Gifts given

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“… What do you have that you did not receive? … ” (1 Corinthians 4:7b)

Not much really! I have been musing about the idea of sacrament, ceremony and celebration recently. Thinking about the way that God made a good world, full of good things that should remind us to turn our gaze to Him in gratitude. About formalising our thanks in ceremony. About expressing and sharing our thanks in celebration.

I have been thinking about creation and Eucharist, about feasting and joy, about thankfulness. About a good world, about bread. About cake and friends to share it with. About delight and welcome. These are the threads I am beginning to trace as I learn God’s word. I am beginning to see the story about a world made in love, about good gifts given. About a King and a feast, about coming home to dinner. About fullness of life, about joy, not fear. Oh, I want to be able to tell that story. I want to tell it with loaves of bread baked in precious new pots. I want to tell it with Funfetti cake topped with butter cream frosting and sprinkles.  I want to tell it slowly and carefully and with great joy.

The psalmist tells us that “He withholds no good thing …” Psalm 84:11 and I know it to be true. Sometimes the gifts are extra special though. This last week I was given a beautiful blue le Creuset pot, heavy with the hope of bread to break and dinners to share. Newly arrived in Vancouver, only few months ago, I had also been given an preloved Kitchenaid mixer and then, last week, the bowl finally arrived. Talk about stuff being sacred – my heart and my kitchen are full! So I baked in thanks. I baked basic-bread and a party-cake. The stuff of life and the stuff of celebration. I think we need both. We need the reminder that our earthy bodies are nourished both by the earth, and by the One who offers us Himself, the true Bread of Life. And once we have remembered, we need to gather and celebrate His Goodness and His abundant welcome.

Piece of cake, anyone?!

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Streusel cake (gluten and dairy free)

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I thought I would share this rather successful experiment with you. With increasing numbers of friends who avoid/are allergic to gluten and/or dairy, this was my attempt at making a dessert that everyone could enjoy. I began with a blueberry muffin recipe which I joyfully chopped and changed till I had something I thought might work – both in terms of universal-friendliness-of-ingredients and deliciousness. I am sure it could do with a little refining, however, even this ‘first draft’ was a very acceptable dessert contribution. Fingers were licked. I imagine that you could continue to mess around with the different flours used to suit your preferences, I think I was particularly limited by the amount of almond meal I had at home that day! Anyhow, perhaps it will inspire you to do something new with a recipe (I find muffin ones quite forgiving if you don’t change the fat or sugar content too much) – or do some baking for a friend!

Ingredients:
1/2 cup light olive oil (or another light flavoured cooking oil of your choice)
1/2 cup brown sugar – loosely packed
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup almond milk
1 2/3 cup self-raising gluten free flour
1/3 cup desiccated coconut
1/4 cup almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup frozen blueberries
3/4 cup frozen blackberries

Streusel topping:
1/3-1/2 cup quiona flakes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/3 cup buckwheat groats

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 180oC, line a square cake tin with baking paper.
2. Whisk the oil, sugar, eggs and milk to combine.
3. Stir the dry ingredients through wet mix gently.
4. Pour most of the cake batter into the cake tin, reserving perhaps 1/2 a cup.
5. Stir the frozen berries through the remainder of the batter.
6. Dot the berries over the top of the rest of the cake batter – try to achieve even coverage!
7. Lastly, blend the remaining streusel topping ingredients and sprinkle these over the surface of the cake.
8. Bake for about 40 minutes – check on it to ensure it doesn’t brown too quickly around the edges and protect the top with foil if the centre needs further cooking.
9. Enjoy warm with greek yogurt or a dollop of mascarpone cheese.

Holiday Baking Revisited 1/3 – Light fruit Cake (in its Christmas incarnation!)

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… and we are back! Despite the impression that my long, long blogging holiday break may have given, I do want to keep writing and sharing some of the things I’ve been making and thinking. I’ve decided that now, in late January, I needed to share some of my holiday baking adventures before it is absolutely too late! So to begin, this is my grandmother’s recipe for light fruit cake. It is very versatile and has been used over the years to celebrate birthdays, weddings, Christenings and Christmases alike. Rich with fruit, nuts and sherry, it is a recipe worthy of celebration! It would be fair to say that my appreciation for it has grown significantly in the last few years. Although it has taken a long (long) time, I have almost become one of those grown-up people who might sometimes enjoy cooked fruit or even baked goodies laced with dried fruit. And, for me, sometimes it is really more about the preparation and process of creating something edible and attractive anyhow, especially if I know that there are others around to enjoy it for me! So, with an essay on the evolution of cake (more on this to come!) behind me and Christmas on the horizon, I turned again to my recipe books and oven to make some homebred gifts. I chose to divide the mixture evenly between three ceramic ramekins (couldn’t find small cake tins the right size … and I didn’t have to line these with lots of newspaper which you need to when using a cake tin, a bonus for me!) so I could make a few gifts in one go. Two small cakes works well too, as does one lovely big generous one! I hope you might be able to celebrate something special by sharing this cake with friends and family one day too!

