Love and hearts and a bit more love

Pink heart-shaped lamington

My handsome husband never buys me Valentine’s gifts. Which is just the way I like it. I just don’t believe in all the hyped-up commercialism of V-Day. What I do believe in, however, is love. And while I like to shower my peeps in it on any given day, I like positively saturating them on Feb 14th with little tokens to remind them that my love for them runs deeper than Dolly Parton’s cleavage.

Jar of candy hearts

Yep. Deep.

This year I was inspired by a picture I bought ages ago from beautiful Etsy artist Golly Bard.

Jar of Love

Jar of Love hangs in my study and I love it every bit as much as I did when I bought it 4 years ago.

So I made the baby Bettys their own little jars chockfull of love.

Jar of hearts birdseye views

I also like to go totally overboard with their lunches and pack those full of love too. 

Love lunch

Frankly, I defy anyone to tell me that anything says “I love you” more than a pink, heart-shaped lamington.

My grandmother, Betty, used to make these lamos as a treat for us when  we would visit her in the school holidays. We looked forward to them like mad things.

I made this card (from this Photojojo tutorial) for my most handsome of husbands. It’s a shot from our wedding in Bali.

Valentine's card with cut-out heart

I love that pic however, in a startling coincidence, I do appear to be sporting horrifyingly over-sculpted eyebrows very similar to those of a certain infamous Australian who has just been released from a Balinese prison this week.  Well, at least I have the excuse that it was 2001.

I hope your Valentine’s Day and life in general is brimming with that many splendoured thing.

jar of hearts with hearts spilling out

Last Christmassy bits

Top of Christmas cake

The ham is all but finished, the tree is swiftly desiccating, the presents have been well and truly played with and we have travelled a scenic coastal route for about 1300 kms in the last few days to be in Sydney with dear friends for New Year’s Eve.

I do loves me a brand spanking new year. A fresh slate, endless opportunities and possibilities. Makes me itch with anticipation.

Just before 2013 dissolves into a shiny new dawn, I did just want to show you the last Christmas-related bits.

We had our big family Christmas on Christmas Eve this year which may well become a new thing for us as it leaves Christmas Day to really relax. It felt kind of European and somehow extra Christmassy and there’s nothing like a twinkling light or two and flickering candle to really up the atmosphere.

We did the whole shebang: 8 kilo turkey and whole leg of ham with all the trimmings. The ham was, if I do say so myself, spectacular this year. I brought it to a festive sheen with a quince paste, honey and mustard glaze. Delish.

whole baked ham with calico handle

My mum always makes Christmas cakes and plum pudding to an old family recipe. This year I decorated the top of our cake with the cutest snowman ever (made by Sophia a couple of Christmases ago), some paint chip pine trees (the colour, appropriately, “fir green”) and a sprinkling of icing sugar snow.

Christmas cake with snowman and pine trees

This was one of the most treasured gifts this year: a new blankie. Think she likes it?

Olive with her blankie

Despite the slightly Euro feel to this year’s celebrations, we went with an Australian bush Christmas theme for the table eating. Mum and I spray-painted gum leaves and gum nuts silver which combined with the minty greens and coral of fresh gum and blossoms made a beautiful centre-piece.

Gum tree Christmas table centre piece

The girls made gifts for each other and this year Sophia’s form Olive was, well, unintentionally hilarious.

The only thing Olive loves more than baby dolls is the thought of herself as a baby. So we combined the two. I printed a photo of Olive’s baby face onto some fabric and then Sophia drew in the other details. After that we cut it out, I sewed it together and Sophia stuffed it. I should have left a slightly larger seam allowance around the head of the doll. Because this is not what Olive looked like as a babe!

Olive doll sibling present

The irony is that her head was more like a pumpkin than this pin-headed weirdo would have you believe.

From this angle she looks slightly closer to herself. But still like an alien.

Olive doll

I made a desultory attempt to talk Soph into us making another but she was happy with it. And, more importantly, as the next photo attests, Olive was delighted. I love the way Soph is looking at her to gauge her reaction.

Olive opening her sibling present

Olive did remarkably well despite her enormous cast in decorating this mug for her big sister using ceramic pens. Sophia fancies herself quite the tea drinker (even though the tea is never actually consumed in any vaster quantities than a sip or two) so she was thrilled to have her very own cup for that purpose.

