Nashville Part 1

Country Music Hall of Fame

We are currently enjoying a bit of southern hospitality in Tennessee.  Joel’s brother and family live in Franklin so we came here for the week for Thanksgiving and to take in some of the sights and sounds of Nashville.

011Turkey Trot

Well, this place is truly lovely. The first thing that struck us was how friendly everyone is.  Folks here have manners and are happy to have a conversation.  We have even received a couple of invitations from folks asking us to drop by and visit.  Fall seems very much finished up here as the trees are almost bare and it is too cold for our blood.  The older kids and I ran a 5km Turkey Trot here on Thanksgiving morning in -4 degree C weather.  I really regretted not wearing gloves!  My hands were achingly cold but the rest of my body warmed up pretty quickly.

The Johnny Cash MuseumThe Johnny Cash Museum

Joel has a love for all music but there is a very special place in his heart for Johnny Cash.  We were able to get along to the Country Music Hall of Fame, The Johnny Cash Museum and even drive past the remnants of his burnt down house by Old Hickory Lake. Joel had a list of things he wanted to see and we have got through a fair amount of them but another trip will be needed I think.  We Honky Tonked down Broadway and visited the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.  The highlight though was getting a couple of seats at one of the small, intimate tables in Bluebird Cafe last night to listen to some beautiful music.  It was fully packed and everyone just sat and listened.  An incredible venue for songwriters.

Ernest Tubb Records, Nashville

I do love this place so much and would love to spend a lot more time here. We still have a couple more days before flying back to California so the plan tomorrow is to go and start our day with some good Southern fare – biscuits and gravy!  I have never tried it before so I’ll be sure to report back.

Nashville BootsNashvilleNashvilleNashvilleHonky Tonk

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Cannellini Bean And Quinoa Burgers

Cannellini Bean And Quinoa Burgers

October has proved a very busy month with school, soccer commitments and endless holiday celebrations.  We got along to Googleween but only stayed for a short time as Elliott had not been well.  Just enough time to get a bag each of the delicious kettle corn and play a couple of games.  The kids really enjoyed dressing up and I was able to put a bit more planning into costumes this year.  I’m sure you can guess who Tilly was dressed as just by looking at her hair.  It was carefully crafted with the help of a pair of socks and lots of bobby pins in the Google carpark.

Princess Leia

Halloween Cookies

With the cooler weather I have been getting out lots and enjoying a few local hikes.  One of my favourites is walking the Stanford Dish, not only for the views but also because there is a few steep hills.  Everything is so flat here in the valley and the muscles I was accustomed to using on the steep hills in Brisbane have not been put to use here.  So walking the Stanford Dish wakes up those muscles again and it is brilliant way to start the day.

Stanford Dish Hike

Stanford Dish Hike

Stanford Dish Hike

Lately I have been making lots of warming food like soups and curries to warm us up.  We have been eating more legume and bean meals instead of meat.  My girls aren’t partial to red meat.  Essie will eat some. Tilly doesn’t like it at all but everyone loves chicken and fish. Lately the boys have been enjoying some of the bean and lentil recipes I’ve been making which is a win win.

Cannellini Bean And Quinoa Burgers

I have both of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbooks and I think they are really good.  Everything I have made has been super tasty and quite simple to make.  A couple of weeks ago I tried a new recipe of hers for Cannellini Bean and Quinoa Burgers.  They were such a hit and I have made them a few times now either just to serve with a salad or like a proper burger with a breadroll, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles etc.

Cannellini Bean And Quinoa Burgers

The key to making it super tasty is making sure all the spices cover the beans and that everything is well seasoned.  Once I have sauteed the onions and spices I tip in the drained beans and let them sizzle for a minute and toss them to ensure all the beans are getting spiked with all the spice.  I then turn off the heat and give it a rough mash with a potato masher before I add the cooked quinoa and the greens.

The original recipe calls for parsley to be added.  I am trying to get lots of dark green leaves into my kids so it is good opportunity to sneak in some more by chopping up spinach super fine and mixing it in.  A mix of parsley and spinach is ideal.  As healthy as it all sounds though, the best thing about this recipe is that it is just really delicious.

Cannellini Bean And Quinoa Burgers

cannellini bean and quinoa burgers

(adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipe)

2 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for frying the burgers)
1/2 a red onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fennel, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup of cooked quinoa
1/4 cup of fresh breadcrumbs
a handful of parsley, chopped
a handful of spinach, finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large frypan over a medium heat.  Saute the onions for a few minutes, until soft, and then add the garlic and spices.  Cook for a minute or until aromatic then tip in the cannellini beans.  Toss them well in the oil and spices until coated and then turn off the heat.

