The Blue House

A weekend away with girlfriends is something to look forward to. The anticipation of being unfettered and unencumbered by the needs of anyone else is certainly something to be savoured. To be surrounded by friends who know your story, who understand ‘where you are at’, who get your eccentricities, your likes and dislikes, who are aware of your good and bad qualities and yet despite all that; they still want to go away with you. (Either that or they are too polite to disinvite you.)

We met when our (now fifteen year old) babies were merely a few weeks old. From that we formed a Mothers Group. Meeting each week reassured us that we were not alone in this journey called ‘motherhood.’ As time went on, some of our number moved away, changed goals and directions and eventually in the end; four of us remained.

To this day, we still meet for coffee and breakfast once a fortnight. That is not a feat to be sneezed at. The mind boggles at the changes we have experienced throughout these years. The birth of more children, the heartache of no more children, moving away, returning, losing loved ones, sharing the joy and torment that is parenting, grieving the loss of loved ones or of changed relationships, learning more about ourselves, not always seeing eye to eye, laughing our asses off, crying our eyes out, complaining, sharing, oversharing but loving each other regardless.

Whether it be serendipity that we met, a fluke or part of some greater plan; I cannot say. But I am grateful to know each one of these beautiful women. Our annual weekends away are a time of fun, heart to heart discussions, good food, laughs, relaxation and reflection.

This year we booked The Blue House in the beautiful Blue Mountains village of Leura. It is a sweet wee cottage just a mere 15 minute walk from town. The house is set in a delightful old school garden and yes, it is actually painted blue. We found it charming, warm, clean and full of welcoming and thoughtful features. Each and every one of us particularly loved the combustion fireplace and the thoughtfully organised kitchen, full of every utensil or dish you could possibly need. (Not that we really cooked on this visit.)

Two meals were eaten at the consistently good Red Door Cafe in Leura. Their salmon in butter dish and their roast pumpkin and fried egg brunch dish are so delicious that I order one or the other every time we eat there. And the coffee is darned good too.

We visited Josophan’s for their amazing chocolate, ice-creams and bags of cooking cocoa; watched movies snuggled under blankets, devoured piggy platters of assorted cheeses, dips and suchforth, we sipped good wine, took winter walks, experienced great shopping be it clothing, homewares or food; and ate seriously good Thai takeaway. What else could a woman want? Maybe just an extended visit next time? Two nights is just never enough and there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit greedy.

The Red Door Cafe

Josophan’s Fine Chocolates

Logan Wines

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Pam’s lemonade scones

Some people are irrevocably part of your childhood fabric, the person who gave me this scone recipe is one of those people. Not long after we moved to Melbourne from New Zealand, over forty years ago now, I made friends with a wee red-headed energetic lass at our local primary school. Her mum’s name was Pamela and as time went on, our Mums became friends and our families became close. In many ways, they were our Australian family. Patching a hole that had been left from leaving loved ones behind in The Land of the Long White Cloud.

Pam’s parents were Dutch, she had beautiful high cheekbones and a European sensibility. She was strong, funny, fierce, kind and possessed a bullshit radar like no other. As well as raising a family, she ran a catering business from home using the classical cooking skills she had acquired in a cordon-bleu cooking course. I remember sitting on tall stools on the other side of her tiled kitchen bench. Shiny copper jelly molds decorated the walls and I watched with quiet amazement as she deftly chopped vegetables with a skill I had never seen before, made pastry or prepared hor’douevres for upcoming catering gigs. (Oysters atop black pumpernickel bread spread with green butter, being one of them. It was the late 70’s.) Alongside my own Mum’s passion for healthy, fresh produce and good home cooking, watching Pam in the kitchen deeply influenced me in a way that I wasn’t aware of until many years later.

I learnt much from Pam and from observing the friendship between her and my mother. She showed me how to clean a bathroom properly and how to use one square of toilet paper if that was all you were left with. (You don’t want to know.) She taught me the pinch test on the back of your hand to see how your skin was ageing. I remember watching with fascination as the skin on our younger hands pinged back quickly but when she pinched her own hand, it went back into place at a much slower pace. Funny the things we remember.

