Brunch du bebe

brunch on the deck
Brunch on the deck at Melissa’s place

‘Brunch du Bebe’, Melissa’s baby shower was held last weekend. Yes, you are reading correctly, Melissa and Ben are having a honeymoon baby, due around June 15th.  As you can imagine, we are all very excited. But, she is on strict instructions from her father and me to take things easy, put her feet up and rest as much as possible so as to be on time or preferably late…by  about a week. For you see, prior to the wedding in September, Kenn and I booked a trip to Canada and unfortunately we don’t get back until the 12th June!

Lissa wanted the shower to be at their home and so she didn’t have too much to do, Kenn and I helped where we could. Kenn demonstrated the awesome paper skills, old school primary teachers have and made the bunting in shades of pink and blue as no-one knows whether its a little boy or a little girl yet.

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Can’t wait till you arrive baby Gow!

Melissa and Jo created the awesome atmosphere with gauzy ribbons, roses and white linens.

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Little details make a difference.

The games were fun. Not surprisingly, Emma guessed the circumference of Melissa’s tummy (She is due three days after Liss) and  fabric painting our singlets allowed some of the guests to showcase their design credentials.( I have none!!!)  Then it was time for brunch.

The food was very tasty and mostly imbued with a French influence. I volunteered to make pink and blue cupcakes and a gluten free orange cake. Now the cupcakes were a breeze  but the orange cake was nearly a disaster! There I was, the night before, happily following my friend Annie’s recipe. I boiled the oranges for two hours, whizzed them in the food processor, added the eggs, sugar and what I thought was 250 grams of almond meal. Dumped the lot in the cake tin and put it into the oven. Deed done I thought. Wrong! I was clearing away and looked at the back of the almond meal pack. I saw to my horror that 250 grams was about 2 and 1/2 cups and I had put only one cup in. I had confused 250 mls with 250 grams!  I looked at the time. The cake had been in the oven for about five minutes. Nothing ventured, nothing gained I thought. I whipped the cake out of the oven, poured the batter back in the bowl and added the extra almond meal. My daughter in law, Kelly assured me that it would be great, just like twice baked camembert! And she was right, the orange cake turned out great … in the end. Others helped as well. Brooke made her wonderful mini quiches and Lissa and Jo whipped up  fabulous fruit and cheese platters, croissants, meringues and mini baguettes. Together with a glass or two of champagne or fruit punch,  it was a veritable feast.

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Some of the goodies we consumed.

I’ve watched as Melissa and her friends navigated the ups and downs of High School, university, jobs and relationships and now I’m watching as they become mothers to adorable children. And I  loved seeing Genevieve having such a good time. She looked so adorable with her pink bow.

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Look I have a friend who is helping me with the dishwasher!
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That was great Baby G! What are we going to do next?

And of course there were presents. Lots of them! All imbued with love and best wishes for the safe arrival of Bebe Gow.

And to make a great day perfect, Melissa found favour with the weather gods at last and not before time. Could anyone forget the 200 mls of rain which fell the day before her 21st birthday party? Even for Byron, that’s a lot of rain and it turned what was meant to be a summer garden party into a slushy mud fest. Or her wedding day, where outside the church, just as all the family and group photographs were to be taken, the wind attacked, swirling our dresses and  ensuring that our hair took on the Hermione Granger look. Imagine my relief when despite dire predictions of rain showers and wind,  the day was perfect: sunny, not too hot, not too cold. Third time lucky, I guess.

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Melissa’s Kitchen High Tea

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The scene is set!

 “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue  and a silver sixpence in her shoe,” are tokens of good luck that a bride traditionally carries on her wedding day. Something old represents continuity; something new offers optimism for the future; something borrowed symbolises borrowed happiness; something blue stands for love and fidelity; and a sixpence in your shoe is a wish for good fortune and prosperity.

This traditional rhyme captures the hopes, good wishes and above all else, the love that brings friends and family together for a wedding. What it doesn’t capture is the fun involved; both in the preparations and the event itself. To begin the countdown to the wedding and wishing for Lissa to feel a connection with our family’s country traditions, I decided to host a kitchen tea for her. I felt sure, that fueled with champagne, my friends, the bridesmaids and Lissa’s girlfriends would offer her hilarious and sage advice concerning her future wifely duties. I envisioned this event in the back garden and thankfully, the weather gods complied.

party table decorated with herb challenge
Table decorated with hot pink table runner, ferns, pansies and the Herb Challenge ready to go

Unfortunately, I couldn’t serve just champagne for Afternoon Tea. My wonderful girlfriend, Julie offered to help me with the cooking but I couldn’t leave everything to her, much as I wanted to.

