Christmas cookies

My first venture back into baking…

I stopped baking when I got the diabetes diagnosis. It just wasn’t safe to expose myself to any quantities of tasty baked goods, as my willpower, initially at least, wasn’t up to the challenge. The Husband, a true saint, backed me up, and has willingly sacrificed his own access to the good stuff in order to support me in losing the excess weight and maintaining my blood sugar at safe levels.

Seven months down the line, I’m able to control myself! So it was time to do some seasonal baking for the benefit of the Chiconi Fam, who came for Christmas lunch. No need to impose my dietary restrictions on them… Everyone got a little carton with five bickies to take away afterwards. Tasty, but not a sweet overload.

The red velvet cupcakes with white frosting and sprinkles were fine, but nothing spectacular, so I’m not bothering with them. The bickies (cookies to my American/Canadian friends) are another story. I haven’t baked bickies/cookies much, aside from my default, 20-minute start-to-finish Peanut Butter Cookies. But I saw this recipe on the Emmy Made YouTube channel, and wanted to give it a try. Y’all should give it a go, it’s a winner.

Ready to go into the oven. Top left to bottom right: spice thins, jam drops, raisin, peanut butter and double chocolate

You make a Master Dough, to which you subsequently add a variety of flavourings for different variants. It’s a smart, time-saving idea, and it works really well. I made her suggested variants except for one, and tried one additional option of my own.

The dough is delicious, versatile, well-behaved and forgiving. It’s not too sweet, and is yummy enough to eat raw, if you’re not concerned about raw egg (which I’m not). It cooks up quickly and responds well to both dry and oily additions.

Plus, Emmy is such a delightful, funny and inspiring presenter, and makes me laugh out loud at least once every time I watch her, whether she’s testing a recipe or trying some weird food. Worth a visit, people!

And in case you’re wondering? No, I didn’t have any bickies! 😇

Having my cake AND eating it

Cake has not been a thing for me for ages

Well, diabetes does that to you. And I love my cake, and I miss it, although I do concede that my sweet tooth has diminished considerably. I tried baking with artificial sweetener, but the amount required resulted in that, ahem, unfortunate side effect they warn you about on the packet when you eat too much sugar-free anything… Plus it didn’t really taste very good. A bit chemical and one-dimensional. All in all, not worth the effort. So I kept looking and trying. Eventually, I stumbled on this YouTube video.

I made her cake, but it wasn’t quite there yet; the Husband and I both found it a bit…. inoffensive. This is the wrong word, but I can’t find a better one. It was perfectly nice, but to our palates it came over slightly flat. No flavour predominated, and we found it lacked a bit of punch. So I’ve tweaked some of the ingredients to make it reflect our preferences. Also, we have discovered that the flavours develop and become much more interesting the next day, so it’s worth holding off rather than diving straight in.

Instead of sugar or sweetener, this recipe uses date purée. Now, before anyone reads the ingredients list and jumps online to comment about how dates are full of sugar too, I should just point out that they’re low GI, being full of fibre, and also offer several nutritional benefits: significant levels of antioxidants, B6, potassium, iron, manganese and calcium. Which is not, of course, why I was using them, but it helps!

Here we go, then. I bring you Chocolate Date Cake. 200Kcal/836Kj per cupcake. Well, it IS cake…

700g/24oz date purée, made from:
500g/18oz pitted dates, soaked for 1 hour in:-
200ml/8oz boiling water
3 dessertspoons of instant coffee
2 teaspoons of bicarb soda
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon.
Blend all together with stick blender. Should result in 700g/24oz of finished purée
250g/9oz wholemeal self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
80g/3oz cocoa
5 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extra
250ml/9oz vegetable oil or melted butter

Make the purée. Set aside to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F.
Line two cake tins with baking paper or or two cupcake pans with cupcake cases. I like cupcakes because portion control!
Blend the eggs, vanilla and oil/butter.
Sift together the flour, baking power and cocoa into a large bowl.
To the flour mix, add first the date purée, then the egg mixture. Mix well by hand, then beat either by hand or with a mixer until the last of the flour is absorbed.
Scrape down with a spatula, then spoon into the cupcake cases or lined cake tins. Do not overfill, the mixture rises well.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake: 30-35 mins for cupcakes, 40-45 mins for cake tins. Test with a skewer or toothpick to ensure they are done in the middle. Best left overnight before eating for maximum flavour development.

Makes 24 cupcakes or two layers of chocolate cake.

