Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sort and Chuck

At this time of year I seem to get an overwhelming urge to have a good sort and a chuck! Maybe it's a kind of 'let's tidy things up as a way of closing off the old year and starting the new one off fresh'... not sure.

The other day I was in full-on 'sort and chuck' mode and next in line was the de-cluttering of my wardrobe. Unexpectedly, one of our daughters turned up - perfect timing! I co-opted her to help me. She has a good eye for style, she's decisive about what needs to go and doesn't get caught into the trap of being sentimental, which gets me every time!

So with Darling girl sprawled on our bed, in no time at all the room was filled with clothes and hangers, a discard pile mounting in the corner and I was being instructed to try things on for checking to see whether it made the 'cut'. I did linger on the odd garment or two... savoring a memory associated with it and struggling to part with the said 'special' thing. However, once it was tossed aside I felt OK about it! So now my wardrobe is parred down to a much more manageable arrangement and I feel great knowing that what remains will be quite adequate.. mmmm with maybe the odd summer sale item thrown in at a later date! I can see things much clearer and the clothes aren't as jammed up as they were. Those hangers just roll along that rail now! I know that will help me to make better 'what shall I wear today' decisions.

This is also a time of year when I try to do a little extra de-cluttering of the soul... I seem to accumulate a few things by way of bad attitudes, unhelpful thought patterns, memories of past stuff that is better left in the past. I say to myself 'chuck it' and move on.
Along with that I enjoy taking the opportunity to think on things that have happened during the year that I am thankful for, the lessons I have learned... the people who have challenged me and helped me to become a better person. I say to myself 'keep thinking on those good things' and I can now move forward into the new year with a fresher outlook. I hope, God helping me that this means I will be able to see things more clearly and make better decisions too!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Our Family Christmas gathering was the perfect opportunity to get a photo of 'mostly faces' for a frame that was given to my Darling Man for his birthday by one of our four girls. The space for the photo is small (6x6cm) so we will need to trim it to fit.

The frame has some lovely words that fit their Dad perfectly...

'Father is a hero of life's daily adventures, who inspires his children with a man's wisdom and a boy's heart. He is firm in his guidance, gentle in his love, and selfless in his sense of duty.'

Raising four daughters has been a mixture of joys and challenges and we have needed lots of God's wisdom for the task! However, I feel honored and thankful to have these five special people in my life and to be able to call them 'my family'. And as a bonus, they bring their partners into our lives and family circle and we are double-y blessed!

Monday, December 21, 2009

White Christmas

When I was a kid Christmas food was a big deal - ham on the bone, pavlova, roast chicken, brightly colored fizzy drinks, candy canes, nuts to crack.... a neighboring family used to have Christmas Pudding with coins baked into it, awaiting the discovery of some delighted child.
Hey! - you could buy a LOT with a single coin back in those days! We ate things at Christmas time that we didn't eat on ordinary days like we seem to now.

Also there were certain things that only happened at Christmas time, special decorations appeared that seemed exciting all over again, simply because they had been hidden away out of view all year. A couple of things I remember - crepe paper streamers, a wax candle, green & white in the shape of a Christmas tree with silver glitter sprinkled on it and a Christmas scene in miniature all tucked away in a clear plastic dome. When you shook it, it 'snowed'. I loved that thing! In recent years a girlfriend of mine bought me this one for Christmas! Probably after seeing me enjoying the nostalgic magic of a wee shake of each little Christmas snow dome we came across if we were out in the shops together. It's nice! It reminds me of my childhood Christmas' AND the thoughtfulness of my special friend!

I think Christmas is such a neat time to gather up all the food-y traditions. We enjoy such good food all year round in NZ so I like to get specifically traditional at Christmas time. I have made some White Christmas because it is Christmas-y and I only ever think of it at this time of year. "At Christmas, play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year."
from the Christmas Cookery section of the Women's Division of Federated Farmers of NZ Cookery Book 1965.