Mash the beans roughly with a potato masher and then add the quinoa, breadcrumbs, parsley and spinach.  Season well and give everything a good mix.  Taste and season more if needed.

Form the mixture into small rounds and press down so that the burgers are about an inch thick.  I find it easiest to use a lever ice cream scoop to scoop out even sized burgers and then I press lightly with the palm of my hand to flatten them slightly.

Fry the burgers a few minutes each side in a lightly oiled frypan over a medium heat until golden and heated through.  Be careful as you turn them as they can be a little fragile. Serve with salads or breadrolls and all your favourite burger condiments.

Posted in Family Dinner, Vegetarian | 6 Comments

Campfire Beans

Camping Surrounds

The combination of kids getting a little older and this move to California has got our family enjoying the great outdoors a lot more.  To go for a good bush walk (or a hike as it is known around here) no longer requires thinking about prams.  Our kids generally can walk a fair distance without complaint especially if there is a view to be seen or water to play in.


Camping has become our favourite weekend activity which at the moment is rather tricky with Saturday sporting commitments and Sunday morning commitments at church but we can still work things to get away every now and then. Last weekend we drove up to Lake Tahoe and camped at the stunning Fallen Leaf Lake. This place was a little slice of heaven with so many towering pine trees.  There was a fair bit of wind and I didn’t realise how much noise it would generate rushing through the tree tops.  All night I kept waking to what sounded like rushing water.  Although I was rather sleep deprived it was relaxing.


Apparently, bears are still quite active at the moment.  We didn’t see any but another camper had bears come through looking for breakfast. Once I heard that I definitely didn’t want the kids to wander out of my sight!

Bear Warnings

The temperatures have dropped a fair bit since we were last in Tahoe and it was far too cold to swim but I’d love to return here in the heart of summer next year to make use of the lake.

Fallen Leaf Lake

This trip we kept food fairly simple.  Sausages roasted over the fire on sticks for dinner.  The kids were in charge of their own sausages and I think this was a highlight for them.  For breakfast I had pre-cooked a batch of beans.  I used the recipe for the Chorizo and White Bean Braise, from Grub Street Cafe in Brisbane, minus the baked eggs part.  I often cook this up without the eggs because the beans are the best bit so I feel it needs a new name – Campfire Beans.  I add just a bit more smoked paprika as no campfire food is complete without a bit of smokiness.  It made for a brilliant camping breakfast as it was a very chilly morning and it was a hearty start to the day.  The added bonus was that the kids loved it!  It would work just as well for a dinner and Tilly requested leftovers for school lunch in her thermos on Monday, so it works well for lunch too!

Fallen Leaf Lake

I also like to cook this for a lot longer so the flavour infuses into the beans.  After adding the beans I tend to cook for a further 1/2 hour and then cool it down and pop in the fridge overnight.  This enhances the flavour and then all you do is reheat when ready to eat.

Adding some coriander leaves at the end is optional but don’t skip the step where you add the coriander stems.  It adds so much to the flavour.  And don’t skimp on the salt and pepper at the end.


I always like to pack something sweet to have with a cup of tea around the fire.  Just lately I have been making a lot of batches of Ginger Slice because it is so easy.  Incredibly easy and just perfect with a cup of tea so I took a batch of that with us.  Crystallised ginger is not as readily available here as it is back home so I have been making it without.  This means that the kids have been devouring it.

The beautiful surroundings, the good company, the good food and the campfire.  I wish I could go every weekend.


campfire beans

2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 bay leaves
2 brown onions diced
1 knob of ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 red chillies, finely chopped
2 tins crushed tomatoes
2 tins white beans, rinsed and drained
3-4 chorizo sausages – cubed, pan-fried and set aside
a strip of lemon peel
3 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
1 bunch of coriander – stems washed and finely sliced and leaves picked
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grind up the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and bay leaves in a mortar and pestle and set aside.

In a large pan, gently saute the onion, ginger, garlic, chillies and coriander stems until the onion is soft.  Add the spice mix and cook for a further minutes.  Add the tomatoes, a splash of water, the lemon rind, sugar and season to taste.  Simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and reduced.

