Tag Archives: Christmas cake

Christmas Holidays should not be this hot

Stuart had booked 2 weeks off over Christmas and the New Year with the first full week in January also off.  It meant that there was a long list of jobs that needed attending to.  Jobs that I could do, but generally found difficult for a number of reasons, but usually on the physical strength side of life, or the fact that they needed 2 pairs of hands.  It meant that this list grew more than it shrank as we remembered or found new things to get done.

This included accepting defeat and getting lots of strimming and lawn mowing done; continuing the ever lasting battle with leaves coming off the Eucalyptus gum trees which don’t have an autumnal leaf drop (as far as we can tell) but seem to drop leaves continually.  Sadly these leaves are a fire risk being very highly flammable and dry.  It means that they have to be racked up constantly and it is pretty much a case of the “Severn Bridge” or is it the “Forth Road Bridge” scenario whereby once you have finished you are in a position whereby you have to start again because you can’t actually tell that you have done anything!  A touch of wind, a tiny amount of rain and the leaves are coming off in their thousands again and we have rather a lot of these gum trees in the garden.  I guess that is the downside of living in native woodland (she says as a touch of wind has leaves fluttering down in front of her yet again).

Another issue with the racking up the leaves in to nice neat piles is that the piles don’t stay as piles very long at all.  There is always a chook or 5 waiting to inspect the piles for anything edible.  Before you can even turn around to pick up the pile and move it to the wheelbarrow (where it is also not safe) the pile has been scattered and inspected!  The only upside is that they don’t scatter it as far and wide as it was previously and if you are lucky, it only gets scattered the once!

So Stuart’s holiday started with Christmas Eve literally.  He had the shopping to get done which we did together.  It was considerably quieter than we had expected it to be.  We rigged it so we actually did it in the afternoon to avoid the heat.  An air-conditioned supermarket during the heat of the day is far better than an air conditioned supermarket first thing in the morning when it is cool and then going home to work in the worst of the heat, so we have changed life around.  We get up early and work… then off to shops or hide inside when it gets too hot outside and rest, bed, shower etc and try again when life is a little cooler.

Christmas day started off cool(ish) for me at least.  I gave Stuart a lie in, or at least tried to but he woke naturally around 7am, so we had breakfast outside as we have taken to doing of recent.

Christmas Day Breakfast on the veranda
The view. I watch the ever changing light.
Our view over the countryside. This one always reminds me of Sweden for some reason!
The view from the veranda over the ponds
A flower I have yet to ID but it is very similar in appearance to a (Scottish) harebell except that it is flat, not bell shaped.

Our evening meal has been our Christmas meal for a while now.  Mostly because we prefer it that way, and of recent it has been from one of our cookbooks, with a few Emma modifications, mostly in the spices range but this year there were a few additional changes, such as the bean sprouts being switched for pea sprouts which just looked much nicer in the shop and I had hidden a few sprouts in there as well.  It wouldn’t be Christmas without some sprouts would it?  Also a couple of other changes included me going back to the original recipe and using pak choi.  We didn’t like it the year we used it in the UK and had started using spring greens or spinach instead, but the pak choi here is better, so we decided to try it again.  As usual there was also spinach in there because pak choi never goes far enough…  And I always fry off the tofu and make it crispy.  The recipe says fry it til it browns slightly and their recipe image in the cookbook shows it uncooked… we do it as we like it…

Our traditional Christmas meal. A vegan Laksa Lemak. But we have decided that it needs to be salads from now on.

Then there was the home-made Christmas Pudding served with the traditional chocolate ice-cream.  Well it is Christmas isn’t it?  Actually, normally we had it with fresh soya cream which we can’t get in Australia.  In fact getting soya cream at all is rather difficult, yet diary free ice-cream is readily available…

Homemade Christmas Pudding and Chocolate Ice Cream!

Boxing Day also dawned bright and early and hot.   Breakfast was again outside, as it was for all of Stuart’s leave.  And the light whilst different was just as nice and I felt the need to wander around with the camera after breakfast.

The view from the veranda over the ponds on Boxing Day
The view from the veranda over the ponds on Boxing Day

Boxing Day saw nice streams of light as the morning mountain fog burnt off for the day.