Snow belongs to the northern hemisphere Christmas, as do some of our traditional Christmas fare and decorations even to this day. Though for most of us our British origins are long forgotten! However I bet my sister's family in France will be hoping for a snowy, white Christmas and by the look of the weather over there they will probably get it! They have a gorgeous villa on their property which they let out for people to have lovely French holidays - take a peep HERE

White Christmas.

1 1/2 cups Rice Bubbles
1 cup milk powder
1 cup icing sugar
1 cup desiccated coconut
1/3 cup chopped red glace cherries
1/3 cup chopped green glace cherries
1/3 cup sultanas
250 gms white vege shortening (Kremelta)

Line a shallow 11 x 7 inch tin with foil. Put all ingredients except shortening in a large bowl. Melt shortening over a low heat and add to dry ingredients, stir until all moistened. Press into lined tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until completely set. Cut into small triangles.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Young Love

Our newly engaged daughter and her fiance turned up at our front door with a beautiful fresh fish - still warm from the smoker, balanced on the upturned palm of his hand, held at shoulder height - no plate in sight - he was clearly delighted with his 'work do' catch and keen to share the spoils with us old folks! He reminded me of a European waiter. Priceless!!!

We enjoy our four young adult daughters and their men. They are now our good friends and help to keep us feeling young! Their lively thinking on the issues of life helps keeps us fresh too.

When our own love was still young my Darling Man used to sometimes visit me at our flat at lunchtime and I would make smoked fish in white sauce on toast for him. I guess that was when I first discovered the 'desire to make something for someone, for no other reason than to please him.' It's still one of his favorite meals to this day. Although now I make the slightly more sophisticated version of Smoked Fish Pie. So the fish from the kids got flaked and sauced for our dinner!

Last Christmas I spent many therapeutic hours making each of our girls a recipe book. Each one hand-pasted and scrapbook-y - full of photos, family culinary history and all the recipes that are significant and memorable to our family. Naturally it includes the Smoked Fish Pie recipe and the story of our young love including a snippet of one of my Darling Man's 'love letters' he wrote to me while he was away working in Australia. We have now been together for nigh on 30 years! It's our long, shared personal history that helps to hold us together. And Smoked Fish Pie is just a wee bit of it.....

Smoked Fish Pie.
25 gms butter
1 TBLSPN milk
3 cups cooked, mashed potatoes
3/4 tsp salt
black pepper
1 TBLSPN butter
1 TBLSPN flour
1 cup milk
500 gm can smoked fish, flaked (or the real McCoy!)
1 TBLSPN chopped parsley
2 hard-boiled eggs

Mix first measure of butter and milk into the potatoes, beating with a fork to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Line a 20 cm pie dish with half the potatoes. Set remaining potatoes aside. Heat second measure of butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour and cook until frothy. Gradually add second measure of milk, stirring constantly until sauce boils and thickens. Remove from heat. Add fish, parsley and eggs. Pour this mixture into the lined pie dish. Cover with remaining potato. Cook at 190 deg C for 20 minutes or until pale golden.
Serves 4 - 6.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sugar & Spice

The large red spotted baking tin that holds our Christmas Cake keeps winking at me and tempting me to cut into it - probably mainly due to our other baking tins being empty this last week. I love a wee sweetie with a cup of tea! The 'sensible Susan' in me thinks - 'no, it's nearly Christmas and all that extra eating, it won't hurt us to do without for now'.
However, making my Christmas cake has inspired me and launched me into some other Christmas-y baking.

I haven't cut the cake yet but I have made some Belgian Biscuits - they seem a bit special and Christmas-y to me. Especially the spicy-ness of them. They are quite a delicate operation but I managed it just fine by following Alexa Johnston's very clear instructions in her baking cook book "Ladies, a Plate - Traditional Home Baking". She chooses a version of the biscuits from a 1945 Women's Institute Home Cookery Book owned by her mother. They are very tasty, I love the combination of sweet & spicy, the tarty jam & the lemon in the icing... yum!