Add the paprika, beans and pre-cooked chorizo.  Season to taste and simmer for another 30 minutes, adding a little water if necessary to stop it drying out.  Adjust seasoning to taste and add a few coriander leaves to serve.   Best with some thick slices of bread toasted over the fire and buttered. Yum!

Posted in Breakfast, California, Camping, Family Dinner | 10 Comments

Butternut Pumpkin Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

The leaves are slowly, slowly changing colour and there is an ever so slight chill in the air now that Fall has officially started.  But if you missed those signs of the new season then every shop seems to have pumpkins piled up on display.  There are so many varieties and I’m not actually sure if they are all for eating or just displaying on the front porch.  The choices seem endless but I always seem to reach for the butternut pumpkin, known as a butternut squash here in these parts.


The most memorable way I have eaten a butternut pumpkin was one cooked on a kettle BBQ in South Africa – I guess then it was a braai, not a BBQ.  The butternut was halved and stuffed with feta, sundried tomatoes, spring onions and herbs then wrapped in foil and cooked.  Mmm … I think I’ll be firing up the BBQ to make this over the weekend.  I wonder if I could track down some boerewors here in the Bay area.


Pumpkin soup is one of the most requested warming meals by my kids so I decided to try a classic version (I usually make one with a bit of curry powder).  I used a basic method for cooking any type of vegetable soup by sauteing onions, carrots, celery and garlic and then adding my chosen vegetables, the pumpkin and a bit of potato, and then stock.  You could make other vegetable soups using the same method.  A good basic recipe to have up your sleeve to keep the chill at bay as the months roll by.


Fall not only brings pumpkins, but also apples.  Last year we went apple picking and loved it so I decided to return to Watsonville with the kids.

Apple Orchards

Apple Orchards

Apple Picking

Apple Picking

We are eating our way through many, many pounds of freshly picked apples.  Delicious.  Golden Delicious.

Butternut Squash Soup

butternut pumpkin soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
30g unsalted butter
1 – 2 brown onions, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 -2 celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 small chilli (optional)
1 large butternut pumpkin, peeled, seeds scooped out and chopped in 5cm pieces
1 potato, peeled and chopped
800ml – 1 litre of chicken stock
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over a medium heat.  Add the onions saute for a few minutes before adding the carrot, celery, garlic and whole chilli.  Add a good pinch of salt and turn the heat to low.  Saute for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add the pumpkin, potato and stock.  Bring the soup up to a simmer and cook for 35-40 minutes.  Puree the soup in a blender and serve with some warm, crusty bread.

Posted in California, Family Dinner, Soup | 11 Comments

No Knead Breadrolls

No Knead Breadrolls

The new school year has kicked off here and it has been good to have the kids at school from the first day rather than coming in a couple of months into the school year.  We know what to expect this year and all the kids are happy to return to school with all their friends and their new teachers.

I thought the 10 week summer holiday would drag on and on but it sped by.  We got to explore more of beautiful California and the kids went on a few summer camps.  Joel and I got to go to London and Paris for a week too.  Having time away from the daily routine of 4 kids to care for gave me plenty of time to reflect and think about the future.  It dawned on us how quickly the last 10 years have gone and how in 10 years time possibly 2 of our children would have flown the nest!  So I came home and culled a few time wasting activities from my life with a renewed focus on family.


We have clocked up 1 year since we arrived here in the USA.  It is a relief to me to hit that 1 year mark as I knew the first year would be hardest.  Hopefully this next year will involve less time standing in lines, filling out forms and paperwork and more time just enjoying this unique part of the world.

With school back I need to get my head around school lunches again.  I try and mix up what goes into the school lunch boxes but at the moment it is fruit, a sandwich and some raw vegetables, with or without some hommus dip.  Some mornings we will cycle downtown bright and early for some freshly baked bread but Essie doesn’t like it which is not ideal.  So a couple of times a week the kids have been taking turns at mixing the ingredients for this No Knead Bread just before bedtime.  I then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it on the kitchen bench overnight to be baked first up in the morning.

No Knead Breadrolls

The next morning, after my alarm goes off, I stumble downstairs and turn on the oven to preheat.  Then I just form the dough into individual rolls onto a lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.  It still gives me a good hour for the rolls to cool down and be filled before heading out the door to school.

The dough is wet and sticky so I find it best to flour the bench and gently tip the dough out.  I then divide the dough with an oiled plastic pastry scraper and scoop up a portion onto the tray and shape roughly into a round.  It is best not to be too concerned with shaping the dough too much as you don’t want to knock all the fantastic air bubbles out.  Those air bubbles make this bread so irresitably light and crumpet like.  As soon as they come out of the oven it is hard resisting ripping a roll open and slathering it in butter.  A satisfying start to the day.