I won’t be making this often, since even the individual cupcakes are 200 calories each and that just doesn’t work well in a diabetic diet, but for an occasional treat it’s a reasonable compromise. I have frozen half the batch and will wait and see how they survive the process. Bringing out one at a time is a much better way to deal with cake cravings than having a whole batch sitting in a box on the counter, and of course, the fact that they need to be defrosted gives you a chance to tame your snack inner monster!

The Husband would like you to know they work well with ice cream. I wouldn’t know… 😇

Nothing to see here

Isn’t that what they say?

When there’s actually quite a lot to see, but they want you to move along? I, on the other hand, have literally had nothing to see for quite some time. But now I have things to show and tell.

Let’s start with… Baking. I have always been fascinated by cooking from the Southern states of the US. The names of the dishes are mysterious and wonderful, the combinations and flavours can be strange to UK and Australian palates, and many of the ingredients are not at all easily obtained here. But one thing I’ve always loved the sound of is ‘biscuits and sausage gravy’. For breakfast, mind you. Now obviously, these are American biscuits, which closely resemble our scones, rather than being the sweet, flat, crisp jobs we dunk in our tea or coffee. And sausage gravy? Not the rich, meaty brown liquid we make from our Sunday roasts, but a thick, pale, creamy sauce flavoured with crumbled ‘breakfast sausage’. This latter ingredient isn’t snags, or bangers (‘links’ to my US friends), it’s a large roll of seasoned sausage-meat cut into thick slices and fried, served with eggs, etc, for breakfast. I haven’t seen breakfast sausage anywhere in Australia*. You can take a pork snag or two and squeeze it out of its skin, mash it up and that will do the job, fried in a skillet and crumbled. After that, add flour, seasoning and milk, and stir till the whole thing thickens. It takes patience but is very tasty. Anyway, failing the sausage gravy, I made biscuits. I think they turned out rather well! Yummy eaten warm with butter. I would have added honey except, you know, diabetes… If you’re an expert biscuit baker, I’d love to know what you think of my amateur effort.

Gardening. As you’re probably well aware by now, we have a caravan (travel trailer). We keep it in the front yard on a not quite level piece of ground between two flower beds. Because of the curved, banana shape of the outer, raised bed, nearest our front boundary, it has been difficult to back the ‘van into her spot when we come home. So I have shortened and straightened it. Which involved heavily pruning some ornamental trees (ixora, hibiscus, variegated ficus, azalea, Bankok Rose and Snow on the Mountain), shifting what felt like several hundred edging bricks, hacking out soil, repositioning irrigation pipes and some power-weeding. Total time, 2 days of hard labour, but so worth it. I also enlisted the Husband and his angle grinder to remove the old and nasty mailbox which lives in that raised bed. It had finally rusted past the point of no return so that rain more or less guaranteed soggy mail, and will be turned into something more useful in its next incarnation. We also got rid of the ‘ornamental’ street number some aesthetically-challenged previous owner had crafted out of welded steel chain and tack welded to the supporting post… A new, functional, powder-coated steel mailbox improved matters no end, and I wrapped the now-disfigured post in a square of imitation buxus panel. It looks rather fetching…

And finally, Sewing. I have finally got back to the Twilight quilt, and the first two rows are sandwiched and quilted, although I’m not sure you can tell from this photo. I’m using a rather beautiful purple Rasant thread, which blends rather well, but also has a pretty shine. It’s made by Amann, and is  cotton spun on polyester core thread which is both strong and smooth-running. So far, so very good! I’m quilting a cross hatch a hand’s-width wide, which is enough to safely hold the layers together but also results in a very soft and drapey finish to the quilt. There has also been activity on my Hopscotch quilt blocks, but I’ll leave reporting on that until ScrapHappy Day.

Amazing what a long post I’ve written about nothing at all!


*If you’ve seen it, do tell me where, as it’s just the sort of thing the Husband would love…

Domestic, er, bliss….

I have almost reached the bottom of the pile.

We got home late on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday I unpacked, put away, cleaned, and did 4 or 5 loads of laundry. Mouse spent the entire first evening walking around the house and lying down on empty patches of floor, our bed, the sofa and his three beds, to re-establish his own personal ‘flavour’. He managed to be under foot the maximum amount of time, but the delight on his furry face at being back was so touching I hadn’t the heart to ask him to go and lie down.

Now that we’re back and I’m fully in the swing of domesticity again, I’m looking back fondly on some of the meals I didn’t have to make myself.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner, in that order.

How easy it was to keep the caravan tidy, the beds made and the dishes done. And how very good it is to have a bit more space again, despite the domestic requirements!