Just starting to peep over the tops of the native woodland and get hot.
The house on Boxing Day morning.
Our view over the countryside. This one always reminds me of Sweden for some reason!

A different day and the same view, just different light yet again.  Sadly getting away from the power lines, changes the angle too much dropping down too far to get the view.  The gradient here is deceptive.  Over the holidays, this grass was also cut back.  We have a battery operated strimmer and the aim (though not always accomplished) is to use one full charge each morning cutting back the grass.  This is for several safety reasons but the main one is snakes.  The brown snake (which we have seen on 2 occasions now) likes to hide in long grass.  Cut the grass back and you solve the problem.  Simple really…  So boots and trousers are called for, plus a sunhat, fly spray and suncream at 7am in the morning and you work for either as long as you can cope with the flies (after your sweat, nothing more, but they love your eyes, nose and lips which is really annoying!) or until the battery runs out – roughly 20-30 minutes.  After that is it too hot to be out in the direct sunshine and you need to select your work to be in the shade.

Our view over the countryside. This one always reminds me of Sweden for some reason!

Boxing Day breakfast also saw us start the attack on the Christmas Cake.   We hadn’t opened it on Christmas Day, we were just too full and too hot.  So breakfast was Christmas Cake and coffee and that was it.

The Unwrapping of the Christmas Cake
The Unwrapping of the Christmas Cake

Some time later….

The Unwrapping of the Christmas Cake…

Apologies for the bad photos.  As you can see it was cool enough for me to need a fleece top as well as my T shirt!

Now how exactly do we set about this?
Now how exactly do we set about this?
A smallish slice to start off with…

And a view to go with it.  What more can you ask for?


The 27th saw our 20th wedding anniversary.  Stuart decided to imitate our juvenile delinquent.,.. One of his jobs was to clear the gutters of debris and leaves etc.  Now the house itself does not have guttering, but the roof over the old veranda had a lot of debris on it which is a fire risk especially in a wooden house which is what we are living in.  Now I’ll remind you of the juvenile delinquent we have…

This little fellow (actually they are huge but…)
The Cover of the calendar which family received for Christmas.
Missed. He actually missed landing on the branch and caught it with his beak instead to stop himself from falling!
Recovering slowly…
Now who saw that?

And then there is this one.  This is a rather common occurrence.  When we have our 9am break, he would often come and hang upside down and peep in to see what was going on.

Whose in the sun room today?

So, my husband, on our 20th wedding anniversary decides to sweep down the roof of the house, have his Shawshank moment (I’ll see if I can get a hold of the video for you) and then do this…

Is there anyone home?
Time to pretend…
… to imitate the noise of a …
… our juvenile delinquent…
… hija… are you paying attention?

Yep – he’s still my husband.  Can’t take him anywhere, but at least he is enjoying himself!

He also had to take a look at the chimney and make some measurements because we were to bid of a woodburning stove and needed to factor in the cost of a flue and with that came the need to know how many meters of flue we needed.

Our wedding anniversary also saw us leave the house for a change.  We upped and left to go to the cinema for the afternoon.  Stuart had upgraded our seats to the premium seats and we had no idea as to what to expect.  We were anticipating wider seats in a better position but our seat numbers were E5 & E6 so we were a touch confused.  By UK standards that put is at the front of the cinema.  When we got to the cinema we were directed into a restaurant area away from the normal queues and waiting area.  The bar/restaurant took us by surprise.  We were told we could order our drinks and food and they would be delivered to us as and when we stated during the film.  So you could select to have the food or the drinks or both at say ¼ into the film, or an hour into it etc.

Apart from a medical emergency happening in one corner of the waiting area, there were very few people around.  We were going to see Rouge One, a Star Wars film and expected it to be full.  And it was full, but there were only something like 44 seats in that screen and we were in Screen 1.  There were only 2 screens in the premiere section.  Row E was almost the back row.  There were only another 4 seats behind us (on one side only).  The seats were fully electric reclining seats.  You could lie back as far as you wanted and not impede on the person in front or behind you!  Every two seats shared a table between then where the food and drink was left!  The isles were large enough that my wheelchair stayed alongside me, getting in no-ones way.  And sure enough, part way through the film our hot food was served to us.  It was completely different from anything we had expected!  Wide, spacious (in fact we were unable to hold hands because the seats were so wide and so far apart!) and no-one complained about you making a noise whilst eating!

