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After school date cake

November 20, 2012


Not a cake for a ‘date’ but a cake with dates! I needed something for afternoon tea for my kids. Swimming lessons after school so they needed something for an energy boost. Not enough time to make anything complicated and the usual challenge of no chocolate since Sam does not like it, no nuts since Tara’s friend is highly allergic and she won’t take anything with nuts to school so she does not harm her friend. What to make in a hurry that they will both like? Well, we all love sticky date pudding so I used that as my starting point. More cake-like and healthier. It turned out so well that I will be making it again. As soon as Tara took a bite she asked if I remembered what I put in it and told me to write it down straight away. So here I am, writing it on my phone while the kids have their swimming lessons.

Date Cake

1cup dates
1/2 cup water
150gm unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2tbs golden syrup
3/4 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1.5 cups plain flour

Cook the dates in the water until they are soft and jammy. You may need to add more water. Add the butter and allow it to melt. Take it off the heat. Ad the baking soda and stir well until the mixture gets a little frothy. Add in the eggs and sugar and mix well. Add the milk and flour and ate until just combined. Pour into a baking tin lined with baking paper. Bake at 180C for 20-30 minutes.


Update: I have made this cake many times since – it is a great standby cake, super simple to make and much loved by all who try it. Easy to throw together in five minutes, with butter straight from the fridge (no softening of butter required – why does that drive me nuts?!).  It is relatively healthy too since it is not laden with sugar and butter. My kids take big chunks of it to school.

I even made it as a bit slab cake for a kids music camp and topped it with icing to  make it fancier. I used brown sugar (not recommended – too ‘gritty’) and golden syrup in the icing while trying to hint at the taste of the caramel sauce that goes with sticky date pudding. I had to whip it for a very long time to overcome the brown sugar grittiness, and next time I would melt it with the butter before adding it in. It did taste great though and was very popular with the kids.

Food for thought

November 15, 2012

How do you cook your vegies? (I hate microwaved food, especially vegetables, so steaming is the way to go for me.)

Dreaming of market day in Provence

November 1, 2012

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And then there were four…bee hives

October 17, 2012

A few days  after our first swarm, we noticed another swarm in the late afternoon. This time it was too late to try and catch them. We followed the progress of the cloud of swirling bees as they moved across our backyard, to the neighbours at the back and then the neighbours at the side, then the national park next door. Good bye bees. The kids were spotting from an upstairs window and I followed the cloud around as it moved. Have you ever watched bees swarming? It is an odd experience. There is a really loud humming and buzzing and there are so many bees flying around. Literally a swirling ‘cloud’. One minute there are hundreds of bees flying in tight circles and the next second there are none. Before you can blink they have moved on.

Sam went to the park to see if he could spot them but had no luck. I was really sad to see so many of my bees leave home. I feel like I have nurtured them all year and then they have just abandoned me without saying good bye. (Yes, I know I didn’t really do anything to ‘nurture’ them, and yes they are only following their genetic programming…but I can’t help but take it personally!)

This is what Sam says to me:

Don’t be too sad mum, at least this is preparing you for when I leave home

My 12-year-old. Hmm. “Thanks darling” I said, “but that really does not help make me feel better”!

The very next morning….another swarm! This time Sam and I caught it beautifully. We rigged up a temporary home for them in a cardboard box (I had been told this would work), and easily caught them all. Feeling very proud of ourselves I headed back to the bee shop to buy yet another box and frames. When I got home…they had all flown away again! They didn’t approve of the cardboard box.

We tried to catch them again. This time it was hotter (always makes me more stressed) and we were short of time. And they were back on the neighbours fence. Yes, the one who does not like bees! Oh dear. Very unsuccessful attempt at catching them. We left it and headed off for kids music lessons. I rang David, the guy who helped me last time. David to the rescue again. He came straight over and had almost finished catching the swarm by the time I got back after dropping the kids off. Yay for the kindness of fellow bee keepers.

So now I have four hives. One strong and three weak hives. I really didn’t want four hives, would have been happier with two strong hives. I am half tempted to try to combine two of the weak hives together. I hear conflicting advice on whether or not this is possible. Should I try, or should I just leave them alone to do what they wanted?

Sam and I opened up the original hive that kept swarming to try to figure out what was going on. Normally a hive will make an extra one or two queens if they are getting ready to swarm. A day or two before the new queen emerges, the old queen leaves with the best worker bees. The new queen kills off any other queens not yet hatched and all is good.

But in our hive we saw about 15 queen cells. About 5 had hatched, accounting for the swarms we had seen, and perhaps some we hadn’t. There were still a lot of unhatched queens so we had to cut off those queen cells. Sam wanted to examine them so we put them on the dining table in the house while we continued our work. When we went back inside, one of the queens had hatched! We were too soft-hearted to kill it off so we took it outside and put it near the hive. This week I have to go back and have a look inside all the hives. Check that the original swarming hive has a functioning queen (and no more queen cells!). Check that my strong hive is not getting any ideas about swarming. And check the new hives to make sure they are doing ok. Four hives in spring is shaping up to be a lot of work. Soon they will need more boxes and more frames…sigh!