(A point of information: we don’t have a hot water system in the caravan. Until recently, I had to boil the kettle several times to get enough hot water to wash up. And then I had a brainwave! A hot water urn. It holds 8 litres (nearly 2 gallons) of water (enough for two loads of washing up) and can hold it at the boil if necessary, but also keeps it at perfect washing up temperature all day. It’s plastic, lightweight and can be stowed away for travel.

It’s good to be home, but I do still have my fingers crossed that the trip down to NSW we have booked in October will go ahead. It will give me a chance to catch up with friends and family, as well as satisfying my slight homesickness for the region we’re going to.

Just at the moment, it’s not looking great; the number of cases in Sydney is climbing exponentially as cases come into the country with returning travellers, and then run amok in the local population, some of whom are not especially compliant…  By the time we’re supposed to leave, we’ll both be fully vaccinated. Wouldn’t it be nice if that allowed us to cross the border freely…?

Once I’ve finished all the domestic stuff, I can finally turn my attention back to the sewing room and my newly-serviced sewing machine. Oh, and my plans to completely rearrange the whole sewing room. Eeek!

Looking forward to it 🙂

Please explain

There is a catchphrase in Australia which addresses egregious mistakes and idiocies or being caught out in obvious lies.

It’s known as the ‘Please explain’, after the now-famous usage of said phrase during a televised interview, by an outspoken female politician of notoriously inflammatory, racist and extreme right-wing views*. She had not understood the interviewer’s use of the word ‘xenophobia’…

We nearly used it ourselves today.

Having all three greatly enjoyed our evening out at Dunwoody’s the other night, we thought we’d give it another go. The Husband jumped on the phone to make a booking for tonight, only to be told “we don’t accept dogs” when he did so. He pointed out that we’d had a dog with us only a few nights ago; had the policy changed? Apparently it had. We withdrew our booking. After a moment’s thought, I suggested we call back and speak to the duty manager for clarification, and perhaps a reason for the change.

Having given them a good review on Mouse’s blog, I was quite prepared to call them out for back-tracking. Mouse had behaved perfectly – better, in fact, than some of the younger guests. The other guests had liked him, and he had not caused any inconvenience to anyone.  Maybe I could go on TripAdvisor or Google and tell our story, because I always make a point of giving good reviews where they are deserved. Dog owners need to eat too, and well-behaved pets should not be excluded arbitrarily by whoever answers the phone because of a personal preference or faulty interpretation.

We got the duty manager. You’ll be happy to know that Dunwoody’s retains its shiny halo 🙂 Policy has not changed, and they do allow dogs in the outdoor dining area. All three of us will be there tonight for another sally into the delights of the menu.

Sometimes, you just need to gently ask “please explain?”…


*Please note that if you happen to agree with this politician’s views, I am not interested in entering into debate and reserve the right to deal with comments on the subject as I see fit.

Evidence of (not much) industry

I brought handwork on holiday with me.

Of course.

About 75 hexies. I have all blue & white and some pale pink scraps with me.

But it’s only enough to keep my hands busy while my ears listen to a talking book or two. Trouble is, I’m now so fast at making hexies that I have a rather large pile made for the few hours I’ve worked on it. I have no idea what these hexies and the other scraps I brought with me will evolve into. Time will tell.

We’re having a wonderfully lazy time. In earlier times, I used to pack activities into our trips to Cairns, mainly revolving around food: the tracking down, smelling, sampling, tasting, enjoying and taking home of. These days, I’m someone limited in how much luscious cheese, hand-made chocolate, artisan coffee blends and succulent tropical fruit I can actually safely consume. I choose my meals…. sensibly although not boringly (see below!). It’s not quite as much fun, and importantly, the absence of gastro-touring leaves us free to do, well, nothing very much, and do it lavishly!

‘Fishy benny’: eggs benedict with smoked salmon and sautéd mushrooms on rocket and rye, topped with a lemony hollandaise

Before lunch today, we indulged today in a spot of bogus caravan-shopping. There’s one big caravan yard in Cairns and about half a million RV, camper van and camper-trailer yards, but none of the latter are of interest to us. We took Mouse and toured the caravan yard, went into every caravan (not Mouse, he inspected the outsides) and assessed it. All very slick and shiny, but just not, well, comfortable. The kitchens had large shiny appliances and sleek surfaces, but almost nowhere to do any work. Perhaps they don’t expect people to actually prepare meals, just heat up ready meals or reheat a pizza. They certainly don’t expect people to have books, or sewing machines, or sports equipment or a large collection of spices, or even, heaven forbid, a dog. There are buttons and switches and fold out this and drop down that, but the furnishings are nasty, there’s nowhere to hang a large fluffy towel or two, and heaven forbid you should have a coffee machine. So until we win the lottery and can have our ideal caravan built to our specification, we’ll stick to Miz Lizzie, who can comfortably and neatly accommodate everything we want to bring and use.