Sophia's sibling present mug

Last of all, I wanted to show you these sweet little panforte. A heavily spiced dense cake, I used to overdose on these regularly when we lived in Italy. This was my first go at making them myself and they worked beautifully. And my kitchen smelled like Christmas on a stick from grinding all the fresh spices: whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cardamom seeds and vanilla pods.


Panforte in little cake tin

wrapped this one as a gift for a girlfriend and put it on the Christmas-set the table just to get quick shot but next year I think I might try to make a heap of these in advance and use them as take-home place settings. Tell her she’s dreaming….sighs a voice in the background!

Homemade panettone

See you on the flip side my darlings. Have a fabulous start to 2014.

Mini Christmas Puddings: the cheats’ version

Choc royal puddings 2

These little babies are quick, kitsch and festive – a magical trifecta in my books.

You just use Chocolate Royal biscuits  – at least that’s what they’re called here in Australia. I feel sure everyone must have something similar, and if you don’t, perhaps contact your local political members to address that abuse of your basic human rights.

They are biscuit discs topped with jam then marshmallow and dipped in chocolate.

Choc Royal pudding close up

They remind me so strongly of my paternal Grandmother, Isabella, who ALWAYS had a plastic Tupperware container of Chocolate Royals in her neat-as-a-pin kitchen cupboard. They were such a treat and after we had chosen one she would carefully replace the lid, slowly squeezing the air out fastidiously, and tuck them away again. A soothing ritual, of which she had many.

Choc Roayl puddings

She would love these I think. Just drizzle some white chocolate over the top, pop on a Jaffa and some chopped up green jubes for leaves and Bob, as they say, will be your uncle.

The girls loved helping me with these (as you can well imagine) and it’s something kids can do almost entirely on their own  – perhaps just with help to melt the white choc if yours, as mine, are still just a mite short to reach the microwave.

And I have to tell ya, they’ve been the first thing to go at every function they’ve made an appearance at – both for kids and adults! And I may or may not have eaten 50 bajillion of them myself. Nostalgia is a powerful force.

6.15am, Ubud local market

I love local markets. Always such an insight into a culture and on Friday we spent a wonderful early morning at the Ubud traditional markets. The smells, sights and sounds were heady.

The meat section can be confronting for those not used to staring their next meal in the face  – literally. To my surprise, Sophia (my eldest daughter) was not only interested but unfazed – even by the claustrophobic interiors and gory bits. Bodes well, I think. Not sure for what exactly, but ummmm, I’m pretty sure keeping your cool  in the face of a mountain of chicken feet, bags of blood and pig carcasses can only be a positive life skill. It possibly helps that when your mother sees them she thinks only of their potential deliciousness.

Apologies to any vegetarian readers whose stomachs I may have inadvertently just turned!

If you want to see any of the photos at full size, click on it to enlarge and you can then also view each shot as part of a sliding gallery.

Homemade edible confetti: a tutorial

Edible cake confetti 5

Edible confetti. What’s not to love.

edible cake confetti 4

After I had the idea I googled it and it turns out you can actually buy this stuff. Hence the “homemade” in the title of this post. But making it yourself means you can control the colours and the additives. And spend time when you should otherwise be doing mundane housework enjoying the meditative qualities of kneading fondant icing and flexing your punching muscles.

Edible confetti on cake on white stand

What you need:

  • Fondant icing (I use Orchard brand, available in large supermarkets here).
  • Gel food colouring (I use Americolour and Wiltons brands).
  • Icing sugar and a sieve
  • Baking paper
  • Paper punch (a handheld circular punch works best for this project)
  • Rolling pin
  • Cake cooling rack (good but not essential).

Edible confetti on cake 1

What to do:

1. Start by sifting some icing sugar through your sieve onto a corner of your workspace. Make a little pile of it. You’ll use this to dry the fondant out a bit as you knead it.

2. Tear off a golf-ball sized piece of fondant and knead until smooth and pliable. If it is too sticky, add some sieved icing sugar.

3. Add a drop or two of food colouring. These gel colours are very intense and you only need a little. Better to add a little and more as needed.

4. Knead the colour through the icing until it is even, adding icing sugar as you go to keep it soft but not sticky. It tolerates quite a lot of icing sugar being added without compromising the texture or colour so don’t be afraid to add a fair bit if required.

5. Roll out your ball of fondant as thinly as you can between two sheets of baking paper. It doesn’t have to be paper-thin – just thin enough to get into the paper punch.