Pam and Mum’s friendship was close and honest. I observed them with equal parts envy, interest and delight. In retrospect as an adult, probably in the hope that I too could emulate this kind of relationship one day. From my perspective, they seemed to stimulate and challenge each other both intellectually and emotionally. It appeared as if the status quo existed only to be questioned. Pam was a stalwart support in some of my family’s darkest times and their friendship taught me that friends don’t always have to see eye-to-eye. That close relationships can move past a disagreement or a hurt into a deeper understanding. Her and Mum are still friends and being divided by distance, talk on the phone, text often and visit when they can.

Pam is a never boring whirlwind of ideas, deep thoughts, rapid-fire at times bewildering conversation that pushes you to keep up. She has an abiding passion for the new, for life, for food, for people, for education and for the intricate workings of the human mind and body. In a recent conversation based around baking, I had told her that my scones were always too heavy, so she promptly emailed me her lemonade scone recipe.

Using the lightest possible hand (as directed), the scones have turned out beautifully light and airy both times I have baked them. They will slip nicely into my standard repertoire and be the basis of some gluten free experimentation in the future. I think I will call them Pam’s Lemonade Scones. Because that’s the very least that she deserves.

Lemonade scones

WHAT YOU NEED

2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup castor sugar
125 ml thick cream
125 ml lemonade
2 tbsp milk

HOW YOU DO IT

Preheat oven to 200C. Line a tray with baking paper.
Sift the flour, salt and caster sugar into a medium sized bowl.
Add the cream, lemonade and milk to the flour mixture quickly. Using a knife or spatula and with a very light touch, bring the mixture together.
Tip onto a floured board and very lightly knead together. (The mixture is quite wet and sticky.)
Pat into a 2cm thick square and cut the mixture into 12 squares. (Or use a cutter but I think this would be a wee bit tricky with a sticky mixture like this.)
Brush the top with any remainding cream.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until risen and lightly golden brown.
Serve with butter, jam, cream. Whatever takes your fancy.

Pam’s Lemonade Scones


Baggage and Gerringong

Everyone needs a little time away. To unwind, read a good book, to perhaps experience something a little different than the everyday. But two ‘three day mini-break weekends’ in a row? Now that seems a little, well, greedy. To quote Gordon Gecko from that 80’s hit movie Wall Street, ‘The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.’

So five friends from Mothers Group, once again threw together our winter woollies and piled our literal and metaphorical baggage into one car. This in itself was a small miracle, can you imagine? (Some of us may have packed more than others.) Our destination this time was the adorable hill perched coastal village of Gerringong on the South Coast of New South Wales. Only two hours (if that) from Sydney. We had the lend of a small holiday house and counted ourselves as very lucky chicks indeed.

Lunch had been missed and a loo visit was called for. So to start this gourmet weekend away, a stop was made at the infamous Maccy D’s just out of Wollongong. Now, I am no fan of this multinational fast food joint, for a number of reasons. However, not being a purist, I must tell you that we did eat the fries. Not sure if it was our hunger, excitement or the fact that we had just emptied our bladders but they tasted damn good. Let’s leave it at that.

Heading deeper south, the sky darkened. By the time we arrived, a full blown storm had settled in. Rooms and space divided, luggage unpacked, wine placed into the fridge and the kettle boiled. Snug as bugs in rugs, we looked at each other and heard not, the sound of children. And it was good.

Dinner that first night was an arduous trek (ok, it took three minutes) up to the main drag of Gerringong. There, we ate at the Werri Thai Restaurant, a hole in the wall and encountered some of the freshest Thai food any of us had eaten in quite the while. The tofu and cashew nuts, with a jammy spicy sauce was the standout. Enough that the restaurant was earmarked to re-visit before we left. That and a glass or two of Arras sparkling wine from Tasmania (for those of our number who partake in the odd alcoholic beverage), was a great start to our long weekend.