Mouse has written about his expedition out to dinner with us last night. I have discovered that if I reblog his posts here and then want to update the original, the updates don’t carry over. If anyone can point out how to do that, I’d be grateful. In the meantime, you’ll find it here if you’re interested.

‘Raunchy huevos’: omelette with chilli,spicy beans, avocado, roasted chorizo, roasted tomato and sour cream, with tortilla chips on the side.

And now I feel a large snooze coming on. Lunch was pretty delicious, and I shall join the Husband and the dog in our small but comfy and air-conditioned home away from home.

Tomorrow we have a small road trip planned. I’ll tell you all about it then.

Whipping the light fantastic

Yes, you read that right.

Not an original one today, but I was so irrationally excited by the results of this recipe that I had to share it!

I dearly love a cupcake, but find most buttercream icing/frosting a bit too sweet and rich. So when I saw this alternative on one of my favourite YouTube channels, I had to give it a go. Coffee foam. No fat. No dairy. Obviously coffee doesn’t go with everything, but with chocolate cupcakes? Yum!

I got the recipe from the Emmy Made YouTube channel. I’m a great fan of hers. She tries all kinds of things, makes all kinds of things, tastes all kinds of things and tests all kind of things. She’s lovely, with a calm, friendly, youthful demeanour, and is refreshingly frank about her own fails and bloopers. She calls it Magic Coffee Whip and she herself got this recipe from a source detailed in her own video about it (see the link below), but it basically boils down to three everyday, basic ingredients:

20g/¾ ounce instant coffee granules/crystals* (NOT powdered)
200g/7 ounces caster (superfine) sugar
160ml/5½ ounces icy cold water, the colder the better.

Using either a stand mixer with the balloon whisk fitted, or an electric hand beater on medium/ high, first gently bring together and then whip them until a firm, pale foam is formed, like meringue or whipped cream. It takes about 3-5 minutes, depending on which machine you use (you can of course beat by hand, but it’ll take quite a while. Don’t lose heart, it will happen). That’s it.

The coffee flavour is sweet and strong. The mouthfeel is light and airy, like a very delicate marshmallowy meringue. You can store it, too, without the whole thing breaking down disastrously. A little coffee liquid will form at the bottom (see photo below) and the foam will darken on the surface and become a little more open in texture, but it’s still perfectly usable. As you can see below, it still supports the weight of the knife. I have yet to discover at what point it breaks down past usefulness. I suspect it’ll be eaten long before that happens.

You can top cupcakes or brownies. You can top iced coffee or chocolate. I haven’t yet tried it with hot drinks. I’m told you can even make it without the sugar, but that would be quite bitter and would need to be paired with something pretty sweet to balance. I’m not sure about the science, but it’s apparently about the granules in the coffee bonding with the icy water and forming a stable foam with strong walls. Or something. Emmy explains it better in her video.

Go on, give it a try. It’s like magic! 


*I used Nescafé Blend 43

Another mixed bag

So, a couple different things to show you…

Yesterday, I went out for lunch. It doesn’t happen often these days, but up here in north Queensland we don’t seem to have any Covid-19 cases, so the sewing ladies of Days for Girls met to catch up on Christmas, the holidays and forthcoming events. Precautions were taken and distance maintained, barcodes were scanned, forms filled in and lunch orders were taken and arrived……… eventually.

It did take a long time for the food to arrive. But when it did, it was worth it.

Sourdough toast with a mountain of free range scrambled egg, mud crab and thinly sliced chilli on a bed of baby spinach, topped with sriracha hollandaise. A reverent silence was maintained.

This, plus the Dowager and Aunty Marion inviting themselves over for lunch today (and arriving at 10.30am!) chewed into my planned sewing time rather, but I did get this project finished in time to post about it today. It’s another Jocelyn Proust furnishing fabric, sold as a pair of 20 inch panels to make into a cushion cover. It was in the Spotlight remnant bin because someone had slipped with the cutting out and demolished part of the border. I love the colour scheme, and the birds are such fun!

And finally, the early stages of a future ScrapHappy project (but not tomorrow’s, I fear). I wanted a large bench mat for the kitchen. I currently use a tea towel for setting out the Husband’s work food supplies: Thermos flask of boiling water and two travel mugs of hot coffee, one of hot home-made soup; milk for future tea or coffee; a banana and two apples, sliced soft fruit or grapes; a bit of cheese and some trail mix. But I’d like something a bit more padded to protect the bench from hard edges and boiling water spills, so I’m going to make a large mat, 30 x 16 inches.

