Saturday baking

By Vita Forest.

IMG_2521 A snippet of the recipe in my Mum’s handwriting

Last weekend I did some cooking.  Not just the usual quick meal assembled fast at the end of a long day, but leisurely weekend baking.  I was heading to Saskia’s place for the afternoon and thought I’d take a cake.  Now as my children will tell you, recipes that require sugar are rarely chosen by their mother and are therefore a cause for celebration.

Which is exactly what sugar should be reserved for.

I perused my pantry and cookbook for a suitable recipe.  My cookbook was a gift from over twenty years ago.  It has a hard cover and colour-coded pages with a different pastel shade for Entrees, Meat and Poultry, Vegetables and Salads and Desserts, Cakes and Biscuits.  It has been filled with handwritten entries, emails, cuttings from newspapers and sheets of paper begged from others to copy a just-tasted recipe while visiting.  It contains a multitude of handwriting samples and the most popular pages are splattered with samples of the recipes themselves.  I leafed through the book, flicking over tantalising headings that were first attempted during my childhood, my mother’s and even my grandmother’s.  Jam drops, Self-saucing Butterscotch pudding, cupcakes.  It really did evoke memories of times past (although there were no recipes for Proust’s Madeleines…)

Due to the low levels of sugar in my pantry, I settled on a Dutch Almond Cake recipe courtesy of my mother.  (Don’t be fooled – it still required white sugar AND brown sugar AND golden syrup).  I spent a happy half hour measuring teaspoons of cinnamon, cloves and ginger and watching glossy ribbons of syrup fold over and over themselves, before dissolving into a golden lake at the bottom of a mixing bowl.  The whole procedure became an exercise in mindfulness – grinding the flour and spices through a strainer/come sifter (most of my utensils do at least double duty), listening to the clink of almonds as they toppled into a cup, stirring and stirring and stirring the golden syrup until its sluggish thickness was absorbed into a tawny milk mixture.

For forty five minutes, the apartment filled with the scents of wafting spices, my cats padding into the kitchen to peer in wonder at the show taking place inside the oven.  What was going on in there?  What was that smell?  Their noses twitched as they peered inside the illuminated heated box.

The cake rose and split with a couple of fault lines, then rose some more.  When it was ready, I ran a knife around the tin before upending the cake between two racks.  The tin was gingerly lifted off, the baking paper peeled away, then the cake was flipped over again and set upright to cool beneath a netting canopy (to ward off curious felines).

Later that afternoon, we sat on Saskia’s balcony and savoured buttered slices of Dutch Almond cake with steaming mugs of tea.

Life is good.

Winter picnic

By Vita Forest


Today we had a winter picnic.

The place: Wendy Whiteley’s garden, Lavender Bay.

The Participants: Sui Sui and Allesandro, Saskia and Laura, Lucy and I.

And Rowdy the 5th (dog explorer).

The food: Baba ganoush, cauliflower and hummus dips with breads and vegies

Mini quiches with bacon and parmesan, caramelised onion and cherry tomatoes, pumpkin and fetta.

A crisp crunchy salad with celery and apple.

Homemade cupcakes with raspberry icing and Florentines.

Tea applied generously from two thermoses.

Though the forecast insisted on rain, the winter sun shone brightly, warming our backs as we lounged on the picnic rugs. Rowdy explored the circle allowed by his lead attached to a metal stake driven into the ground. We sat above the garden on a flat stretch of lawn, watching the boats drift by below, and hearing the occasional screams from Luna Park.

We talked books, travel and movies. Laura and Lucy cartwheeled around us. Rowdy barked at dogs moseying by, until an unleashed poodle caused so much excitement, he tore his stake from the ground and raced after it. The girls chased Rowdy up and down the grass, as the poodle’s owner tried unsuccessfully to retrieve a foil cupcake case it had swiped.

Sui Sui made tea, adding milk from a small china jug wrapped in cling wrap that had travelled there inside a lunch box. Laura did a handstand against her Mum’s back, then she and Lucy did them either side of the thick rough trunk of a palm tree.

We swapped and returned books. Bibliophiles all. We planned future reading, we rated recent movies, we laughed. We packed up the picnic and descended into the garden, exploring the narrow paths winding back and forth along the terraces on the hill, holding onto curving balustrades made from fallen branches and climbing steep steps of stone.   We crushed spears of lavender between our fingers. We ran our hands over smooth tree trunks, and a polished granite bust that Laura thought might be useful for practising kissing.

The girls wanted a game of Hide and seek. We chatted for a count of fifty then set off along the paths. Laura was discovered but where was Lucy? We called and called, crisscrossing up and down. I imagined her laughing at us, stealthily sneaking along behind the squawking adults.

“Lucy! Lucy!”

Eventually she was found on the far edge of the garden, having discovered a vegetable plot, containing some plants with usefully large leaves. As we left the garden, Saskia looked up and saw the creator on her balcony.

“Thank you Wendy!” she called.

Wendy waved back.

We walked through the tunnel to the bay. Rowdy raced up and down, the girls disappeared up a fig tree. We stood by the water and talked jazz and road trips and Allesandro’s special diner in Bowral.

Next time, we think we’ll bring some wine.

Apartment, sweet apartment

 By Vita Forest


Last year’s veggie garden

I once read a statement from a would-be local politician, that people didn’t want to live in apartments. These “people who live in apartments” were really “people who wanted to live in houses” who just weren’t able to yet. My children and I were a little bit amused and a little bit outraged by this idea.

Circumstances mean that I (and every second week, my children) live in an apartment. But I’m not sure that if I had the choice, I would change this. This is what I like about it:

  • Less cleaning. Yes we only have one bathroom. But I only have to clean one bathroom…
  • Every space is meaningful. We use our space, there is no room that we never enter, no corner that doesn’t serve a purpose.
  • More contact with our neighbours. Perhaps you live in an area where you know all your neighbours. When I lived in a house, this was certainly not the case. People tended to drive in and out, often to a garage encased in the house that was opened by pressing a button. There was not much opportunity to engage. But in my apartment block, I chat to the neighbours on the way to the laundry, on the way to the letter box, as I water my plants. It feels friendly without being invasive. My kids are thrilled that they can gather a gang of friends without having to leave the building.
  • Sense of connection. Even when I am here by myself, I can see people, hear people. There is something comforting about observing the lady across the driveway feeding the lorikeets on her balcony, hearing a child practising piano next door or listening to a toddler sing as he splashes in the bath.
  • Affordability. I can live in an area that I certainly could not afford to if I were in a house. I am close to my family, close to the city, close to my work, and close to a train line.
  • Less maintenance. I no longer have to remember what day to put the garbage bins out. Someone else does that for me. I do not have to spend my weekends mowing lawns, fixing gutters, sweeping paths. I have got back some of that most valuable resource – time.

So having been A Person who lived in a House, and now having become A Person who lives in an Apartment, I would say to that politician that there are some of us who actually prefer living this way.

You might be interested to know that the politician did not get elected…