“Guess what, Mum?” says the six-year-old, standing beside the bed at 6.30am with a book, a frisbee and a teddy. “It’s only six weeks until Christmas!”

I’m afraid she’s right, but I’m trying not to think about it. Instead, I’m going to focus on the nice things about November. If I concentrate hard, time will go slower, right?

I wanted to hate this book, I really did. I mean, it’s hard to love a cookbook – or indeed, any book – when the first pages are filled with young, bronzed people in their swimmers. But, all bias aside, it’s actually fantastic.

On the face of it, Bondi Harvest sounds like a PR dream. It’s the brainchild of two Bondi-based surfing mates, one of whom is a chef, the other a photographer and film maker, who decided to collaborate on some Youtube cooking videos, then a book. What makes you forgive the surfing palaver and the shots of people in bikinis is that the recipes are lovely, with a focus on fresh ingredients and gutsy flavours. I’m probably never going to frolic on the sands of Bondi while wearing a tiny bikini and drinking a green smoothie, but I am looking forward to making some of Guy Turland’s recipes.

Lots of people I know are still being struck down by unseasonal colds and other miseries – which makes Mother Earth’s new UMF Manuka Honey seem like a gift from the gods. Not all manuka honeys are created equal (and some are about as manuka’d as I am), but this one has been certified by the industry-supported Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association. The Mother Earth honeys come in two UMF strengths, UMF 5+ and UMF 10+, with the higher number indicating a higher degree of purity and quality. Importantly, they taste amazing, with those rich, earthy flavours associated with manuka honeys. Mother Earth’s UMF Manuka Honeys start from $17.99 for 250g. 

As a proud Good Bitch (and baker), I’m very excited to reveal the gorgeous products the Head Bitches have created to raise funds. There’s a pair of teatowels (one of which features a top-secret ginger crunch recipe) and a gorgeous calendar, plus you can still get your hands on one of the exclusive ‘Baking Bad’ t-shirts from earlier in the year. All these things have got Christmas giving written all over them. Go on, buy a set!

Speaking of charity, if you’re wanting to do your bit for Movember but can’t find it in you to grow a mo’ you can always grab my neighbour’s balls. Go on, he’d love you to grab a pair.

These salted caramel balls are insanely addictive, all-natural, and a not-for-profit fundraising venture dreamed up by my neighbour (of Wellington-based food company Go Native) to raise funds for Movember. They’re $2.99 a pack, and a dollar from each one sold goes to men’s health initiatives.

Last but by no means least, I’m very flattered to be in the running for Best Kids’ Food Blog in the 2015 Munch Food Awards. You can vote in this category – as well as name and shame the worst kids’ foods – here.

Have a great weekend everyone x

At this stage in proceedings – with less than 36 hours to go until C-Day – there’s not much point in sharing complicated Christmas recipes that involve harried phone calls to the butcher, baker or chocolate candlestick maker. If you’re the sort of person who likes adding culinary stress to your festive preparations, I figure you will have planned it out already.

Instead, here are five fast and easy fixes for the person who has everything except ideas for last-minute things to eat and to give over Christmas, using some of the excellent products available via Alison’s Pantry.

1. The emergency present

I’ve already tried this one out and it went down an absolute treat. Scoop a handful of Alison’s Pantry Mega Mix – macadamias, hazelnuts, dried cherries, jumbo raisins, fudge pieces, cranberries and almonds covered in yoghurt, milk or dark chocolate – into a cellophane bag. Add a sprinkle of edible glitter, tie on a ribbon and label ‘Reindeer Poo’. Kids love it, adults look mildly appalled (until they hit a choc-covered macadamia).

2.The spruced-up salad

This is for everyone who has to turn up with a salad on Christmas Day – or at any festive gathering – especially those who are low on energy, inspiration, aptitude or all three.

For six servings: Take one and a half bags of baby salad greens – baby spinach, rocket, mesclun – and sprinkle over two-thirds of a cup of Alison’s Pantry Savoury Sprinkle (a blend of roasted chickpeas, karengo, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds and goji berries. Drizzle with three tablespoons of vinaigrette and serve. Everyone will think you’re a genius.

3. The tropical breakfast

In lieu of any other suggestions (or requests dressed as suggestions), this is what we are having as part of our breakfast spread on Christmas Day, along with some fizz (elderflower kombucha and some champagne) and some kind of yet-to-be-determined baked good. Someone will have brought me a cup of tea in bed first, of course. Or, they will have if they know what’s good for them. Anyway – this easy fruit salad is a good fallback if you miss out on berries and cherries.