I’ll probably also make another, smaller one for assembling the packed supplies so he can put them in his bag quickly and efficiently. Anything to make things run more smoothly at 2.30am… I picked lots of pale and mid-grey scraps to stand out against the dark acacia butcher-block bench top, whilst at the same time being soothing and not to bright for scarcely-open sleepy eyes. Now all I have to do is press and trim them and start sewing.

Something completely different for ScrapHappy Day tomorrow, though!


It has been a trying week.

Our car has been showing its age for a while. The symphony of squeaks, rattles, strange coughs and groans has been building, and last weekend it reached a point where we couldn’t ignore it. The power steering was starting to go. There’s a limit to how much good money a sensible person will throw after bad. It was time for a New (Old) Car.

We wanted a manual (stick shift) ute (pickup) with a good sized engine for caravan towing. The initial search was a bit depressing, but we found what we thought was a good deal. It was weatherbeaten and fairly basic, but would do the job. That was until the pre-purchase inspection (we’re not complete idiots). Algae in the brake fluid. Chicken feathers in the air filter. Ooze from every gasket. Blow-by (not good, Google it if you just have to know – I know what it is, but the explanation is long), and various other potentially terminal issues. I have a two page report and photos… The owner had given the engine a good going over with a power washer to hide as much of the evidence as possible, but he hadn’t changed out or topped up any of the fluids or checked the air filter.

We passed on that one, bit the bullet, scraped finance together and paid a good bit more for a Mitsubishi Triton dual-cab, a decent vehicle which should last us a long time. They took our old car as a trade in, so we have one less thing to worry about. It was stressful, but it’s done.

The sewing room is preying on my mind too. I can’t seem to get anything finished. My sewing table is totally covered with Too Much Stuff. A friend recently had a TIA and her medication is causing her to lose weight rapidly. She asked if I could take in a couple of dresses she’d only just bought which were now hanging on her. I have the backing of my Days Gone By quilt almost done. I need to make a few more Floribunda blocks and another Parterre block. I have the whole Anemone project to hand quilt. I have work pants to mend for the Husband. You get the picture…

So of course, rather than actually do any of this work, we decided to load Mr Mouse into the back of the new car and take him to the beach. We had a yummy lunch (chilli and coriander fishcakes with salad), and then took Mouse out onto the sand and let him off the leash. He loves to run on the beach, and it’s the only place we let him loose apart from fenced dog parks. He – and we – had the entire vast empty beach to ourselves, and many zoomies and figure-8 circuits were completed before he was finally exhausted. A quick hose down at the beach shower, and then home for a large snooze (for him, I did housework!).

It was a good day. A relief from the stress of the previous week, a chance to let Mouse do something he enjoys so much, and a bit of fun for us, putting the new vehicle through its paces. I hadn’t realised how anxious I’d been about the car until the anxiety went away.

All better now.

A visual antidote to Red and Blue

We just had to get away from it.

The news is full of it. My phone feed is full of it. I keep hearing soundbites everywhere. We needed a break from the relentless meltdown. (And while I’m at it, my utmost sympathy to my US readers for having to live with the hype as well as the consequences).

We headed out for a little diversion. After a brief detour to the beachfront at Seaforth, we headed for lunch at one of our favourite places: The Old Station Teahouse. We held one of the outings of the 2018 National Rally of our motorbike club there, and it received rave reviews from the 80 members who attended.

Tasty food, whilst relaxing on the ‘platform’ of a preserved old wooden station building set down in peaceful, beautiful, tropical gardens. Birdsong. The rustle and rattle of palm fronds.

The scent of murraya and gardenia. Vines, huge leaves, brilliant flowers. You get the idea… We brought Mouse along, as he loves the place, and the staff adore him and present him with scraps of chicken, mugs of puppacino studded with flakes of beef jerky, endless strokies, and best of all in his view, permission to lie on the comfy sofa!

He took full advantage, of course. Most of the customer seating is around tables in the gardens or on the event deck. There are a couple of tables on the platform, and one three-piece suite of two armchairs and a small sofa. We got the armchairs…. of course. Mouse was ushered onto the sofa in person by the manager, from where he issued his demands requests for sustenance and we were granted an audience with His Exaltedness.

At one point, it struck me how perfectly he was placed against gorgeous bright colours. I can almost see a quilt growing from those: saffron, orange, magenta, emerald and black. Or maybe not so much of the almost!


It’s certainly more to my taste than Red and Blue just now…