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

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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.

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All the little lights

‘We’re born with millions of little lights shining in the dark, and they show us the way. One lights up, every time we feel love in our hearts.’

I was sitting with Uncle R and Aunty L in their lounge room. We were listening to an album called ‘All the little lights’ by Passenger, aka Michael David Rosenberg, an English folk-rock singer songwriter with an unforgettably raspy voice and poignant lyrics. L is mending and R is reading. The lyrics from the song ‘all the little lights’ lodge within me, there is definitely a light shining in my heart in that moment.

My three sisters and I had landed in full force in Christchurch, New Zealand, the day before. It had been many years since we have travelled there all together, four curly haired lasses reunited on an adventure once more. We encountered a little pocket of summer in autumn, the warm wind wrapping around us like a loving blanket. Tessa the wonder retrieving cat was a delighting and diverting ball of possum like fur. Our Uncle and Aunty love her to the point of distraction. It is no no hardship to see why. We are all in her thrall before we know it.

Their house, built in 1909, timber walls, lovingly maintained by strong hands and strong hearts and held up by the firm foundations of a loving marriage. To our Uncle, this house is part of his story, a direct reflection of himself. Solid through the toughest and most unimaginable heartbreaking of times. It suffered in the earthquakes but the fact that liquification did not travel beneath and the extra work and timber that they built into it ‘back in the day’, ensured it’s continuing existence.

There is true beauty here. Both in the people it houses and in each lovingly chosen or inherited piece. A living, breathing diaroma of their history, just like the patchwork quilts artfully made by Aunty L. Old Pop’s piano accordion, stained glass and hand crafted wooden sculptures made by a close friend. A man’s garage laden with treasures and tools used by the hands of a bloke who fixes and beautifies discarded objects. The garden provides pumpkins, perfumed climbing roses, lavender, a magnificent veggie patch and an apple tree. Saffron seeds given to Uncle R from an Iranian student have been grown into delicate yet vibrant golden threads.

Hot Wheels and Low Rider, how good it is to see them again. No, these are not some hot rodding gang members but two of our cousins. Rest assured, these titles are of their own choosing. These two beautiful men have Frederich’s Ataxia and use wheelchairs as their current mode of transport. This condition causes progressive damage to the nervous system. We are well pleased to clap eyes on them both again along with Big Bibbity Bob (aka Bob) the beautiful brown eyed dogger friend of Hot Wheels. To know Bob, is well, to love him.

A strong food gene appears to be written in all of our DNA. We ate and drank from dusk to dawn, Aunty L’s rich mushroom soup and sourdough bread. The coffee we encounter is seriously good and excellent New Zealand wine flows. Denheath’s custard squares thank you very much, iconic ginger slice and lolly slice, something I don’t think you will see in another part of the world. A miniature Bombe Alaska filled with a rhubarb parfait is well, frankly, the bomb. We are entertained by Uncle R’s amazing ability to recite poetry and witty sayings handed to him by his own personal mentor and hero, Old Pop. (His grandfather, our great/grandfather. He is the dapper fellow in the first photo on the left wearing a beret.)

Special gin (laden with botanicals) and tonics with orange peel, Italian food, cousins and beers, laughing like loons and catching up. Some cooking and baking is also accomplished by sisters together again. A perfectly balanced carrot cake (not too sweet, not too savoury) topped with walnuts foraged from the tree next door. A delicate seafood chowder laden with NZ seafood. We all pitch in.

Reconnecting with our loved ones, family from both our fathers and mothers side, time has passed but not passed at all. The goodwill and interest is still there as if we only saw each other yesterday. Coffee at the local library, lunch at the Boatshed and drinks at the Astrolabe Bar. More laughter and some tears. We pore over photos from a bygone era, looking for snippets of ourselves in the faces that gaze back at us.

Leaving here is hard for many reasons. We miss all of our family and this beautiful city that is rebuilding itself in new ways after the earthquake. It is made more difficult this time because our beloved Uncle R is fighting a health battle that brings new meaning to the saying that ‘life isn’t fair’. As Uncle R would say, quoting Old Pop, ‘Life isn’t fair, so what are you going to do about it?’ Our uncle has spent his life ‘doing something about it.’ Battling injustices committed not only against his own boys but for others who lacked a voice.