If the rolls are still too warm to fill for school lunches then I’ll just throw them in a paperbag whole and put some sliced cheese, ham or a boiled egg in a lunch box for a bit of a ploughman’s lunch.  The kids enjoy a lunch that they can pick at.

No Knead Breadrolls

no knead breadrolls

500g bread flour
3/4 tablespoon instant dried yeast
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
450ml – 500ml lukewarm water (enough water to make a wet, sticky dough)

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together well.  I mix by hand but some of my kids prefer to use a wooden spoon.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave overnight.

The next morning, preheat oven to 220 degrees C (425 degrees F).  Dust the benchtop with some flour and gently tip the dough onto it.  Oil a plastic pastry scraper or a knife and divide the dough into 8 equal portions.  Gently pick up each portion and place on a lined baking tray.  Dust with a little extra flour and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until cooked through.  Tap the base of the breadrolls and listen for a hollow sound which indicates they are cooked.  Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Posted in Baking, Basics, Bread, Kids In The Kitchen, School Lunches | 6 Comments

Italian Bread Pizza

Italian Bread Pizza

We are heading into late Summer here and thoroughly enjoying all the good produce that is now in season.  Peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries and tomatoes.  The tomatoes I have seen around the shops and markets are so varied. I don’t think I have ever seen so many different shapes, sizes and colours before.  Having said that, I just used a round red tomato for this dish which was sweet and juicy, but you could use any tomatoes.

Italian Bread Pizza

This recipe is a piece of cake to make and so delicious.  We’ve made it a few times for lunches and the kids love it but it could also make a quick dinner.  It is the best of bruschetta and a toasted cheese sandwich.

Italian Bread Pizza

I buy a loaf of bread called Italian bread but look for a ciabatta.  Something crusty and chewy with lots of air holes to soak up the tomato juices and olive oil.  Slice the bread in half lengthwise and then slice each half into individual portions and put under the grill until lightly toasted.  I get the kids to then rub the toast with half a garlic clove.

Italian Bread Pizza

Then just drizzle over olive oil, sliced tomato, torn mozzarella, torn basil leaves and a final drizzle of olive oil and sea salt and black pepper.  This goes back in the oven to grill for a further couple of minutes.

Italian Bread Pizza

We like to add just a bit more basil leaves to finish.  So simple and so delicious and because the kids can make it, they adore it.

Italian Bread Pizza

italian bread pizza

1 loaf of ciabatta or similar
1 clove of garlic, halved
olive oil
tomatoes, sliced
basil leaves

Slice the loaf of bread in half horizontally and then slice into individual portions.  Place on a baking tray and lightly toast in the oven under the grill or broiler (it can just be cooked in a medium oven if you don’t have a grill).

Rub the cut side of the garlic lightly over the toasted bread.  Drizzle over some olive oil and then layer up some slices of tomato, torn mozzarella and basil.  Finish with another drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper.  Pop the tray back under the grill for a further couple of minutes, until the cheese has melted.

Pop a couple more fresh basil leaves over the top and it is ready to be devoured.

Posted in Bread, Family Dinner, Kids In The Kitchen, Lunch, Pizza, Vegetarian | 2 Comments



We have been enjoying our very first summer here in California with a couple of camping trips.  We left our camping gear back in Australia – neither of us can figure out exactly why we did that but everything was such a blur with finishing the build of our house and packing and moving 3 times within a couple of months.  So we bought new supplies to get out and enjoy this beautiful part of the world.


We camped at Yosemite and Lake Tahoe which are both in black bear territory so the rules are pretty strict about the storage of food and toiletries.  Both campsites have bear proof lockers which were huge.  I bought 2 big plastic tubs with lids – one for food and one for cooking/eating equipment (cooking utensils, pots and pans, cutlery, crockery, paper towels, matches etc).  Both these tubs were stored in the bear proof lockers along with our esky.


A two burner stove came in very hand for boiling up water for washing up and making a cup of tea etc. I have a solid cast iron Lodge double sided griddle which fits perfectly on the stove.  This was used for making pancakes and flat breads.  I also got a huge Lodge cast iron dutch oven which was great for cooking up a sausage stew in but also perfect for cooking up a loaf of damper in or roasting a whole chicken. It is strictly for campfire cooking as it is just too big to fit on the camping stove.