The next morning, after a luscious lie-in, the lot of us traversed the full twenty minute drive to the pretty town of Berry. Our destination being the renowned Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery. My last visit was many years ago and we were all keen to give it a whirl. Our sleep-in meant missing out on the full breakfast menu. So a cut down menu it was and sadly, no eggies. My choice was a Croque Monsieur style ham and cheese croissant. Not sure if this is actually done in the land of the French, but oh my. Flaky and buttery with a creamy, porcine interior. The others tried a very good spinach, pumpkin, pepita, sunflower seed and feta muffin. The coffee was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

After drooling over a fine selection of various baked goods, choices were made and boxed up to take back to the cottage. A stellar multigrain sourdough, a chocolate almond croissant, lemon yoghurt tea cake, prune and custard tart and macadamia tart. The intention being to share for afternoon tea, if not that day, the next. (No-one likes to go hungry.)

Back in Gerringong, we walked along the cliffs and drank excellent coffee from the Blue Espresso Bar. This Cheergerm eyed off some gorgeous hand-etched wine glasses at Mas Homewares. A shop brimming with an array of delightful European goodies.

Books were read, blankets snuggled under. Friday night, we had pre-booked (at a local’s suggestion), Zoobs Woodfired Pizza. They prepare their hand rolled pizza dough fresh every day and fire it in a proper woodfired oven. To start, some of the laydeez shared an excellent salt and pepper crusted squid. Then it was the pizza. My margarita with mushrooms was to die for. The base was puffy, light, yeasty with the smoky taste that only a woodfired pizza can give you.

A slap up home cooked brekky then a visit to the Gerringong Saturday markets. Cold but fun. Woolen hats, homemade cakes and jams, alpaca wool and handcrafted pillow cases. Hot chips eaten from the paper, another contender throws it’s hat into the ring for the hotly contested title of ‘the best chips in the world.’

Cups of tea, coffee, herbal libations, glasses of wine, reading, movies and tears over parenting journeys that seem to have become more complex. This gift of time allows us to expand on conversations that usually happen over the space of a cup of coffee. For a brief while, our burdens are unshouldered. It feels like we have unpacked far more this weekend than just our actual physical luggage.

We head out again that evening to Werri Thai to once again chow down upon that delicious tofu and cashew nut dish. This time trying an equally good massaman beef which is creamy and mildy spicy.

Sunday arrives all too quickly. Breakfast was booked at the Seavista Cafe in Gerringong. Light, airy with a gorgeous view of the ocean. The breakfast is decently solid. My poached eggs with hollandaise, avocado and smoked salmon is tasty. Back at the house, our re-packed bags are skillfully arranged (not unlike a jigsaw puzzle), into the car. I cannot speak for everyone but my baggage seemed just that little bit lighter. (Well, apart from those rather fabulous wine glasses I purchased.)

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blue-Espresso-Bar-Official/456897421029059

http://berrysourdoughcafe.com.au

http://www.zoobswoodfired.com

https://www.facebook.com/GerringongSeaVistaCafe

http://www.mashomewares.com.au

http://www.gerringongvillagemarkets.com.au

http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/south-coast/kiama-area/gerringong

https://cheergerm.com/2014/08/24/shadow-sisters-and-the-apple-bar/


For you, a gluten free passionfruit cake

This is for you my friend since we were fifteen year old ingénues
We would share our hopes and dreams in sleepovers silly from lack of sleep
The world spread out before us juicy, ripe and full of hope
Kept apart by distance for many years now
This was baked with Kid 1, in the pretence that it would be placed lovingly into a lemon coloured Tupperware container, tucked into the car, then driven over to your house
To make you a cuppa
To cut us a slice of cake
It’s possible it may have sat there untouched for quite a bit
Whilst we talked it out
This cake is for all the times I wasn’t there to hold your hand or for you to hold mine
To dry your tears
To tell you it was would be ok
Even when it really wasn’t
To kick each other’s arses if it was required
Or to not say much of anything at all
This cake is so you know
You are in my heart if no longer in my neighbourhood

Kid 1 and I baked this tropical fruity delight slowly and happily. The day stretched out immeasurably before us. Carefully learning to crack eggs, he wrapped his small hands around the ovoid object as if it were a Faberge antiquity.