Green fondant icing rolled out

Peel your flattened fondant off the paper and place on another piece of baking paper on a tray to dry for a few hours. When it is dry and you can lift the whole thing off the paper without it drooping too much, transfer it to a cake cooling rack if you have one to let the air get to all sides of it. If not, just leave it on the tray and allow to dry for 24 hours.

Once the icing is stiff enough, get punching.

Icing with paper punch

Try not to do this:

Edible confetti on my fingers

That’s it.

I am loving how this looks. Quite “spectacleear”, as my 4 year old would say.

Edible cake confetti 2

And there you were thinking your paper punches were limited to use with paper, washi tape, masking tape, soap and fabric. Oh, you!

This is a post in twirling betty’s paper punch-a-palooza series. If you enjoyed it, you might also like:

1. Paper punch stencils

2. Paper punch fabric luggage tags

3. Paper punch washi tape stickers

4. Paper punch fabric confetti

4. Paper punch sparkly snowflake envelope

5. Paper punch soap confetti

6. Paper punch washi tape cake stand decoration

7. Paper punch stencilling on clothes with masking tape or freezer paper

Large paper punch-a-palooza series header

The MOST aromatic pepper for perfect seasoning

pepper mill

A while back I read an interview with the iconic Maggie Beer who said she would not be without Aussie Pepper from North Queensland in her kitchen.

A few weeks later, I was reminded of Aussie Pepper again when I watched an episode of a program called Spice Trip that focussed on the highly sought after black pepper of Kampot in Cambodia.  The host made the point that the black peppercorns we buy in the supermarket have often been warehoused for years and years before they reach the supermarket, let alone our shelves at home. Even if you grind at home, there is a chasm of difference between the fresh grounds of old peppercorns and freshly dried ones.

White pepper

Freshly dried peppercorns retain a complexity and aromatic punch that has to be smelled and tasted to be believed. Judicious seasoning with pepper like that can lift a simple dish from ordinary to sublime. Even better when it is used as one of the cornerstone ingredients in a dish like spaghetti cacio e pepe, or black pepper tofu.

Aussie Pepper don’t have a website you can order from. You have to email them and they will send you their very reasonable price list. Then you simply email your order and they send out the goods with an old-fashioned, hand written invoice attached. I LOVE it – so refreshingly old-fashioned and trusting.

Aussie Pepper have black pepper, white pepper and, when in season, fresh green peppercorns.

The white pepper is revelation for me. I’ve never really bothered to seek it out for a recipe, just substituting with black pepper, but now that I’ve inhaled the fragrance of this jar, well let’s just say the baby bettys are lucky they aren’t getting a  sprinkle on their morning porridge. It is amazing.ground white pepper_edited-1

I’ve become slightly obsessed and have been grinding a bit out and inhaling it pretty much every time I walk past my pepper mill. Sure, it makes me sneeze but it’s worth it.

And you can make pretty pictures with it.

I call this “Pepper Rain” and it should be viewed while singing “Pepper Rain” to the tune of “Purple Rain” by Prince.

Pepper Rain

And before you ask, no I do not have too much time on my hands even though it might seem very much as though I have.

I haven’t included Aussie Pepper’s email in my post (spam prevention) but if you are interested, do email me (details on my contacts page) and I’d be delighted to pass it on.

A winter weekend of truffles and turducken.

truffle on slicer 2

One a cold winter weekend we hosted a truffle and turducken weekend at our family place on the Gippsland Lakes. It was 48 hours of cold weather, roaring open fires, whiskey, black gold and stuffed meat of a kind that has to be seen to be believed.

To be clear, we did not combine the truffles and turducken. Because not even truffles can improve upon the sheer magic that is a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey.

Together with our friends we bought an obscene amount of exquisite Australian winter truffle (which we were lucky to get at a wholesale price through my brother-in-law who is a chef) for a once-in-a-lifetime weekend of truffled dishes.

We had truffle-perfumed poached eggs with grated truffle.

truffled egg

O.M.F.G it was good. And did you see that yolk just about to ooze out. Oozeapalaooza.

We made our own pasta and hung it to dry, as all good Italians do, over the clothes drying rack.