The wonderful, thoughtful and hardworking Julie
The wonderful, thoughtful and hardworking Julie

So, I practised my high tea skills. Alas, I’m no Adriano Zumbo. I had to cross chocolate macaroons off the menu as mine resembled the dark side of the Moon. I experimented with gluten free vanilla cup cakes, wrestling with piping bags and butter cream frosting. (It looked so easy on Youtube!) Still, they passed the taste test and didn’t look too bad when I smothered them in decorations. Wanting to serve mini lemon and caramel tarts, I blind baked pastry for the first time. Imagine my relief when they came out perfectly. Not a burnt crust among them! I only had to practice the time-honoured country art of scone making. I had assured Melissa that Scone making was in our genes! My mother could turn out a wonderful batch of scones in no time flat without having to measure a thing: surely so could I? Friends gave me the lemonade and cream recipe, however the scones didn’t rise enough for my liking. Next came a melted butter recipe. Disappointment ruled my kitchen! Finally, I adapted a traditional recipe and remembering Mum’s secret touches, a great batch.emerged from the oven needing only strawberry jam and cream.

Feeling reasonably confident that my guests wouldn’t starve, I organised the games that we would play. In keeping with the culinary theme, I decided on an identify a herb game.

Geranium is not a herb is it?
Geranium is not a herb is it?

There were ten herbs to identify including Lovage and the Mother of all Herbs There was much merriment and discussion as the pots were passed around, closely examined and answer sheets filled in.

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The girls are having fun
Rachek, bride to be, Melissa, Toni and Helen
And so is the bride to be

There was also a Masterchef Challenge. The wonderful people at the Pass Cafe provided a tray of their unique gluten free brownies and a list of the ingredients. Everyone had to taste and decide what the ingredients were. These were so delicious that it was difficult to concentrate on separating the tastes in your mouth! This did provide a great segue into Afternoon Tea proper.

Chocolate brownie bliss
Chocolate brownie bliss
So much deliciousness
So much deliciousness

It was very difficult to choose what to have first! One good thing about fine china cups, saucers and plates is that the plates are small so that you don’t feel guilty about having seconds or indeed thirds. I couldn’t resist Leone’s White chocolate berry cheesecake or Julie’s chicken and cucumber sandwiches. And  I really do think that tea tastes so much better in bone china tea cups, don’t you?

Feeling very relaxed and replete, it was time for Lissa to open her presents. Helen got proceedings off to a hilarious start. She had Lissa don kitchen attire that would keep her future husband, Ben very interested in the kitchen, though one could wonder what was on the menu!

All that's missing is the g-string
All that’s missing is the g-string

Each lovely gift came with a family recipe and the story behind it.  I had sent the recipe cards out with the invitations.  Lissa was thrilled. I’m sure, she’ll enjoy making each of them  and adding to them as she embraces married life.

My gift was a sentimental one.As  Lissa loves candles,  I asked Kate Hogan,  Lissa’s cousin, creator of beautiful hand-crafted soy candles produced under her brand (www.numberninetyseven.com.au)  to make three special candles for Melissa. They will celebrate Ben and Melissa’s first Christmas as a married couple, their first anniversary and the birth of their first child. I wrote a small verse for each candle and Kate and her sister, Mel, did the rest. They were simply stunning.

it smells so good
it smells so good

It was time for more fun. The bridesmaids, Toni and Brooke, volunteered to be models as the rest of us created two alternative wedding dresses for Melissa out of toilet paper and masking tape. Don’t they look adorable?

Here come the brides
Here come the brides

More champagne and all too soon, it was home time. It had been such a fun afternoon!  Lissa and I had put together a small collection of kitchen goodies which we wrapped in a flour sack tea towel to thank our guests for coming.

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Love is definitely in the air!

Churning it up in Mullumbimby

Hand made blue cheese
Hand made blue cheese

If our grandmothers and great-grandmother were stranded on a deserted island, participating in the latest season of ‘Survivor’,  I think  they could win. They had skills!  They could chop wood, start a fire, milk a cow, churn the milk into butter and make cheese.

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Who wouldn’t love this face?