It's a real treat for us to have something in the tins again and something to share with our friends. I have popped some on a plate with a wee card to drop off to a friend of mine on our way to the gym - we need exercise after sampling the Belgian Biscuits for our afternoon tea!
I won't write out the recipe - instead I hope you will at least look at Alexa's book I've mentioned or her new one called "Second Helping". Both great books! Check them out HERE

By the way the large, spotted tin was $12.50 from the Warehouse. The pink pure linen cloth is a vintage number my Mum picked up for me at a market as an un-opened 'boxed set' - there are even serviettes to match.

The cups'n'saucers are French 'Limoge' porcelain with lovely silver work on the cups and iridescent, pearly ribbed saucers. A beautiful gift from our friends in France.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Cake Love

Yesterday I made a Christmas Cake. I know that really diligent souls have made their Christmas cake months ago in order for it to 'mature' and all that but hey I am just happy that I have made one at all! It is my darling man's Mummy's recipe which I finally managed to get off one of his sister's. I had feared that it had got lost when his Mum had passed away.

When Val was alive and well she used to make a Christmas cake for the family's of each of her children. She'd hand us a humble looking bundle... the cake wrapped in lunch paper and then newspaper all tied off with some string. An unassuming and as I say 'humble bundle' - a bit like her really. But what dwelt within was something else! A rich fruit cake - decadent and delicious. Also a bit like her - a woman rich with life's experiences, love and wisdom.

So yesterday I launched into this pleasant task - pleasant, mostly 'cause I thought of Val heaps and marveled at her lovingly mixing and baking and sloshing Brandy on 9 Christmas cakes for all her family. Therein lies a challenge - now I could continue that family tradition and make cakes for our four girls and their loved ones..... mmm. Trouble is, most of them screw their noses up at anything that looks remotely raisin-y or sultana-ish. Even a date is considered suspect! Meanwhile I feel sure my cake will be enjoyed by at least some of the souls who drop by our house over the Christmas period. One darling man will certainly tuck into it heartily!

I had to phone my own Mum, who is an expert baker, with regard to the "splash brandy over" bit of the recipe. She had some good tips on hand which I will include in the recipe. I saw a lovely 'passing the baton from one generation to the next' story on TV1's Close Up on Tuesday night. Take a look at 'Sweetheart Deal' HERE Choose chapter 2 to view this segment.

Val's Christmas Cake.

1 kg mixed fruit
250 gms butter
250gms dried apricots
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cold tea or water
3 tsp orange rind & 2 tsp lemon rind
1 tsp each of cinnamon, mixed spice & ginger
1 tsp each of almond essence & lemon essence
1 TBLSPN golden syrup
5 eggs lightly beaten
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
blanched almonds (I put mine on the top of the cake before it went in the oven)

Combine fruit, sugar, butter, cold tea in pot. Stir til butter and sugar are combined and dissolved. Simmer about 8 minutes. Cool. Add golden syrup and lightly beaten eggs. Sift and fold in dry ingredients. Bake at 130deg C for 2 1/2 - 3 hours.
'Splash brandy over' -
Leave cake to cool. Make several holes in cake with a skewer (or knitting needle). Spoon 2 TBSPNS brandy over the cake. I used a pastry brush to spread it around. Wrap the cake in 2 layers of greaseproof paper and then 1 layer of foil (or Newspaper as Val used to do). The brandy is good for flavour and helps the cake to keep well too!
Apparently this should be done weekly - a great plan if you have made you cake nice and early! Mine will get only one more dousing before we crack into it!

Monday, December 7, 2009


My darling man is really looking forward to returning soon to his work driving milk tankers. He had a work accident and has since been recovering from a tendon repair. He had the op just over five months ago. It has been a long time away from work and and his mates on his shift.
S o o o o one of the things he has done to keep in touch with them has been to go down to their middle night shift team meeting. Since most guys find home baking hard to resist so he has gone with two, usually 'still warm' chocolate cakes to share for 'smoko'. For those of you younger ones who may not know - 'smoko' is a term that used to mean 'a break from work to have a smoke' and then later it was more inclined to mean ' a short break from work to have a cuppa and something to eat.'