Rainbow Pool at Yosemite

I don’t know if it is the fact that our kids are so much older now or if we were just super organised, or a combination of both, but camping was so much easier and more relaxing than I last remember.  A menu was decided on for each meal, including snacks, and I prepared a few things beforehand.  So I thought I would share a few food ideas from our trips.

Breakfast Pancakes

For breakfasts we had either pancakes or porridge.  We only ever use this Julie Goodwin recipe for pancakes because it is such a winner.  I don’t bother with the buttermilk though when we go camping, just regular milk.  Before we go I measure out the dry ingredients into a big bowl with a lid so then all I need to do is add the milk and eggs and whisk.  This can get done while the pan heats up on the stove.  I pack some long life cream in the esky plus maple syrup and either berries or bananas to have with the pancakes. A delicious start to the day.

Camping essentials

Pancakes on the cook top.

For porridge, I just measure out the oats for 6 people and write on the packet how much water/milk I’ll need.  Then I’ll mix a little cinnamon in with brown sugar so we have a special topping.

Camping essentials

Chicken Salad

When we first arrive at the campsite we are usually starving so I enjoy making this chicken salad before we leave so that as soon as the tent is set up and air mattresses are pumped up we can sit down for a bit of good food without having to cook.  Buy some fresh bread on the way to the campsite and have it with the salad.  An icy cold beer straight from the esky goes very well with this.

chicken salad

1 cold BBQ chicken, meat pulled off the bone and roughly chopped up
5 bacon rashers, chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (or a few finely chopped spring onions)
1 red capsicum, finely chopped
4 tablespoons mayonnaise (homemade is the best otherwise whole egg mayo)
1 small bunch of chives, finely chopped
cos lettuce, roughly torn up
cumber, sliced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a pan, fry the bacon until crisp then place on a paper towel to cool.   In a large bowl, mix together the chicken, bacon, red onion, capsicum, mayonnaise and chives.  Season with some salt and pepper.

Arrange the lettuce in a portable container along with the cucumber.  Tip the chicken salad over the top and it is ready to get transported.  When you are ready to serve just give everything a light toss and serve with crusty bread or use sliced bread to make a fantastic chicken and lettuce sandwich.

Chicken Salad

Camping at Tahoe for our very first 4th of July was very special.  The lake was crystal clear and the kids did nothing but swim and kayak.  Levi and Tilly befriended some other kids on the jetty and they all made it their mission to try and catch a fish bare handed. It was just perfect and as much as I miss the beaches back home it was nice to not have to be worried about rips.

Walking from our campsite to the lake.

The gorgeous walk from our campsite to Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Swimming in Lake Tahoe

For one meal I made a lentil soup and we made flatbreads on the griddle.  For the flatbreads I had the dry ingredients all measured out and ready to go, just like the pancakes.  So all I needed to do was add water and oil then knead, roll out and cook.  A friend recommended I make the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for Spicy Bean Stew with Sausages.  My kids have not been enjoying the sausages available here in America very much.  It can be a bit hit or miss but I thought I would give it a go and it was a huge success.  It was very simple to make and I got Essie the job of preparing the potatoes to get thrown in the coals for a side of baked potatoes.

Spicy Bean Stew with Sausages

spicy bean stew with sausages

(slightly adapted from The River Cottage Family Cookbook)

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 good pork sausages
1 brown onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 small tin of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 small tins of whole peeled tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

I found it helpful to measure out the spices and the brown sugar and pop them in a zip lock bag ready to be thrown in the stew.  It cuts down the need to pack and transport lots of jars and measuring spoons.

Start by frying the sausages in a big pot with the olive oil until brown.  Then remove them and cover with foil.  Fry the onion gently until soft and then add the garlic and cook for a further couple of minutes.  Add the sugar and spices and the tomatoes.  Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon or potato masher then add the sausages and beans.  Season well and let everything come up to a gentle simmer then pop the lid on and leave to cook for an hour or more, stirring from time to time.

Serve with baked potatoes or some bread to dunk in.

Sausage Stew bubbling over the campfire.

Preparing the baked potatoes

Now it wouldn’t be camping without marshmallows. Making your own marshmallows is so easy if you have a stand mixer and a candy thermometer.  I made a batch each time we went camping and they were such a highlight.  Perfect to throw into a hot chocolate, to make s’mores or just to toast on a stick.  I adapted my usual recipe to use a light agave nectar rather than the corn syrup but don’t be fooled into thinking it is sugar free.

