Thursday, December 24, 2009

What colour is your Christmas?

The Christmas season is a riot of light in the northern hemisphere, cheering the long dark nights and acting as a reminder that the sun is beginning its return south. White snow, red berries and the green of the conifers are the colours of winter, associated with Christmas since creamy white beeswax candles glowed red in a German fir tree.

Today instead of the gentle glow of hazardous candles, lights strobe and flash in strings, lanterns and ropes in computer generated awkward and irritating sequences. Tree and time consuming handwritten cards have been replaced by flashing electronic ones sent and received by email and holographic papers flash from under every artificial tree. The colours of Christmas now include hot pink, lime green and purple, mostly created in plastic.

Driving through the Capes region in the past week, I realised that the colours of Christmas in Australia are green and gold. During the long days of brilliant sunshine, in the paddocks the West Australian Christmas tree, nuytsia floribunda, is astounding in its brilliant yellow blooms and if you are lucky, on the road verges you will find the straggly St John's Wort with its lemon yellow stars that magically colour everything red together with wild mullein and evening primrose. On the sandy ridges there are lime green kangaroo paws and banksias with their slender yellow candles.

Whatever the colour of your Christmas, may it be joyous and loving.

Travel safely, eat well, drink wisely, have fun and let someone else do the dishes.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Exercise-bad for your health?

When my father got lost while driving the family car, my mother would often hum quietly 'we will get there, heaven knows how but we'll get there.' I could have done that too, if I wasn't so out of breath and needing every bit of energy to haul myself up a hill the size of Kosciusko!
For two years my new bike has languished in the shed, collecting cobwebs and mysteriously shedding mud guards. Spring: five kilos heavier and another year past fifty, I really couldn't keep making excuses. For the past couple of weeks I have been sedately riding (on the footpath) to have coffee, building up my stamina for a bigger challenge.
Today's ride had been a few weeks in the planning. Collecting a few friends together on the same day is always a bit of a challenge but four of us set off together with another following for a forty minute ride to the local dam, where we would be met by my man and a friend who would make us breakfast and provide lifts home for bikes and bodies too tired to make the return trip.
We are all of a similar age so no one was going to be racing off ahead. Except me, that is. I soon realised that wearing my driving glasses was a bad mistake. I could see fine into the distance but distinguishing holes in the gravel track in the light/dark strobe of sun flickering through the trees was impossible. I was becoming a hazard to everyone so I sped on ahead.
I waited at the next turning a while but the others didn't catch up. The sign into the water catchment pointed down a steep hill to a water crossing. The river was black and there was no way I could gauge how deep it was as again, the glasses weren't up to it. The only visible sign was red and warned 'danger crossing' in large letters even I could read. The sensible thing to do was push the bike back up the hill and waited for the others to catch up. I waited a while and then a while more, no one came. I figured that they had ridden past while I was looking at the water so took off up the track where I met our straggler, riding in the opposite direction, also not having seen any sign of the others.
We went back to the turn off to the ford together and in good bush tradition, placed a few large branches in an arrow to show the track we had taken. We found a shallow but muddy way across the stream and headed up. And up and up and up. We lost track of time and distance, the only signs we came across told someone 'do not burn' and we hoped that applied to us too. We trusted that as the day was becoming hotter by the minute, no one would attempt burning anything anywhere near where we were.
Nearing the top of the hill we got a signal on the mobile and rang the others, who had been waiting, worried but relieved to hear we were together. We told them we had no idea where we were but would find our way back. It was another two hours before we reached again the muddy stream bed. We had ridden and walked in a gigantic circle. There was again no phone signal until we regained the ford when we called and asked someone to come down and show us the rest of the way. We parked the bikes and lay flat on our backs in the stream (all two inches of it) and groaned in ecstasy.
Five minutes later we had juice, water, a cup of tea and a bench to sit on with very relieved friends.Some good lessons were learnt. We were okay because we had water, food, sunscreen and repellant, hats and helmets and a mobile phone. A small kit with arnica, rescue remedy, Green Magic, bandaids, antihistamines and Panadol would have seen us through most minor incidents. Being girls, we also carried Wet Ones and toilet paper too.
Our biggest mistake was not waiting for the others and not carrying a map. A lot of the signage had become vandalised or overgrown and wasn't to be relied upon. Although I felt rather stupid, I was pleased at the way we figured out our way back without tears, tantrums or mishaps.
The taste of the cool sweet rockmelon that we shared at the top of the mountain will stay with me as a memory of one of the best things I have ever eaten. Please, if you are heading out into the wild, even close to home,look after your selves and be prepared. And take all your glasses with you!


Friday, December 11, 2009

Self publishing or blowing your own trumpet!