Spring flowers

October 13, 2012

Have you been enjoying the spring flowers? These gorgeous ones overhang the top of my driveway at the moment – a gorgeous ‘curtain’ that I enter and leave home through. Normally my neighbour manages to poison this creeper and it does not get much of a chance to bloom in all its glory. It must be a weed I guess…he certainly seems to hate it. It grows very close to his fence line and given half a chance will creep up any tree it can. So it is fair enough that he tries to keep it under control (he knows we won’t since we never seem to make any time for gardening). I do love seeing it though and I am secretly very glad that he missed his chance of taming it this year.

On the other side of our house the jasmine has had a fine time climbing nearby trees and has been in full scented bloom for weeks now. Everywhere the flowers are out, reminding us that spring is here. No wonder my bees have been so busy!

Finally – decent Thai food on the North Shore!

October 10, 2012

It’s not where you would expect to find good food (or me!)…the food court at Westfield Chatswood. The food is terrific even if the location isn’t. In fact it is so good that as soon as we finished the late lunch I was having with my kids, I ordered some more food to take away for dinner. They are currently only open for ‘dinner’ on Thursday nights. They did say that they are thinking about extending their hours. I hope they do! At least now I don’t have to drive half way across Sydney when I get a craving for good, spicy Thai food.

The green curry we had for dinner was one of the best I have had in Sydney. It reminded me of the green curries I ate in Thailand many years ago (nothing like the dodgy ones you get in most restaurants here). The Barramundi Pad Cha was also lovely (photo above). The menu is focussed around street food and makes for an interesting and tasty change from the usual Thai restaurant fare. Prices are very reasonable and servings are generous.

Lang Suan Thai Street Food – Westfield Chatswood

A bee swarm!

October 8, 2012

It’s been so long since I gave you an update on our bees…and so much has happened. I joined our local bee keepers association earlier this year and have learned so much from them. We also acquired a second hive from a member who was relocating to Queensland and looking to find a new home for his new hive. Sam was delighted that we bought the hive for him – very proud to be an official bee keeper. The new hive has golden Italian bees which are a lot more yellow than our Caucasian bees which are a dark brown. It’s been fascinating having the two different breeds to compare and we are able to compare the behaviour of the two breeds. Sam’s bees are very inquisitive and quite territorial – if we are out in the backyard, a few scout bees will come over to check out what we are doing. They will circle around us and often drive us away just by being a nuisance. My bees are really placid – unless you walk into their flight path they will just happily ignore you and get on with their own stuff.

And we discovered another trait of Sam’s bees this last week – they like to swarm! On the Friday before the long weekend it was a really hot day and we noticed a lot of bees hanging around outside my hive. Fearing an imminent swarm, Sam and I quickly got our spare box out, cleaned and added wax sheets to the frames, and popped the box onto the hive to give the bees some more space. This is what they looked like after we had added the extra box.

The next morning, just as we were getting ready to leave for a weekend away, the kids noticed a ‘cloud’ of bees hanging around the neighbour’s fence at the back of our property. Yes, the neighbour who is terrified of and hates bees! After watching them for a few minutes I realised that it was a swarm…from Sam’s hive (that colour difference is handy!). I tried calling my friend Russell who has been my bee keeping teacher/counsellor no answer. Tried calling a few contacts from the local bee keeping society, also no answer. Finally I got one of them on the phone. He was also just about to leave for the weekend but offered to lend me some of his equipment. On my way to his place (stuck in long weekend traffic), I decided to stop at the beekeeping supplies shop and buy another bee box, etc. While waiting I started talking to another customer in the shop and told him that I was facing my first swarm and was totally worried (panicked if truth be told) about how I was going to manage it. He offered to come and help me with it – how incredibly generous of him! Particularly since I said he would have to come over straight away since we were already late for heading off on our weekend trip.

Spring is peak bee swarming season. They swarm when the nectar flow is strong and they start to run out of room in the hive. It is also a genetic thing as they want to procreate and increase their numbers. The bees start making a new queen (by feeding up one of the larvae with royal jelly). A day or two before the new queen emerges, the old queen takes all the best workers from the hive and heads out. They settle close by for between 1 to 24 hours while scout bees go out to look for a new home. As soon as the new home is found, they head off. So when you spot a hive, you have to work fast if you want to catch it. When the bees are swarming they initially are a big buzzing cloud of bees flying around in what looks like a frenzied circle. Then they settle down into a calm little cluster – hanging on to each others bodies to form this ‘cluster’. Swarming bees are at their most gentle and are highly unlikely to sting you. They have filled their bellies with honey from the old hive to last them for the journey and to help start their new home. Their bellies are too full for aggression!