We do not say goodbye but instead, ‘until we meet again.’ If love is a tiny light that burns, then there are many tiny lights burning as brightly as they can right now.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CoONtDv9eJg

http://www.fara.org.au

http://www.denheath.co.nz

http://www.christchurch.org.nz


Hungry Games and Scott’s Farewell Square

As of late, I have been immersed in what is known as YA (Young Adult) fiction. It happens to involve a lot of ‘end of the world’ type scenarios. It is here we usually read of a hapless teenager who has found him or herself in a dystopian society where survival of the fittest is the order of the day. They fall chastely in love with another luckless adolescent or mayhaps a vampire, all whilst changing the course of history.

I have come to the conclusion that if I were to be suddenly transported into such a scenario, I would not last long. I would simply poop my pants and suffer a major heart attack whilst being shot at/hunted by mutated animals/jumping from train to train/taking part in a battle to the death or wearing a shimmering on fire mockingjay type outfit. I would be the sad loser who lay down and just died of fright.

With that, I give you this old school Weet-Bix slice. In my own adolescence there was often a version of this wheaty bake waiting at home. Made by mum in an attempt to ward off any ‘Hunger Games’ type scenarios that may have occurred between myself and my three sisters. In turn, it is now one of my lads fave morning or afternoon tea delights.

My mum usually baked a melt and mix version but I have provided here a creamed butter and sugar version from my fave NZ baking cookbook, ‘Ladies: A Plate’. This slice is named Scott’s Farewell Square due to the fact that the famous explorer Captain Scott’s last expedition, sailed from Port Chalmers New Zealand, in November 1910. Alexa Johnston, the author of this cookbook, tells us that the recipe appears in a 1960’s Dunedin church recipe book. She imagines that a plate of this moreish slice may have been given to the ill fated Scott and his team before they sailed away to the South Pole.

This is the kind of hearty baking that will sustain hungry adventurers of all ages. (I have decided to enrol my lads in a survivalist course, just to maximise their chance of staying alive if things go bottoms up in the future. At the very least, they need to know how to shoot a bow and arrow or stake an evil vampire if needs be.)

SCOTT’S FAREWELL SQUARE

WHAT YOU NEED
115g butter
1 cup/140g brown sugar, coconut or rapadura sugar
1 egg
2 tsps golden syrup
1 1/3 cups/170g wholemeal flour
1 pinch salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbl Cocoa powder
4 Weet-Bix finely crumbled
1 cup/85g desiccated coconut
3/4 cup/100g chopped dates

Icing
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tbl Cocoa powder
1 tsp butter, melted
Extra coconut for sprinkling

WHAT YOU DO
Preheat oven to 180C and line a shallow tin with baking paper. (The slice is roughly 22 x 22cm so I used a bigger tray but not all of it.)
Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl (I used a mixer) until light and fluffy.
Add the egg and golden syrup and mix until it comes together.
Sit in the flour, salt, baking powder and cocoa powder.
Mix in the Weet-Bix, coconut and dates and stir thoroughly to combine.
Spread evenly (about 1.5cm – 2cm thick) into a baking tin and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Remove from the oven, let cool in the tin for about 15 minutes then put on a wire rack to cool.

Icing
Sift the icing sugar and cocoa together into a bowl.
Make a thin chocolate icing by adding the melted butter and a little hot water to mix to a spreading consistency.
Spread over the cooled slice, sprinkle with the extra coconut and cut into squares when the icing has set.
Makes 16 squares.

Cooking Notes: the original recipe also calls for 55g each of raisins and chopped walnuts. I leave them out due to sproglets preferences but feel free to chuck them in. I have knocked back the amount of sugar and icing sugar from the original recipe and used wholemeal flour.

A Slightly Cheergerm adaptation from ‘Ladies A Plate’ by Alexa Johnston.

A gluten free Weetbix made from sorghum was recently released in Australia so a GF version slice will be posted in the near future, as well as a melt and mix chocolate Weetbix slice recipe.