What is it that makes time accelerate at this time of year? I nearly fainted when I saw a sign saying 'two weeks till Christmas.'I think that should have been until or 'til, but these signs are meant to annoy us.

The arrival of the tempeh book has sent me into an extra mad flurry of activity. Self publishing is a wonderful way to explore your creativity. For a reasonable sum, anyone can publish whatever they want providing they are prepared to learn some publishing basics. Free from the restrictions of publishers, editors and designers, Your creativity can be given free reign without the restrictions of publishers, editors, designers and deadlines.There is no one telling you what to do. What you don't get is a dedicated team of professionals who will keep you in line, check your spelling, keep the book within budget and most importantly promote it for you. There is a price for all that creative freedom.

Here I am, packing little bundles to present to retailers, posting emails to all my friends, negotiating web servers, links and other technical stuff I usually avoid.

Christmas panic lurks over my left shoulder and boxes of books over my right. The printers tell us that if you can break even on your first print run (get your money back), that is the sign of a successful self published book. I have let myself be a little proud of my first solo effort - here it is...

'Tempeh' gives you an overview of the history, nutritional value and the use of tempeh as well as recipes for every meal. Here is an Indonesian style recipe from the book that is quick and easy to prepare.

Sticky Tempeh

Halve this recipe if you intend to serve it as a side dish.

600g tempeh, cut into thin strips
2 Tbsp + 2 Tbsp oil
2 brown shallots or 1 brown onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 red chillies, sliced
2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped finely
Pinch of shrimp paste (optional)
80gms palm sugar, chopped
3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp tamarind pulp

Fry the tempeh using the first 2 Tbsp of oil, until brown and set aside.
Add the rest of the oil to the fry pan and sauté the garlic, chillies, ginger and shallots with the shrimp paste if used for 2 minutes.
Add the sugar, water and tamarind and continue to stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Return the tempeh to the pan and continue to cook, stirring gently until the sauce has reduced and caramelised.
Season with salt to taste.
Garnish with fresh chillies and serve with rice or as a side dish with ‘wet’ curries.

Eat well,


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas cake through a straw

Happy first day of summer.

It’s raining here and I have just baked my Christmas cakes. As usual, I have far exceeded the amount of alcohol stated by the recipe. I have also changed the types of fruit, nuts and cooking time until it looks nothing like the original. I have tried to convince myself that the first time I make a recipe, I will follow it to the letter, but it’s like ‘breaking up’ - hard to do. I always feel that if I just tweaked it that little bit…. usually, everything is fine although there have been a few spectacular disasters over the years. Here is my recipe for Christmas cake, it has gone through many incarnations but this is not the version that we had to drink through a straw!


I included some pitted and chopped prunes and figs for their sticky factor and some red and orange fruits for colour as well as the sultanas and currants. This year I have lots of home dried plums which add a lovely purple colour and some finely chopped crystallised ginger to zip it up. The choice and proportions of fruits are up to you but please chop the larger pieces to no larger than a raisin.

1C each of brandy and sherry or fruit juice Use a LITTLE more if you need to (see below.)
1.5kg dried fruits
125g butter at room temperature
½ C brown sugar
4 eggs
¼ C strong espresso coffee, cooled
¼ C marmalade or jam
1 C plain flour
1 C self raising flour
1 Tbsp cocoa or carob powder
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp nutmeg
2 C pecans or walnuts

Soak the fruit in the juice or alcohol in a bowl covered in plastic wrap until you are ready to bake. Stir once each day.
On baking day drain the fruit in a colander over a bowl. If all the liquid has been absorbed, pour a LITTLE extra over the fruit and save the delicious brown, sweet and sticky stuff that ends up in the bowl. You need about 2 tablespoons.
With butter, grease a large round spring form or two smaller pans and line with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar till pale in colour and stir in eggs, one at a time, until combined.
Mix the coffee and the marmalade and stir this in too.
Sift the dry ingredients and stir in two lots until combined.
Finally add the soaked fruit and call the family for a stir for good luck.
Pop into the pans and level the top. Decorate with whole blanched almonds at this stage if you don’t want to ice them later.
Bake in a slow oven, 160 C if you can. If cooking more than one cake, put them all on the same oven shelf so they will cook evenly.

A large cake will take from 90 minutes to 2 hours. If it is becoming too brown on the top, cover with foil. I make 3 small cakes and they usually take about 50 minutes. The cakes are cooked when a bamboo skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean.

Brush the tops of the cakes with the reserved liquid while hot to form a nice sticky glaze.
Cool in the tin before wrapping in plastic wrap and storing in box or tin with a tight fitting lid.
These will keep for three months if you hide them really well. Some recipes tell you to pour a little extra alcohol over the cake after baking but I prefer to drink mine or save it for the Christmas pudding.

Happy baking