Toasting marshmallows

vanilla marshmallows

1 cup of water
3 tablespoons gelatin
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup light agave nectar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
vegetable oil
sifted icing sugar for dusting

Line a 30cm x 20cm baking tray with baking paper and lightly oil with vegetable oil.

Put half the water into the bowl of the stand mixer, which is fitted with a whisk, and sprinkle over the gelatin.  Pour the remaining water into a large saucepan (the mixture will bubble up a little so you don’t want a small saucepan) along with the sugar, agave nectar and a pinch of salt.  Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and then leave it to boil until it reaches 116 degrees C (240 degrees F) on a candy thermometer.

Turn the stand mixer on to a slow speed and slowly pour in the bubbling sugar mixture in.  Once it is all in and well combined then turn up the speed to high and continue mixing for another 12 -15 minutes.  Add the vanilla and mix through.  Pour into the lined baking tray and pop into the fridge overnight or until set (I managed to whip up a batch a couple of hours before we left to go camping and it set in time).

Sift icing sugar all over a chopping board and then invert the tray of marshmallow onto it.  Then sift more icing sugar over the marshmallow slab.  Dust a big knife with icing sugar and chop up into small squares, rolling the squares in a little extra icing sugar as you go to prevent them sticking to anything.  Pop in a container and they are ready to go.

The first jump of the day.

Other things that are handy to take is a batch of biscuits or a slice for afternoon or morning tea.  Something with oats is good for energy.  Our favourite are these Oat Choc Chunk Cookies but I like these Chocolate Pecan Cookies too.  A whole watermelon is a must if there is room in the esky.  And for me I bought a camping coffee pot.  I bought good coffee beans and ground them up just before we left and if I was patient with the pot it could make a pretty good coffee.  It was a good way to start the day while my little scout children got busy making the morning fire.

It is also worth taking a pack of cards, a soccer ball to kick around and have some stories ready to tell the kids.  Tilly and I packed our knitting needles and did some knitting around the fire which was lovely too. Here is hoping we get to squeeze in a couple more camping trips before the snow returns.

Posted in California, Camping, Family Dinner, Salad, Treats | 13 Comments

Vanilla Cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes

A friend put me onto The Crabapple Bakery cupcakes awhile ago and they are indeed superb.  I have churned out so many cupcakes since having children and for the bulk of those years the cupcakes I have made have just been OK.  This recipe makes lovely light, spongy cupcakes and I’ve been so pleased to see that the entire cupcake gets eaten, not just the icing!

So for a good year now, these have been my go to recipe when cupcakes are needed.  The recipe is from The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook which has lots of yummy icing recipes and simple decorating ideas too.

I have Essie’s birthday sneaking up on me just a bit too quickly and we are in the process of deciding what birthday cake she will have.  It is a serious business!

American Hotdog

In other news, I had my first, and no doubt last, American hotdog the other day.  Not my finest culinary experience but one I felt I should try.  We all headed up to San Francisco for a family day out with Joel’s work at The Exploratorium and hotdogs were put on for the kids lunch.  Thankfully there were plenty more food options plus wine and ice-cream stations.  All while looking over the bay and the kids having a brilliant time checking out all the exhibits.

Lunch with a view

The weather was overcast, gloomy and surprisingly lovely.  There is only so much Californian sunshine that one can take!  It made me think of Australia and how, no doubt, everyone is rugged up and cooking stews, soups and warm curries.  The amount of times I have been told that it just does not rain here all spring and summer… But I am happy to see some rain.

Summer rain in San Francisco

vanilla cupcakes 

(from The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook by Jennifer Graham)

200g unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups castor sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk

vanilla icing

200g unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 cups icing sugar
food colouring (optional)

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (340 degree F). Line 2 cupcake trays with cupcake papers.

In a mixer, cream the butter for a few minutes until pale and light.  Add the sugar, a third at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Continue to mix until the sugar has almost dissolved. Add one egg at a time mixing well after each addition.  Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and add a third to the butter mixture.  Mix on slow and then add half the milk and beat to combine.  Then repeat.  Add the final third of flour and mix together.  It is important not to over mix.

Fill the cupcake papers about 3/4 full with the batter and bake for 18-20 minutes.  When cooked remove the cakes from the tray and leave to cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, cream the butter in a mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the milk, vanilla and half the icing sugar and mix together for several minutes.  Add remaining icing sugar and beat well until it is a nice spreadable consistency.  If you want to have coloured icing then add a drop of food colouring at a time and beat well, adding more if needed, to achieve the desired colour.