I was particularly worried since my neighbour had parked his car right next to the spot where the bees had swarmed. If he had seen them, I feared he would have his own little mental swarm and melt down! David, the guy who came to help me, was amazing. He was so calm and confident…and gentle…he managed to capture the whole hive without a single bee getting squashed or lost. We shook the bees off the branch into the new bee box. A frame of honey from the old hive was added to the box to tempt them into the box and keep them there. Luckily we got the queen in that first shake as slowly the rest of the bees climbed into the box via the bee entrance.

Then we were a three hive family! This one is for Tara.

24 hours in Istanbul

August 29, 2012

I am in a taxi, hurtling down narrow streets at great speed, passing parked cars and people with millimeters to spare. It’s 11pm and we are trying to find a restaurant that has been recommended to me. There are two branches and the first one we visit is closed. My friendly taxi driver is happy to drive me to the other branch. We attempt to hold a conversation about why I must go to this restaurant..lots of sign language, a little English on his part, and no Turkish on my part. We manage somehow. He tells me not to worry, if this second one is closed, he will find me somewhere else with good Turkish food. By this stage it has been about 10 hours since I last had something to eat, and that was a dodgy roll at the airport that I forced myself to eat a few bites of. All day I have been thinking of eating some real Turkish food in Istanbul. I have pictured plates of food overflowing with succulent and tantalising foods that are bursting with colour and flavour. Spices, dried fruit, sweets dripping in syrup. But now I am so hungry that the hotel restaurant is starting to sound like a reasonable option. “Good thing I have a recommendation” I tell myself. “Otherwise I might have chosen one of these other great looking places we are passing that are bursting with people and energy.”

So the second branch is open and the taxi driver and I are both equally happy. He promises to come back for me in an hour and I happily walk into the restaurant. I sit at my table and ask for the seven course tasting menu (remember, 10 hours no food, the hour trip from the airport that took two and a half hours…). Ah, sadly the restaurant is about to close the waiter tells me. But he can find a few things for me to eat. I agree. Bring me whatever you can/recommend I say. The owner comes over and we have a nice chat. He is very welcoming and that stops me from feeling quite as disgruntled as I really wanted to feel. The food comes out and…..I am disappointed. There is nothing wrong with the food. It is perfectly fine and some of the things are pretty damn tasty. But there is no atmosphere in this about-to-close restaurant and I feel like I am eating the left over scraps. The chef manages to coax a few coals back into life and grills a lamb kebab for me. It is cooked beautifully….but is a bit lacking in flavour (compared to what I have been imagining all day as I held on to my hunger). Let’s face it, nothing was going to be able to live up to my expectations which are unreasonably high (when it comes to food) on the best of days. Dessert was a highlight, though somewhat spoiled by the now empty restaurant and hovering waiters. It’s all over in half an hour and I wonder if I should wait for my friendly taxi driver or just take one of the 100 other taxis that are cruising past. I decide to go for a little walk. I want to get a proper feel for this city. My experience so far has not made me feel like I am actually here, in this city, getting to know. I should have trusted my instincts when it came to picking a restaurant. My instincts are rarely wrong when it comes to picking a good restaurant. Or I should have accepted the offer to go to dinner with that very nice Frenchman I sat next to on the way from the airport to the city – he was meeting a local friend in the city and I am sure it would have been a more fun experience. Boring conservative me!

So there I am at midnight, strolling around the streets of Istanbul. I don’t feel in the slightest bit anxious. There are a few people around and lots and lots of stray cats. Then all of a sudden heaps of people appear as a nearby jazz concert finishes and my taxi driver appears. I am glad I spent that 15 minutes walking around to get a little feel for this tiny part of this immense city.

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As we drive back to my hotel we come over the crest of a hill and the view below of the Bosphorous that divides the Asian part of Turkey from the European part, the twinkling lights and the gorgeous mosque that sits right on the water make my breath catch in my throat. I could get to love this city. I must come back again and give it a proper chance.

The nicest thing I eat in Istanbul is the amazing Turkish ice cream at the airport. So good I went back for a second one. Ice cream that you can bite despite having the silkiest texture of any ice cream I have ever tasted. Yum!


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Greetings from Scotland!

July 6, 2012

We have just spent a week in the Scottish Highlands – loving the wide open spaces and stunning scenery. Been feasting on fantastic local seafood as well…more tales to come….

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June 14, 2012

Remember me? I am still around, still with ideas to post and half started posts…but somehow never seem to get to it. Part of the problem is that I feel like I have to finish those incomplete posts and that backlog of ideas first…and ofcourse it is too daunting. So I am going to break the drought and do some small and more regular updates to get back into the blogging habit.

Here is a photo of a really lovely confit lamb tapa I had at this very nice tapas bar called Belloti in Auckland. Those three carrots were so different, the red one earthy almost beetroot-like.