My creative space: the countdown is on

She’s making a list, she’s checking it twice… only, she’s not. Dear readers, it is A MONTH until Christmas and I have done nothing. Nada. Zilch. I’ve never been this unprepared before. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m probably this unprepared every year. And, actually, as long as there are a few presents under the tree and something reasonably festive to eat, I am coming to realise that the sky is not going to fall on my head if we don’t have a Martha Stewart Christmas. (That doesn’t stop me wanting one just a little bit, but I’m trying to be realistic.)

In the meantime, I’m planning to at least get my Christmas cake underway in the next week and spend far too much time than is necessary looking at lovely blogs and books full of festive inspiration.
Top of my list is Meg’s inspiring holiday list, not least because she is “making (and doing) much less this year” and that seems like a good place to start. But I’m definitely hoping to attempt making my own panettone after reading Michele’s post (and drooling over the photos of her finished product) – though I might follow Victoria’s lead and make them in individual tins (recycling is very chic, don’t you know!). I’ve loved Hannah’s week of inexpensive festive food gift ideas too. As for presents, well, I could show you some of the things that I’m sneakily planning, but that would be giving the game away. But Melissa has lots of lovely things here and I’m sure there are lots of other clever creative elves working on things here.

How are your Christmas plans coming along? And please spare a thought for the friends and families of the Pike River coalminers on New Zealand’s West Coast, who yesterday learned that there will be no Christmas miracle and their partners, fathers, brothers, sons and mates will not be coming home. My heart goes out to you all.

Soothing balm

Is it just me or is everyone in need of a little bit of time out at the moment? I mean, it’s not even December yet and most people seem to be hitting their pre-Christmas meltdown already.

Before you reach for the gin, sit down and take a deep breath (remember to let it go afterwards). Then put the kettle on and brew yourself a cup of soothing lemon balm tea.

The calming properties of lemon balm (melissa officinalis) have been recognised since the Middle Ages. Lemon balm is a member of the mint family (and grows just as voraciously). Its leaves have an intense lemony scent that is both reviving and soothing. Our new house has a tiny bush of it growing in the tangled weeds edging the vegetable patch, but I know it won’t be long before it becomes a thriving monster.

To make lemon balm tea, I just shove a few handfuls of leaves and stems in a teapot and add freshly boiled water, then let it steep for a while. If that sounds too wholesome, Choclette has a recipe for lemon balm ganache which sounds like heaven. After all, lemon balm may help you calm down, but nothing is quite as soothing as chocolate.

My creative space…

Occasionally the KitchenMaid steps out of her usual realm and into other domains. This week I’ve gone back to working in an office with other, real life people, for two days a week. This has had its ups and its downs, as I’m sure you can imagine. The ups – leaving the house alone, wearing nice(ish) clothes, having uninterrupted conversations with adults who see me as something other than a mother. The downs – having a bit of separation anxiety, worrying if I have done the right thing, being suddenly answerable to a real life boss. The even further downs of this week – getting home last night to find the gas company had cut the supply, thus no hot water and no way of cooking the Small Girl’s dinner (hello, Marmite sandwiches!), realising that those bites we are all studded with are, in fact, fleas (thank you, landlord’s cat!)

On a brighter note, the weekends we spent digging up a strip of our tiny backyard are paying off, with little lettuces and basil beginning to sprout.

The garden has been a bit of a joint creative space in recent weeks – now we just need some good weather to enjoy it. What’s happening at your place this week? You can see more creative spaces here. In the meantime, anyone know a child-friendly way to kill fleas?

Sweet sweet Friday: Superfruity Halloween Muffins

I’ve been haunting every green grocer and supermarket in our neighbourhood this week, looking for a Halloween pumpkin. But Cinderella’s fairy godmother must have been around and turned them all into carriages because there were none to be found (plus, of course, it’s spring here and pumpkins aren’t exactly in season).

The main reason I wanted a pumpkin – apart from the Halloween connection – was to make Aine’s Vegan Pumpkin & Poppy Seed Muffins. Aine is an actress and dedicated vegan and she has a lovely and inspiring blog, PeaSoupEats. You should check it out, even if your idea of veganism is choosing chicken instead of steak.

Anyway, with no pumpkins to be found I thought laterally and went for the next best thing – carrots (well, they’re orange, at least). I fiddled around with Aine’s recipe and this is what I came up with. The trick with these is that they look like a treat but they’re full of stuff that’s good for you (and the little horrors in your life). Hope you have a sweet sweet Friday and a Happy Halloween.

Superfruity Halloween Muffins
The stewed apple replaces oil in this recipe (thanks for the tip Aine!) and I found date syrup in my local ethnic warehouse. You could use golden or maple syrup, but once you’ve tried date syrup you won’t go back!

1 3/4 cups white flour

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
1 1/2 tsp cinammon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dates, roughly chopped
2 carrots
1 small overripe banana
3/4 cup low fat milk
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup stewed apple (or applesauce, or apple puree, or whatever else you call it)
1/4 cup date syrup
1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses

Preheat the oven to 200C and prepare your muffin tins. There is no oil in this recipe so it pays to grease the tins well or use paper or silicone liners.
Peel the carrots and slice into coins, then cook in boiling water until soft and mashable. Mash to a puree and let cool. This should yield about 3/4 of a cup. Make it up to one cup with mashed banana (you may not need all the banana).
Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, then stir in the nuts and dates.
Pour the milk and vinegar into a large jug and let it sit for five minutes to curdle and thicken. Add the other ‘wet’ ingredients (stewed apple, date syrup, molasses) and stir gently.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and fold together gently. DON’T beat it or your muffins will be Halloween horrors.
Dollop into muffin tins (I made a dozen mini and six full-size ones) and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are springy and pass the clean skewer test. Dust with icing sugar and serve with pride.

Pea Souper

I’m sorry to be a weather bore, but really, there is little else in my life at present. (Well, apart from writing and packing and trying to see people and remember errands and wrangling wet washing and convincing the Small Girl that she doesn’t need Hop On Pop read to her for the tenth time in 20 minutes. But I digress.)

I know it’s very Anglo-Saxon to discuss atmospheric conditions but I just can’t help it. The wind! The rain! The brief bursts of sunshine that make me think it might be ok to hang the washing out or go for a walk, only to get drenched or tossed about like an autumn leaf.

On the upside, it’s perfect weather for soup – and I have just the thing. It might look a bit sludgy in the photo but it’s full of robust, earthy flavours thanks to some good old-fashioned ingredients – bacon bones, split peas, a handful of parsley and some (frozen) pea puree stirred in at the end to make it a little less khaki. It’s almost worth the weather. Almost.

This recipe can be adapted to suit your fridge or garden, but the split peas and bacon bones are essential.
Take your biggest pot (or borrow one from next door) and set it on the stove. Add 2 cups split peas, 2 large onions, finely chopped, a stick or two of celery, de-strung and finely chopped, 2 carrots, peeled and diced, 500g bacon bones (or a small ham hock), 3 litres of cold water and a bay leaf.
Bring to a simmer, skim off any scum that floats to the top, and simmer gently for about one and a half hours until the peas are soft. Add a cup or two of frozen peas and cook for five minutes more. Let it cool a little, then remove the bones and bay leaf (pouring it through a coarse sieve is the easiest way to do this and will protect you from the terrible fate of putting a bacon bone through the blender).
Puree, then return to the pot and reheat to serve.
Makes lots – freeze some for your next rainy day.