30 minutes to 40 minutes. It is ready when it is firmish to the touch in the centre and golden around the edges.
Remove from the oven and carefully run a sharp knife through the shortbread rectangles again to make it easier to break into fingers later.
Cool down on wire racks. Gently break the shapes apart.
Wrap up festively and give to your best people, and eat some, always eat some.

Cooking Notes: when making gluten free shortbread, keep in mind the mixture will be more fragile. You may want to shape it into a square rather than use a rolling pin particularly if you are baking on a hot day.

A Cheergerm adaptation from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook 2004 Revised and Updated Edition published by Jannie Brown and Suzanne Gibbs.

Click below for previous shortbread recipes.

Cardamom, cinnamon and brown sugar shortbread
Cranberry, chocolate, pistachio shortbread
Old school shortbread
Gluten free shortbread