For four-six servings: Take one cup of Alison’s Pantry Tropical Fruits mix (dried star fruit, coconut chunks, papaya, mango, peach and cantaloupe) and put in a large bowl. Add 1/3 cup boiling water and squeeze over an orange. Leave to stand for four hours (or overnight), then add a tin of drained lychees, half a fresh pineapple (diced) and a few finely shredded mint leaves. Stir gently and serve with some good Greek yoghurt or whipped coconut cream

4. The Santa snack

I have heard that Santa wants a Garage Project beer and some crisps on Wednesday night but I’m planning to leave him a pile of Alison’s Pantry Raspberry and Cacao Nougat and a glass of icy cold dessert wine. This nougat is soft, chewy and not too sweet – just the right pick-me-up after a night wrapping presents.

5. The cook’s perk

The thing about cooking at Christmas is that the house is often full of food, but there’s nothing to eat Right Now. Let me introduce you to my new addiction – Alison’s Pantry Horopito Cashews. I’m not a savoury snack person as a rule; crisps don’t thrill me and I’m not a fan of those orange-dusted polystyrene things either, but these nuts are something else. Horopito, also called bush pepper, is a native New Zealand herb with a fiery kick. It has all sorts of health-giving properties, which must explain why I can’t get enough of these nuts. Buy yourself a secret stash of these to help keep you going in the days ahead.

* Disclosure: Alison’s Pantry sent me a selection of products to use in this blog post – I am happy to recommend the ones mentioned here.

It’s about this time of year that I start to feel slightly panicked and wish I could run away to some kind of closed community where they don’t celebrate Christmas, or have jobs, or blogs or Things To Worry About. Do you feel like that too?

The internet is the worst place to be if you’re in that kind of mood, because CHRISTMAS is around every turn. Don’t, whatever you do, venture on to Pinterest, or you’ll fall into a deep depression at the realisation that you’ve failed dismally as a mother/partner/sibling/friend/member of society because you haven’t planned your themed decorations, hand-stitched jaunty bunting or made 20 sets of Frozen-themed figurines of every kid in your child’s class from air-dried clay. And you’ve still got to bake for the school gala, sort your invoices, locate the spare car key and send your dear friend her birthday present, now three months overdue (sorry Claire!). 

Fear not, friends, because I have a remedy to lift you to a higher place. It’s chocolate chilli syrup – and if pouring it over cake or ice cream doesn’t cheer you up, then adding it to a martini certainly will. Here’s how.

Chocolate-Chilli-Syrup-Recipe

Chocolate chilli syrup

If you’re stuck for easy DIY Christmas gifts, this should go on the list. It takes minutes, doesn’t cost much and is extremely simple. It’s my offering for this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, hosted by the lovely Shaheen of Allotment2Kitchen. No surprises in guessing this month’s guest ingredient – it’s chilli.

1 cup water

1 cup caster sugar

3 Tbsp good quality cocoa powder

1 tsp chilli flakes

Stir the sugar and cocoa together in a small pot, then add the water and mix well. Bring to the boil and let simmer for five minutes, then remove from heat. Stir in the chilli and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine sieve into a jar or bottle and cover tightly. Store in the fridge.

Choc-Chilli-Martini-Easy-Recipe

Chocolate chilli martini

Martini purists, look away now – this is very much my desperate housewife interpretation.

60ml ice cold vodka

30ml vermouth

30ml chilli chocolate syrup

ice

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker (confession: I use a jam jar) and shake well. Strain into a martini glass (or two, if you’re generous).

 

If you are an organised person, you are probably sitting around shelling peas, roasting chesnuts on an open fire or performing some other seasonally appropriate cliched Christmas task. If you are not an organised person, you might be still at work, still asleep or still stuck in a line of traffic or angry shoppers.

If you fall somewhere in the middle, this post is for you. I thought I was an organised person, but then last week I was struck down by an evil virus (I’ll spare you the details) that made juggling parenting, work and the onset of Christmas near impossible. If it wasn’t for the miracle of online shopping and the fact that we are not hosting a Christmas feast (though I am cooking most of it), I think I would have cancelled the whole thing.