This cake has a light soft crumb with soft vanilla undertones and is best eaten on the day it is made. (Or the day after, but it loses something by the third day. Not sure what, just trust me.) The thin passionfruit glaze with its scattering of dark seeds is just the right balance of sweet and tang. In lieu of sharing a slice of this cake with my friend, we had it for afternoon tea.

GLUTEN FREE PASSIONFRUIT CAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
125g butter, room temperature
2/3 cup raw caster sugar (or white caster sugar)
200g gluten free self raising flour
50 sorghum flour
30g almond meal
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder or vanilla essence
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup milk (room temperature)
4 small passionfruit pulps, (or 2 large.) If you don’t want too many pips in your cake batter, you can sieve the pulp then add some of the pips back into the sieved mixture to add to the cake.

Passionfruit glaze
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp boiling water
passionfruit pulp of 1 small or 1/2 of a large

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and line a 22cm springform tin with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixmaster, with hand beaters or by hand. Make sure it’s light and fluffy and almost white in colour. (Add the vanilla essence if you are using it at this step.)
Whilst the butter and sugar is mixing, sift the self-raising flour, sorghum flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt and vanilla bean powder. Place aside.
Add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar, mix well.
Starting with the flour, add the sifted flour and milk alternately, one third at a time.
Add the passionfruit and mix well.
Pour the mixture into the tin.
Cook for approximately 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Let cool for ten minutes then take out of the tin and cool on a wire rack.
Once completely cool, drizzle with the glaze. (Recipe below.)

Passionfruit glaze
Sift the icing, add the butter, boiling water and passionfruit pulp to the icing.
Mix well, you want a fairly runny consistency, add a dash more hot water if needed.

A Cheergerm adaptation from the Best Recipes website, link below.

http://www.bestrecipes.com.au/recipe/golden-passionfruit-cake-L8274.html


Shadow sisters and the Apple Bar

Time away with friends is precious. A week or so ago, I was lucky enough to spend three whole nights and four, yes four, days away with some long time girlfriends. One of these gorgeous women has a mum-in-law with a beautiful 100 acre property outside of Bathurst in the NSW countryside in Rock Forest. We have been lucky enough to visit there before and were excited to get the chance to go there once again.

We travelled up on the Thursday, kidlets tucked safely away in school. Us womenfolk giddy with freedom and hedonistic joy, crammed ourselves into a car and headed up towards the Blue Mountains. There may have been whooping, I cannot deny or confirm that.

First stop is Leura, a delightful Blue Mountains town. We wandered happily through craft, homeware and vintage shops. Lunch was at the Red Door Cafe where we ate a superb salmon fillet with crispy skin, preserved lemon, capers, nut butter sauce on a bed of mash. People, this dish was the bees knees. A yummy goats cheese tart with rocket, balsamic and caramelised onion was also consumed without complaint. Then, a few groceries were purchased and we piled back in the car.

Before we knew it we had arrived. The gate is opened and we drive onto this rocky and glorious landscape. (This area ain’t called Rock Forest for nowt.) We organise ourselves with military precision and a brisk walk up the driveway settles down the crazy car leg spasms we have all contracted.

The inaugural fire is built by our very own talented fire starter. This spacious log mansion has a spectacular open fireplace and a mantlepiece that is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Fizzy wine is popped, whilst cheese and bikkie snackles hit the spot. Yes, we now know we are on holiday.

Cold, cold country nights with clear sparkling skies. The night song of the river rocks me to sleep and is a salve to my citified soul.

Friday morning we ventured into Bathurst town to the divine Legall Patisserie once more, where toffee choux and other assorted delights were the order of the day. We ate patisserie for our breakfast, oh yeah. A quick squiz at the well cool Keppel Street shops, then a takeaway Fish River coffee from the Hub and back to the farm for some more hard work chilling out. Lunch was silky scrambled eggs and crunchy bacon with a side serving of tomatoes and mushrooms. Why? Because we can have breakfast for lunch if we damn well please.