The jobs list continued.  In fact on Christmas Day, Stuart had installed part 1 of the en-suite bathroom for the chooks… We are taking them over to deep mulch system under the roosting perches and Christmas Day saw side 1 installed.  Boxing day saw the second half installed and a by the end of the holiday a new roosting perch installed as well.  It is now the preferred perch because it is in a draft and the draft is cool!

The en-suite. The second half went on the other side of the doorway.

Later in the holidays, the height of those roosting perches was dropped a touch when the chicks started to roost up on there as well, on my birthday of all days!  It scared the living daylights out of us initially but they are now remarkably good flyers and like all children have no fear of heights.  They now routinely watch ‘mum’ walk down the steps off the veranda, down the path and around whilst they just take a running jump and a short cut joining her the ‘fun way’!

Boxing Day also saw me launch an attack on painting some of the cupboards in the house.  The insides were filthy and needed dealing with before we used them.  I had been putting it off until the warmer weather arrived.  At least that was the excuse I used in winter, then I was too busy in Spring and … yeh, I just had to get on with it.  In fact, they were so filthy, I actually had to wash them before I could paint them.  3 coats of paint later and they were ready for use.

My birthday also saw Stuart present me with this wonderful caterpillar which neither of us went anywhere near!

A caterpillar Stuart found and presented to me at the end of a rake! Even the chooks didn’t want to eat this one!

And then there was this.  We know which nest it was, and it had been in use.  Given that there were no dead chicks, no shells or broken eggs, we can only assume that it came down or was ‘taken down’ after the chicks had fledged and we do have fledgling Silver Eyes in the garden at present in the right area, so we think it isn’t the disaster it could have been!

A nest made from grass and spider’s webs which Stuart found on the ground. We have seen 4 of them around the place, so think this one wasn’t in use. There was at least no sign of any broken eggs or shells. It is possibly the nest of a “silver eye” but we are not sure.

And no birthday would be complete with out a birthday cake.  I know we have the Christmas Cake and the Christmas puddings to eat, but its my birthday and I wanted a birthday cake, so Stuart spend the morning (the only time cool enough to use the oven) cooking me an olive oil chocolate cake!  It was served with raw chocolate coconut ice-cream and some dairy free orange and hazelnut cookies that he found for sale in the local ‘food lovers market’.

My birthday cake, an olive oil chocolate cake served with melting chocolate ice-cream and some orange and hazelnut cookies which were also dairy free! He knows how to treat a lady.

I’ll continue with the rest of this update tomorrow.  It is getting too hot now to stay in the studio (or the house for that matter) and it is coming up to lunchtime here.  But the rest of the holidays saw us visit some family friends which I promise I will write up tomorrow, even if I have to go back in time afterwards to catch up… and then there was the visit to the seaside…

I finally found time…

Yep, it has finally happened.  And next year it will most certainly happen much earlier in the year when it is cooler!  Having the oven on for 6 hours on a day when it reached 30°C was not a great move.   What am I talking about?

Yep – it has finally been made.  The epic has been done.

It started with a disaster. I started picking over the fruit ready to get it soaked only to discover that the fruit wasn’t very good and didn’t taste very nice.  The default supermarket fruit, the only option available, isn’t nice.  What happened to those Australia Sultanas?  Those Australia raisins?  I have no idea but they tasted the same and were not very nice.  They were sweet, pure sugar and no flavour.  And when it came to one of them, they were dry, mostly stones and horrible.  Even Stuart didn’t like them.  And so everything went on hold.  Stuart would have to get to the health food shop and get some decent organic ones for the cake.  There was no alternative.  It was off for the time being.

A week or so later and we had the new fruit.  The unsweetened apple juice was still OK, it turned out to have a good shelf life – worryingly so actually!  The new cooker was in and working, and I was ready to make the cake.

I started again, the night before, picking over the fruit.  I hate biting into fruit bake and getting a grape stone or worse still a stalk.  And so I spend several hours the night before I make the cake, picking over the raisins, sultanas and currents to ensure that as many stones and stalks are removed as possible.  Once all of that is done, the fruit is washed in boiling water to remove the wax that is added to make it shiny and often sweetness added as well, and when clean, I set it to soak in unsweetened apple juice.  Failing that, a dry cider works as well, but usually we don’t have to resort to that.