Posted in Baking, Cakes | 7 Comments

Tilly’s Chilli

Tilly's Chilli

When it comes to planning for a week of dinners I sometimes find it a good move to ask the kids for suggestions.  That way there is a small guarantee that the meals will be eaten.  I usually pull out a couple of cookbooks for the kids to flick through and Levi seems to be the one who goes for something new each time which I love.  This week his request is Lemony Chicken and Veal Burgers from the fabulous book ‘In The Kitchen’ by Australian duo Allan Campion and Michele Curtis.  I’ve promised the kids that when they leave home I will send them on their way with two cookbooks.  “In The Kitchen’ and Stephanie Alexander’s ‘The Cooks Companion’.  I figure you don’t actually need any more than those two but the state of my bookshelves says otherwise.

Tilly's Chilli

My girls, on the other hand, consistently request Chilli Con Carne.  They love it because of the beans and rice and they love to mix it all together with a good heaped spoonful or four of Greek yoghurt.  But neither of my girls like meat very much so I have been making a vegetarian version lately which they prefer.  Tilly is our veggie, bean and legume loving girl so this dish has been declared ‘Tilly’s Chilli’ and I think she would happily eat it every night of the week.  Levi misses the meat but Joel doesn’t and actually prefers this vegetarian version.  It is based on the Vegetarian Chilli in Gwyneth Paltrow’s book ‘Notes From My Kitchen Table’ which is a really good book.  I have cooked my way through a lot of the recipes in both her books and highly recommend them.

Tilly's Chilli

My version is slightly different.  I saute the onions, carrot, capsicum and garlic until soft and then add the spices and chipotle and cook for a further minute.  Then I add the whole, peeled tomatoes, lentils, beans and water and leave everything to cook together for about 30-40 minutes until the lentils are tender.  Then I get my stick blender.

I find if I let the whole tomatoes simmer, rather than crushing the tomatoes before cooking, it sweetens the sauce.  So when the lentils are cooked I just turn off the heat and stab each whole tomato with the stick blender and blitz for a few seconds.  I don’t want the whole thing blitzed, just the tomatoes.  A few beans and lentils get blitzed in the process but I find the resulting texture is that of minced meat which is kind of what I’m after.

Tilly's Chilli

I then put the heat back on and let the chilli simmer until nicely thickened.  Check for seasoning and serve with rice.  The kids love a table full of toppings to choose from but it really doesn’t need anything.  We had a sparse selection last night of just yoghurt, avocado, grated cheese and hot sauce.  But I suggest going all out and having bowls of coriander, finely sliced red onion or green shallots, lime wedges and steamed or grilled corn.  A great family meal to share with others, vegetarian or not,  and everyone can tuck in and make their own creation.

Tilly's Chilli

tilly’s chilli

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 red capsicum, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 chipotle chilli in adobe sauce, finely chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 x 400g tins of whole, peeled tomatoes
100g black puy French lentils, rinsed and drained
1 x 410g tin of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 x 410g tin of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

to serve

steamed rice
Greek yoghurt or sour cream
thinly sliced red onions or green shallots
grated cheese
grilled corn
diced avocado
lime wedges
hot sauce
tortilla chips
finely sliced red cabbage

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and gently saute the onions, carrot, capsicum and garlic until soft and tender.  Add the spices, salt, pepper and chipotle chilli and cook for a further couple of minutes.  Tip in the tins of tomato, leaving the whole tomatoes intact, the lentils and beans.  Fill one of the tomato tins with water and add it stirring everything together.  Bring to the boil then turn down to a medium bubble and pop the lid on.  Leave to cook for 15 minutes then uncover and leave to cook a further 20 minutes.  Test to see if lentils are cooked.

When the lentils are cooked, take the pan off the heat and use a stick blender to stab each tomato and blitz.  Add a good pinch of sea salt flakes and place the pan back on the heat and let it simmer away until the chilli is nicely thickened.  Check again for seasoning and serve with rice.

Posted in Cheap and Cheerful, Family Dinner, Feeding A Crowd, Vegetarian | 16 Comments

Chocolate Spelt Cake

Chocolate Spelt Cake

It has been a long time between drinks and I’ve had quite a few emails from kind souls asking if I’m still here and I am indeed.  We have had every weekend booked up over the last few months with only good things like house guests, BBQ’s, parties and dinners and so in an effort to avoid getting run down I have slowed down on computer usage.  Not just for me but for the kids as well and it has been so positive but it does mean I’ve been slack with emails and quiet on the blog front.