Shadow sister figures on rocks, movies that made us cry until our insides hurt and caused eyes to swell up like stepped on puffer fish. We revel in this time to be just ourselves without being mums, wives or employees. We are not ungrateful for these roles but it’s good to feel the form of ‘just yourself’ once again.

Rocks in the shape of particular body parts that made us guffaw our way back down the hill. Our raucousness causes kangaroos to jump and sheep looked at us askance as they once again followed each other (as sheep will do) away from the insanity of five women laughing like their lives might just depend upon it.

Cliff the alpaca stood his ground and guarded the sheep because his life might very well depend upon it.

Steaming hot bowls of slow cooked Chilli Con Carne for dinner shore us up until the next feed. And who knew that it also makes a great breakfast dish on toast?

This trip is free from animal attack. On a previous trip a baby giant bat flew into the hair of one of our number in a vicious nighttime attack. It’s hard to explain the horror of being awoken by a high pitched squeak and a rustle across the top of your head. The brave woman valiantly fought off this flying rat with wings but vowed never to sleep in that particular bedroom again. To this very day, she never has.

Reading books that have been greedily hoarded for this occasion in the sweet knowledge and safety that there is no ‘Mum, Mum…I need, want, would like…’ The sunny, funny days warmed every vertebrae in our spines as we sat and read on grassy knolls overlooking the Macquarie River. The temperature at night dropped into the minuses but winter weight doonas soothed and lulled us into a satiated slumber. (As did a good side serving of nougat, chocolate and the odd glass of wine.)

Homemade chicken soup made by one of us, really is good for the soul. Friendship with these women isn’t always about seeing eye to eye. The longer we know each other we sometimes speak truths that are softened by good food and the solid love that underpins these conversations. The sounds of the crackling fire is the only musical backdrop we need on this long, lazy weekend.

Naturally, all good things must come to an end and as my wise mother always says, you can’t come back if you don’t leave. The blow of going home is softened by a lunch visit to the Apple Bar in Bilpin. We had booked weeks in advance to ensure we got a table. The food here floats our boats. A glass of Pinot Gris from Orange sets the tone, as does the glow from the fireplace.

This simple, rustic restaurant has an eclectic group of diners ranging from our sweet selves to inner city hipsters, from country folk to grey nomad travellers passing by. Choices are made from a menu overflowing with good sounding tucker. This Cheergerm gobbles down an amazing wood grilled pork loin cutlet with Patomaki’s messmate honey, black pepper, garlic, soya glaze, avocado salad with chips. I kid you not, this was the best darned pork I have eaten in years. Juicy and tender with a sweet spicy glaze. The assumption is that Patomaki’s messmate honey is a honey from bees that hang out near eucalypts but whatever it’s story, it tastes darned good.

Other dishes included a glorious woodgrilled salmon fillet with Lombok ‘Honeymoon’ sauce and a tasty version of fish and chips using lightly battered mirror dory.

The good news is that I married my dessert and we are now living happily together in a two bedroom bedsit in the inner city. Churros with a caramel mou and Belgian chocolate ice cream. Crunchy batons of deep fried batter with a melting interior accompanied by a fancy caramel sauce with hints of salt. The chocolate ice cream is to die for, it’s bitter undertones the perfect foil to the richness of the sauce. Other desserts tasted were a decent caramelised upside down orange and poppy seed cake and a rather wonderful gluten free local raspberry, coconut, white chocolate and almond clafoutis. (Try saying that five times quickly.)

Satiated we said adios to the Apple Bar and continued on our merry way back to the bosoms of our beloved families, who were waiting with bated breath for our return. (Hello, I’m home….hello…anyone here?)

Goodbye dear shadow sisters, until next years trip.

http://www.applebar.com.au

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Red-Door-Cafe/171123429579921?ref=ts&fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/LegallPatisserieCafe

http://www.fishriverroasters.com.au

https://www.facebook.com/thehubbathurst

http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/bathurst-area

http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/blue-mountains