Pasta drying

Dressed with a simple sauce of sautéed garlic, olive oil and salt we then grated stupid amounts of truffle over.

home made pasta with truffle


We made truffled risotto and served it with yet more truffle shavings, truffled vodka (which seemed like a good idea the night before but turned out to be not that appetising with breakfast), and cut the top of a piece of brie, inserted a whole layer of sliced truffle and then gently heated it. O.M.F.F.F.F.F.F.G.

The turducken (no photos – hard to make a hunk of meat like that look good!) was good too but really we were all there for the truffle.

We made s’mores for dessert. My friend sourced Graham Crackers and Rocky Mountain marshmallows from a US providore here – essential for authentic s’mores I’m told.

marhsmallows toasting in the fire

After much experimentation, by the second night we had cobbled together this pitchfork of deliciousness to toast everything to perfection at once.

Pitchfork of deliciousness

Some were worn out by all the excitement and in what was perhaps a world first for a child, nodded off mid s’more.

Olive asleep mid s'more

A cracking winter weekend all in all: good friends, good fun, good fungus.

Olive harvest 2013

Mifnight black olives

We live in a tiny cottage about 2 kms from the very centre of Melbourne. And that’s just the way we like it. You might think that would preclude us from industrial scale food harvesting, but you would be wrong.

Well, industrial might be pushing it just a tad but our olive trees are so monstrous and laden with so much fruit that they are certainly the equivalent of a tiny grove.

The other day I had our arborist come in (the same one I sent a text to a few years ago that inadvertently finished with three kisses – force of habit – MORTIFYING!) to come in and lop the tops off so we could a) harvest all the olives from the top and b) reduce the risk of one of these immense trees toppling over and bringing down the slightly rickety back bit of our house.

In the next shot you can see the arborist mid lop. He’s standing on the top of our fence which is about 7 feet tall and he’s no slouch. That should give you some sense of the scale of the trees. Bloody enormous.

Todd lopping  olives

The entire courtyard was a sea of olive branches, so many so that we felt a bit overwhelmed.

Courtyard full of olive branches

We harvested the ones from the downed limbs. When I say we, I mean my handsome husband. He did most of the work. Nah, he did all of it.

And he’s never looked quite so Greek as this.

Hands of a harvester

We’ve got about 30kgs of olives. And we discarded probably another 10kg that were past it or badly blemished. In the 4 years we’ve been collecting, it is by far our biggest crop. By far.

After the harvest we sat for 5 hours straight and put three slits in each olive preparation for brining. When I say we, I of course mean him. His hands are still stained from the process.

Bucket of balck olives

So now our precious olives are soaking in their salty bath for a biblical 40 days and 40 nights. After that, we’ll preserve our babies; some in olive oil, some in brine. I’m going to have to order in extra preserving jars and buy tens of litres of olive oil. Hello Costco.

I am utterly in love with the fact that we are able to have a true harvest from our tiny back yard. It was these wondrous olive trees (my eternal obsession – see this post) that sold me on our house.

2 buckets of olives and branches

Two years from now we should have another bumper crop from massive trees. In the meantime, I would love to find someone with a small press who might consider pressing some of ours for a very small batch of  our own olive oil. Now THAT would be amazing.

Courtyard during olive harvest

Smiley icy pole

Smiley face Zoku

I’ve posted before about my beloved Zoku quick pop maker here, here and here.

Recently, another beloved in my life, my Godmother (just to be totally clear she is infinitely more beloved than the popsicle maker), sent me some tools for making my Zoku pops even more awesome.

Awesome on a stick.

And on that popsicular (it’s definitely a word) note I bid summer a fond farewell. Bring on the slow-cooked braises. They might not be as friendly as my smiling gal pal up there but they are just as welcome.

PS: She’s made with nothing more than orange juice and bits of apple. Healthy and friendly. What a doll.

Someone forgot to tell the berries…

Pav 2

that Autumn has arrived.

Poor berries can’t be blamed; temps will continue in the 30s (celsius) for the next week and are predicted to reach 37 degrees next Wednesday.

I hate to wish a season away but I am SO ready to have a night under the covers instead of on top of them. And a slow-cooked stew. And a snuggle under a blanket on the couch.

In the meantime, though, I’ll keep making the most of summer’s bounty. Even if raspberries have suddenly shot back up to Autumnal prices of $7 a punnet!


I actually don’t even like pavlova. Which potentially makes me un-Australian. But I do love cooking meringue. So perhaps that earns me a pardon.