Now mostly recovered – and most importantly, with a mostly recovered child and a husband who is being force-fed vitamin tablets so he doesn’t succumb to whatever we had – I am actually looking forward to The Big Day. Sure, I have to cook a turkey and a chocolate roulade and a panettone and introduce some salads to a family who looks suspiciously at any vegetable that isn’t a deep-fried potato, but that’s all doable. Even more doable is this incredibly easy fudge, which doesn’t require any boiling or beating and can be made in an instant. If you are leaving all your Christmas shopping until the lastest of last minutes, don’t put yourself through it. Just make a double batch of this stuff and you’ll be regarded as a bona fide Christmas miracle.

Chocolate Almond Fudge
This recipe came to me from Tiny Happy, a blog so beautiful and serene that setting aside five minutes to read it is like giving yourself a little Christmas present every day. You can see Melissa’s most recent post about the fudge here. Here’s how I made it – with my time-honoured trick of using the oven as a chocolate melting device, because everyone’s oven is on at this time of year, isn’t it?

400g good quality dark chocolate (eg 200g Whittaker’s 50 per cent and 200g Whittaker’s 72 per cent chocolate, broken into pieces
1 400g tin of condensed milk
150g roasted salted almonds (or other nuts of your choice, or tangy dried fruit)

Melt the chocolate and condensed milk together – my favourite way to do this is to put it in a large heatproof bowl in a low oven (about 150C) for about 10 minutes. You could also do this in a double-boiler, or in a microwave, but the oven method is low stress and energy-efficient (if the oven has been on for something else, obviously). While this is happening, line a brownie pan or similar (about 30 x 20cm) with baking paper. Scatter half the nuts on the bottom of the tin.
As soon as the chocolate has melted, or nearly melted, take it out of the oven/double boiler and stir well until it’s well mixed. Pour this mixture into the prepared tin and press the remaining nuts on top.
Put it in the fridge to set – this will happen very quickly – then slice into small squares or bars. If you’re giving it away, make sure to tell the recipients to store it in the fridge. If you’re keeping it for yourself, retire to the sofa with the tin and a copy of Love, Actually or another Christmas weepie. You deserve it.

Merry Christmas! x

This week, in between re-telling the story of the nativity (“but Mum, why was the baby Jesus a boy? Can he be a girl!”), I have been reading The Man Whose Mother Was A Pirate. In case you’re not familiar with this Margaret Mahy classic, it tells the story of a buttoned-down chap who is enticed away from his dull, everyday life by his sea-faring mother. It’s such a good read. Put it on your Christmas present list. I wouldn’t say the same for another book that was on high rotate here a couple of weeks ago – a flimsy yarn that saw the hapless Captain Pugwash in a standoff with a bunch of pirates over some chocolate smuggling. If your child makes a beeline for this at an op shop, point them in another direction.

Anyway, thinking about pirates and mulling over the December We Should Cocoa challenge, in which Choclette has sensibly chosen alcohol as the key ingredient, led to this ice cream. It’s not so alcohol-soaked that one scoop will send you off into paroxysms of piratical rumbustification, but I’d advise against giving it to children (even if their mothers are pirates).

Easy Rum And Raisin Ice Cream

Rum and raisin ice cream
No need for a fancy machine to make this ice cream – why, you could even make it in the galley of a galleon (as long as it had a freezer). If you’re not a fan of traditional Christmas puddings, this is a great do-ahead dessert. Freeze it in a large lined loaf tin (or even a cake tin), then serve slices with little tots of rum and chocolate sauce. If you are a fan of proper Christmas pudding – or even Christmas mince pies – then a dollop of this on top is a delectable alternative to brandy butter.

1/4 cup dark, smoky rum
1/2 cup raisins
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
500ml cream
70g dark chocolate, roughly chopped into pieces no bigger than a raisin

At least two hours before you’re ready to make the ice cream (and therefore at least eight hours before you want to eat it), put the raisins and rum in a small bowl. Cover and set aside.
When you’re ready to make it, beat the egg yolks, egg and sugar until pale and thick. Use electric beaters unless you have the arms of a sailor.
Drain the rum into the egg mixture (reserving the raisins), then add the golden syrup and beat again. Pour in the cream and beat until soft peaks form. Scatter over the raisins and chocolate and fold in. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for about six hours before eating. Makes about 1.3 litres.

Have a wonderful weekend, me hearties x