I feel very challenged this year, by books I’ve read and conversations I’ve had, to have a hospitable home and family.  We have always enjoyed having friends and family over for a meal but I feel the stretching this year as we have met so many new people which is different.  But if you want to get to know people then there is nothing quite like inviting them into your home and sharing a meal. Even if it is just for a cup of tea and a chat there is something to be said about opening up your home that means more than going out to a restaurant or cafe as you are giving something of yourself.

Chocolate Spelt Cake

My struggle is, and has always been, relaxing about everyone else seeing the mess and chaos that sometimes comes with a family of six.  I have a four year old boy who is always having too much fun to bother with things like going to the bathroom.  He only goes when absolutely necessary and then he bolts to the bathroom, whips his pants down and seems to spray everywhere but into the toilet bowl.  This alone keeps me so frustrated as I seem to spend so many hours scrubbing bathrooms with bicarb and vinegar and I can’t be confident that our guests will have a clean bathroom to use.  I’m sure any parent of boys will understand.

I also am working on the balance between opening up our home and ensuring that we have plenty of time as a family just by ourselves.  So I have been making an effort of late to slow down unnecessary busyness and it has been very positive.  The kids have all grown up so much lately and we have all been really enjoying family time.  This weekend we had absolutely no plans, well besides going along to the Los Altos Pet Parade with Elliott’s preschool class yesterday.  It has been a wonderfully lazy weekend of swimming, fish tacos, monopoly and ice-cream cones filled with scrumptious Queensland mango sorbet (AKA Weis) via Trader Joes.


My little sister from Melbourne, Trina, came to visit the week of my birthday which was a treat.  Trina loves to cook and she got busy in the kitchen for our usual Friday pizza night and whipped up some very tasty combinations.  This one with mushrooms and herb oil was scrumptious and it has got me being more creative with our pizzas.  My favourite combination of late has been a tomato base, parmesan cheese then loads of caramelised onions and amazing smoked mozzarella torn into chunks.  So smokey and sweet and hard to resist.


I have been cooking so many new recipes lately and have just really enjoyed experimenting a lot.  Every time I try something new and wonderful I want to share it but I’m never going to get around to sharing every single favourite recipe but I will do what I can.  One of my favourite things to make at the moment is this incredibly simple recipe from Karen Martini for BBQ Eggplant.  If you are like my husband and don’t like eggplant then I urge you to make it and give it a go.  Joel has been converted and absolutely loves this dish.  I serve it as part of a spread for lunch but I also love it just on top of bread or on top of a pizza.  It is full of flavour and moreishly good.

Another recipe I have churned out many times now is for this one below for a Chocolate Spelt Cake.  It is one of those super easy one pot cakes which I can never have enough of and as it is so moist it needs no icing and is therefore perfect for school lunch boxes. I have done less baking for the kids lunch boxes lately as we have had a fair share of weekend desserts.  My usual approach of late is to heat up a pan first thing in the morning, drizzle in some olive oil and pour in about 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels.  I give it all a good shake, pop the lid on and wait until every kernel has popped.  Then I give it a good sprinkle of salt and leave it to cool before dividing up into bags.  The kids have so much fruit to choose from now with the warmer weather so I load up their fruit containers with apples, strawberries, melon and the occasional piece of pomegranate.  And lunch has mostly been turkey and salad wraps which is a big hit with the older kids.  But once a fortnight I have been baking something sweet as a treat and this chocolate cake has proved a hit and I think the use of spelt flour will give them a little more lasting energy for their day.  A good cake to slice and freeze ready to go into lunch boxes.

Chocolate Spelt Cake

chocolate spelt cake

(adapted from ‘Avalon Food: Recipes For Friends And Family)

1 cup water
125g unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
1 teaspoon bicarb of soda
1 1/2 cups raw sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (320 degrees F).  Grease and line a round 21cm cake tin.

In a small saucepan mix together the water, butter and cocoa over a medium heat until the butter has melted.

In a large bowl mix together the flour, bicarb and sugar.  Pour over the melted butter mixture and stir until everything is mixed well then add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.  Mix together then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until cooked. Leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin before turning out.  Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. This simple cake can be made with just regular plain flour too.

Posted in Afternoon Tea, Baking, Cakes, School Lunches | 14 Comments