Whipping up a roast chicken dinner was child’s play: all they had to do was catch, kill, pluck and stuff said bird. Easy … for them. They knew how to turn fruit and vegetables into yummy jam and preserves and create delicious terrines and pates without giving everyone salmonella poisoning  … unlike me.  They were the original domestic goddesses.

Luckily for mere mortals like myself,  dedicated modern day domestic goddesses, like Debra Allard, cheese maker, teacher and dairy godmother, are helping others rediscover these lost arts. I first saw Debbie at last year’s Sample Food Festival which was held in Bangalow, just west of Byron Bay.

Judge Debbie at the R and A Dairy and Cheese Show.
Judge Debbie at the R and A Dairy and Cheese Show, 2015

There she was on stage,  demonstrating how hilariously easy it was to make mozzarella cheese in 30 minutes. When the chance to attend one of her classes arose, run by ACE education in Mullumbimby, I couldn’t wait.

I arrived, accompanied by my good friend, Annie Milic. Our ‘dairy’ for the day was all prepared. Taking our positions behind our bain marie’s, we examined our equipment and recipes. We donned head attire, obligatory for health and safety reasons. Suddenly we were transformed into Smurfettes, ready for any challenge.

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After reading the instructions, the Smurfettes are ready.

 Our first cheese was goat feta. This was a little complicated, but by carefully following Debbie’s instructions and  keeping a close eye on my thermometer, I was able to navigate my way to curds and whey. The curds were ladled into a large hoop and regularly turned and voila, there was my feta!

My feta waiting for its briny soak.
My feta waiting for its briny soak.

 All I had to do was take my briny whey home and soak my feta for a week. Then it would be ready for consumption. Apparently, it will last up to six months! Will it last that long in my fridge? Probably not!

But the day wasn’t just about making feta. We also made cultured butter which was truly delicious and paneer. I intend making a spinach and paneer curry with it but haven’t got round to it yet.

As well as learning age-old skills, Debbie provided morning tea (scones with jam and cultured butter) and lunch, a ploughman’s feast. There was crusty bread, Bangalow pork roast, home made pickles, salad and a selection of Debbie’s hand crafted cheeses. I particularly liked her take on blue cheese. All in all, it was  a great day and Annie and I will be back for more. Perhaps we will graduate to Brie or Jarlsberg. If you are interested in attending one of Debbie’s classes, you can find details on her facebook page.

Souvlaki and chai energy muffins

Until  relatively recently, my culinary  skills could, at best be described as rudimentary.   This I attribute to my childhood.  The kitchen was a place where I had to mop the floor and peel potatoes. It was the place where my sister Jenny always got to wash up, while I had to wipe up and put away the dishes, a much more time consuming task. To this day, I don’t know how she managed to convince our mother that she was the superior washer upper when she completed the task in a time worthy of an Olympic 100 m champion.  So,  in protest at my unfair treatment (and a desire to finish my current book), I avoided the kitchen as much as possible. As a result, I  left home  knowing how to pour milk on cereal, boil an egg, cook toast and open a can of baked beans – real survival stuff!

But one  of the joys of living in Byron Bay and the Northern Rivers is the foodie culture.. There are an amazing variety of restaurants and cafes to sample. This week, I revisited The Cyprus Tree, our local Greek restaurant. This restaurant never fails to deliver memorable and delicious food,from souvlaki to scrumptious seafood, perfect for a birthday dinner for my friend Annie.

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Champagne not Ouzo was the order of the night!

 

As well, the area is full of  really knowledgeable, capable people willing to share their skills and help you develop yours.  This week saw the inaugural meeting of Byron  Library’s  Recipe Club.  The club will meet on the  third Tuesday of the month at 2pm,  at the Library. There was a very promising roll up of interested parties. The guest speaker was the bubbly, Julie Ray.
I had met Julie before when I had attended her seafood paella class in Lismore at The Pepper tree Kitchen.  I shared the photo of my success on that occasion with as many friends as possible. My culinary efforts had never looked or indeed tasted so impressive!  So I was looking forward to listening to what she had to say. I was not disappointed. She came laden with ideas about interesting ways to use macadamias,  a totally decadent recipe for a passionfruit cream curd cake and her chai energy muffins which we shared for afternoon tea. The muffins were delicious and you can find the recipe at Julie’s website,  julieray.com.  I noticed that she also had a great recipe for Gramma Pie on her website,  that she had sourced from Bangalow grandmother, Mrs Jarratt. I love trying heritage country recipes.  Maybe it’s because I love to daydream about all things historical.

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Super healthy Chai energy muffins