Ingredients
250g caster sugar
250g butter
5 eggs
200g sultanas
150g currents
150g fruit medley
100g glace cherries
150g chopped, blanched almonds
375g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
250ml sherry (in Australia it’s now labeled Apera, true ’sherry’ is made in Spain)
extra blanched almonds to decorate

Method
1. Preheat oven to 150o.
2. Soak the dried fruit in the sherry.
3. Double line the baking tins with butter and baking paper (to protect the cake from browning too much).
4. Wrap the outside of the tin with newspaper and tie it on with twine (again, to prevent burning the sides and base before the middle is cooked, only necessary if using traditional cake tins, this step is not necessary if you use ceramic ramekins as in the pictures).
5. Cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy using electric beaters.
6. Add eggs one at a time, beat well till combine the mixture as each egg is added.
7. Add flour and baking powder and beat gently till combined.
8. Finally, add the sherry, fruit and almonds, mixing till combined.
9. Place mixture into the tins, dividing mixture evenly between the desired number of tins. Decorate with blanched almonds.
10. If baking one large cake*, bake at 150oC for 1 hour, then reduce the temperature to 100oC and continue to bake for another, about 2 hours.
11. Remove from oven. Pour over another cup or so of sherry (share this amount between all cakes if more than one has been baked) then wrap the whole cake and tin in clean tea towel and let cool slowly.

*If baking two small cakes bake at 150oC for 45mins, then reduce temperature to 100oC and cook till done, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
If baking three small cakes bake at 150oC for 25mins, then reduce temperature to 100oC and cook till done, about 1-1 ½ hours.
These are just a guide and its worth just keeping an eye on your particular cake depending on the vigour of your oven!

A little (cheesecake) celebrating

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The mini cheesecake above was made by adapting this recipe by Bare Root Girl – made tiny so it could be shared between the two of us as we celebrated one year of marriage (As an aside: I would love to keep working with these cute little pans and come up withe a range of pint-sized desserts for moments when only a few need feeding but a treat would be nice!). Food manages to establish itself as central to special occasions almost unconsciously … birthday: cake, Christmas: pud (and feast!), Thanksgiving: turkey and pumpkin pie, Valentines Day: chocolate … we almost can’t help ourselves (no pun intended!). Somehow, it seems that eating allows for the fullest participation as we actually em-body, consume, assimilate, special foods symbolising the celebration by taking them into ourselves. Without thinking it all through, we just know that when its time to commemorate, party, toast, honour and remember – there needs to be some thing fit to eat. And, so, when it was time to celebrate the 12 of October one year on, Asher’s favourite dessert was in order – Berry Cheesecake. I will probably keep tweaking the recipe (I do like yoghurt, nuts and berries, I just don’t love coconut), but this was approximately what I did on the day …

Ingredients:

Base:
1/2 c. raw almonds
5 dried dates
1/4 t. sea salt
1 tbs (or 15g) melted butter

Cheesecake Filling:
2 1/2 tsp gelatin
1/2 the juice of one small lemon
1/2 cup full-fat plain greek yogurt
90g light coconut cream
30g cream cheese
45g honey
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 vanilla bean
1/8 tsp sea salt

Berry Topping:
1/2 cup frozen berries (I used a mix of blueberries and raspberries)
1/2 a small lemon, juice & zest
1 tsp honey
1 tsp arrowroot flour

Method:
1. Roast almonds in the oven at 220°C for 10-15 min. Blend almonds, dates, butter and salt using the food processor till fine. Press the mixture into the base of a 10cm diametre springform pan, lined with baking paper. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so it becomes firm.
2. Add the gelatine and lemon juice to a small bowl or enamel heating vessel and then place this in a slightly larger saucepan of simmering water. Stir the mixture till the gelatine is dissolved.
3. The rest of the filling ingredients need to be combined in the food processor. While the processor is going, carefully pour the gelatine mixture in through the top and keep processing till the mixture is fully blended (shouldn’t take longer than another 30 seconds or so).
4. Pour over the base and leave in the fridge over night to set!
5. To make the berry topping, combine all the ingredients in a little saucepan over a medium heat, keep cooking till the berries have begun to disintegrate and the whole mixture starts to thicken. If you would like it smooth to spread over the cheesecake, it can be blended using a stick blender or food processor or you can leave it chunky. Depending on the look the berry topping can be poured over just before serving or it can be given time to set in the fridge too!
6. Enjoy!

Slaw-ish salad

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I’ve never been much of coleslaw fan but had some cabbage at home and saw a recipe in a recent Feast magazine that had buttermilk in it. I had buttermilk in the fridge! What a good way to use it up when there wasn’t enough left for muffins or pikelets! This recipe could also be added to and tweaked but I was really happy with the dressing, hope you like it!

Ingredients:
1/4 cabbage
1 1/2 carrots grated
1 handful of baby spinach finely chopped
4 fresh baby beetroot
1/4 cup chopped almonds
a sprinkling of currents
1 shallot

Dressing:
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 lime

Method:
1. Finely slice the cabbage.
2. Grate the carrots.
3. The baby beetroot in this salad was roasted in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper. However, it could easily be boiled or grated fresh in stead. The grating will just make the whole salad more pink in appearance … it will probably taste a bit fresher though. Your choice!
4. Chop the almond and the shallot.
5. Make the dressing by combining the three ingredients and whisking with a fork.
6. Toss the cabbage, carrots, beetroot, nearly all the almonds and currents with the dressing in the serving bowl.
7. Top with the shallot and left over almonds. Enjoy!