Once it has been soaked overnight (1L of juice is all that is needed), it gets drained and pressed dry.  I leave it with weights on it draining in a colander whilst I prepare everything else.  I have to start early – and here is no exception.  Stuart leaves for work at 7am, so I can get the fruit draining before he leaves, weigh out some of the ingredients whilst I am waiting for him before or after breakfast.  Anything to save time later on.

Once I have finished with the chooks at 9am, it was all hands to the deck (I still had a broody hen sitting on eggs) so to speak.  Well, both hands to the deck…

All of the dry ingredients are weighed out and put into one bowl.  The fruit is in another, the lemon rind, the juice, and 2 glace cherries in another.  Finally the marg and sugar is ready, as are the eggs.  For once they are not a concern.  I know exactly how fresh they are and exactly where they came from.  I even know what they chooks have eaten (more or less… they are free-range after all!)

The Original and my adapted version.

I’ve just got to the point where I’m about to add the eggs to the creamed sugar mix.  I usually stop at this point and line the cake time.  Actually, normally it is done first, but the new oven takes less time to heat up, so I did it later in the sequence.  Only I didn’t.  I search the house high and low.  What do you mean we have no greaseproof paper?  Where can I have put it?  Of all the things to loose track of in the house move between continents I was expecting it to be the cake tin.  We have a set cake tin for this cake.

I can’t find the greaseproof paper and the only alternatives are not great.  I also only have olive, sunflower or rapeseed oil, no nut oils at all.  I’m stuffed.  I’m screwed.  I don’t have transport to get any and Stuart isn’t able to get any today, so I can’t even carry on tomorrow.  Stuart and I talked through the alternatives ranging from the ridiculous (A4 printer paper) to more viable options if and only if we had had a nut oil available (that alternative was a t-towel or old pillow case btw).  But that lack of nut oil was the killer.  We have tried olive oil, sunflower and canola (rapeseed) oil in the past and it just does not work.  The cake is best done with a nut oil so that the taste is masked buy the flavours in there and alkons oil is the best option available.

I reluctantly put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and converted it with clingfilm.   The two reserved glacé cherries (also now washed and the rest chopped and in with the fruit) went into the lemon juice and rind (note to self for future knowledge, cherries go pink when soaked in lemon juice!) and they too were converted and put into the fridge.   The fruit had the drained juice poured back over it and into the fridge it also went, covered with clingfilm.

Ready mixed and ready to go into the cake tin.put into the cake

Just getting to this point had been hard enough.  Some of the ingredients are not available in Australia.  Others I had to ask Stuart to try again with.  For instance, molasses and blackstrap molasses are not the same thing.  Usually they would be interchangeable, but only in one direction.  Blackstrap molasses is nowhere near as sweet as molasses and much nicer and over the years we have been making this cake, we have found that it is much nicer with blackstrap molasses.  Mixed chopped nuts and roasted chopped nuts (any variety) are also not available, so I had to make my own.  And as for our dried sour cherries, the really nice ones from Sainsbury’s, we couldn’t even find a semi sensible priced alternative, so they were omitted completely.

And so the creamed sugar was destined for another round of oat biscuits…  It was all on hold yet again.

All in, but needing decoration

2 days later and 3rd time lucky.

Finally everything is ready.  I’ve lined the cake tin, actually I always double line it.  I don’t know why, but I always have with this cake.  I’ve creamed a new batch of vegan margarine and sugar and we are ready to go.  I have everything don’t I?  Yes, phew.  This time I really can make it. And luckily everything went to plan with the sole exception of the oven and what gas mark 1 should actually be.  It’s most definitely not 110°C.  It should be 140°C and over 5 hours that adds up…

Ready to be cooked.

Now I don’t like marzipan and Stuart doesn’t like icing sugar, so we decorate our cake  Dundee cake style, top and bottom so there are no arguments…

5 hours in and not looking cooked to me!

Some time later, one very hot Emma has a cake ready to cool and be wrapped for Christmas.

Our Christmas Cake

Next task is a Christmas pudding or two!