I have been making a real basic, economical recipe from my old Edmond's Cookbook. Even so it comes out to be a really light, spongy, tasty, old school chocolate cake. Perfect with a bit of chocolate icing and some coconut sprinkled on top! Hey 'old-school' is good - just like Mum used to make and all that - in fact I use my mother-in-laws old cake tin which I love! It's dented and battered and thin in places from years of cake making. It always reminds me of her and all the lovingly created baking and meals she must have made over the years for a family of 12! It's a family treasure of sorts! I like the feeling of being linked with her - she was a lovely lady - happy with home and family and helping people in need. For years she did 'meals on wheels' right into her old age! She was quite unwell in the last couple of years of her life due to a brain tumour. The first thing she said, one time when we were all sat around her hospital bed waiting for her to 'come around' after a turn was, "Has everybody had something to eat?". That says it all really doesn't it! Today I made her famous Christmas Cake.... but that's another story!

One Egg Chocolate Sponge.

50 gms butter
1 Dessertspn Golden Syrup
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 TBLSPN Cocoa
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
a few drops of vanilla essence
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp baking soda

Melt butter and syrup, add egg and sugar, beat well; then flour, cocoa and baking powder previously sifted together. Add vanilla essence and lastly baking soda dissolved in the milk. Bake 30 - 40 minutes at 190 deg C.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Adult Biscuits

We would travel half an hour to Rotorua, once a fortnight to do our grocery shopping when the girls were small. It was the early days of 'Pak n Save' when you had to mark your own prices on each item with a felt pen, as well as pack your own groceries.

We were growing a young family on a budget - but we were still able to make way for a few little treats for the kids. The one thing we treated ourselves with was a packet of Arnott's Mint Slice Biscuits and the way we kept them for ourselves was to tell the kids that they were 'Adult Biscuits'. For a long time they never questioned that. They were just for Mum and Dad.

So when we had our family weekend at Kawhia recently - without a word to each other on the topic - we managed to amass a double pack and 3 singles of 'Adult Biscuits'. We all laughed about it. The girls being adults now too - we all enjoy a 'Mint Slice' but more than that - it's one of the memories that has become a tradition. Traditions link a family together.

Family memories and traditions can be based on the simplest and funniest things. We also played the customary game of Phase 10, 500 and Scattergories. 500 is something that my Darling Man's family liked to play and now our family is getting the hang of it. Scattergories is a more recent addition that we play girls against guys. The guitar was played and all manner of songs were sung along with a some worship songs. A couple of fish were caught - it wasn't the best weekend for the fish but it didn't matter - we still all got a wee morsel of fresh fish with our dinner on Saturday night! Shared experiences, 'knowing' and being known - these are the things that build intimacy in family life.

Since we stayed an extra night we took home what remained of the food and amongst it was a packet of Mint Slices. We have been enjoying one after our dinner this week- it's been a nice way of savoring the memories of a lovely family weekend!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


It seemed to take us forever to get packed up and away off to Kawhia for our family weekend. We packed and stowed and lugged and hauled until we were quite tired out by the time we left. Car and boat loaded to the hilt! We wondered at earlier days when all the girls were young and the huge job of packing up to go on holiday. How did we do it? We seemed to do it so frequently and easily back then! We even packed up and moved our family over to Fiji to live at one point! The pinnacle of our packing career!

We sure were glad that at least this time they all had to pack their own stuff! Just like we'd trained them to - 'lay everything out on your bed and then let me come and have a look' . By the time they were in their teens they were expert packers in their own right.

There's always that wee point in the packing nightmare when you wonder if it's all worth the hassle of transferring practically your whole house to another destination for the weekend!!!! However once we got there and set everything out we felt sure it was! First to arrive, we ended up with a few hours of enjoying our delightful new surroundings, the view of the harbour and a walk along the bush clad track for Fish n Chips. By the time they all turned up in the early evening our faces were fresh and eager, all traces of earlier stresses now gone.

You have to be a parent to understand the joyful anticipation of seeing the beautiful faces of your kids especially when you know you are going to get to spend a whole weekend together! By 9:30pm they had hatched a plan to rug up and head off down the beach for a spot of surf casting. We happily left them too it and snuggled up in bed with our books!
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