One of our longstanding household Xmas traditions has been to host a ‘waifs & orphans’ gathering on Boxing Day. Various people (not necessarily waifs or orphans) drop in throughout the day, starting mid-morning. Some stay just long enough for a slice of fruitcake and a cuppa, others stay on for lunch, and the late arrivals eat the leftovers. It’s a relaxed sort of day and usually includes random frivolity around the pool, games of boules and whatever else comes to mind. Much low-key fun.

This year, mostly because of my fractured knee, we decided to shift gears and introduce a pre-Xmas gathering instead. The idea was that this’d encourage me to have some (highly desirable) R&R on Boxing Day. In theory at least.

Plans were hatched and we invited a selection of family and might-as-well-be-family to join us for what we called our Inaugural Eggnog Night.

Now, the last time I tried eggnog was many decades ago when my housemate and I found a recipe in a cordon bleu Xmas book I’d been given. Having no idea what to expect, we made a batch… and both thought it was dreadful stuff! The raw egg taste, loosely concealed by the taste of student-affordable rum, was dire in the extreme.

So I guess this does beg the question: Why eggnog?

And the only answer I have is: Eh, why not? It’s the silly-season, after all 🙂

Besides which, every gathering needs a focus – and I’d just found an oddly intriguing recipe for a cooked eggnog. With years more kitchen experience under my belt than in those far-off student days – and better quality rum in stock – it sounded plausible. Since ex-housemate (now sister-in-law*), would be coming along we’d be able to compare notes.

For those who’ve never tried cooked eggnog, it’s essentially a rich egg custard made to a pouring consistency. The rum (or brandy, if you prefer) is added just before serving and there is no raw-egg taste at all. In fact, it’s both very tasty and deliciously rich and creamy – rather like a cream-based liqueur.

The test batch worked well, so I made a veritable vat-o’-nogg for the night. Both it – and the eggnog pie I made with some of it – proved very popular with all, including *SiL. Half the mix was left rum-free for those who’re not that way inclined and they enjoyed it too – which tells me it wasn’t just the better quality rum at work!

I’ll have to experiment with lactose-free milk and cream to see if I can make a batch that works for my lovelies who’re lactose intolerant – but that’s for next time. And yes, there will be a next time. Things are shaping up for Eggnog Night to be the new item on the calendar at Menagerie10 (our place).

If you’d like to make the eggnog and/or the pie, here are the recipes. Let me know how you go and whether you enjoyed them as much as the waifs-orphans-and-others did 🙂

The recipes

1. Cooked Eggnog (this quantity serves 2, but can be scaled up very successfully. I’ve based it on this recipe.)

NOTE: be patient when you make this. Just as with any cooked custard, rushing will do little other than ensure that the mix either curdles or scorches. Just keep the temperature low, stir continuously to ensure even heat distribution and think happy egg-boggy thoughts 🙂

You’ll need: 2 large eggs, 1/4 – 1/3 cup white sugar (depending on how sweet you want it), 2/3 cup full cream milk, 2/3 cup regular whipping cream (NOT thickened cream), ½ tsp vanilla bean paste, about ¼ tsp ground nutmeg. You’ll also need a heavy-based saucepan, whisk, metal spoon, 2 mixing bowls, a metal sieve, and a food/candy thermometer.

  • Break the eggs into the bowl; add the sugar and whisk well. Pour the milk into the saucepan and heat over a low heat to 160F – do NOT boil. Remove from the heat when it gets to 160F.
  • After a quick re-whisking of the egg/sugar mix, SLOWLY pour the hot milk into it. It’s really (really) important to do this slowly and to whisk the mix continuously while you’re doing it – otherwise you’ll end up with little lumps of cooked egg in the mix.
  • Pour the combined mix BACK into your saucepan and return it to the stovetop. Bring it back up to 160F, stirring continuously. This will ensure that your mix doesn’t stick to the edges, or scorch/burn on the bottom of the pan.
  • Bring the mix back up to 71C (160F), stirring continuously to avoid it sticking or burning. Your aim is for the mixture to thicken slightly, to the point where it will coat the back of your spoon. Be patient, as this takes a while, and keep the heat low/medium-low while you continue to move the whisk around the sides and bottom of the pant.
  • Once you’ve reached spoon-coating stage, stir the mix really well and remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
  • Pour the cream and vanilla into a clean mixing bowl and whisk until the cream thickens slightly (use an electric whisk if you have one – it’s much quicker!). Stir in the nutmeg.
  • Stir your still-hot egg mix, THEN slowly pour this into the cream-vanilla mix, whisking lightly to combine as you pour. Now pour the mix through a sieve to strain out any lumpy bits.
  • Refrigerate the eggnog, preferably overnight – or at least for several hours, until cold. Stir in 30- 50ml of rum per cup of eggnog just before serving , depending on preference.

2. Eggnog Pie

This is based on this recipe and is rather like a traditional South African milk tart, but is firmer, less milky and has a delicious ginger crust that makes it even more tasty. It’s also super easy.

The piecrust: 1½ cups ginger biscuit cookie crumbs (the Ikea ginger biscuits work well, but any will do), 1 Tblsp brown sugar, ½ tsp ground ginger, 100g melted butter

  • Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl, then press the mix into the bottom and sides of a pie plate.
  • Bake at 350F / 180C for 10 minutes, then cool completely.

The filling: 1 standard vanilla instant pudding (about 100g), 1½ cups eggnog (you can use the bought stuff, but why not just make some?), 2 cups regular whipping cream.

  • Whip the cream until it’s thick and fluffy, but not too stiff.
  • In another bowl, combine the instant pudding mix and eggnog.
  • Fold the whipped cream into the pudding/eggnog mix and combine well.
  • Spoon this mixture into the (cooled) piecrust.
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.


So many charitable organisations these days want detailed information from donors. This, of course, is so that they can encourage people to become repeat donors, to buy lottery tickets, to sponsor and support – on their terms.

In many cases, however, this ploy often has a negative effect on those self same donors. Many kind and helpful people end up with donor fatigue. We feel taken advantage of or harassed and many of us opt out of donating at all. But the thing is that many of us aren’t necessarily tired of donating or helping. In fact we’d love to.

But how do we help? Where can we give on our own terms, rather than on those imposed on us by one or other organization?

With Christmas on the horizon, I was thinking about all this quite a lot. Then, a few weeks ago, I found out about Manna’s Hampers for the Homeless initiative. It spoke directly to my ongoing concern that not everyone gets to eat every day, even in Australia.

The idea of providing some basic necessities for people in need had enormous appeal. So I put the suggestion out, asking people I know – and people they know – to consider stepping up and helping out, at whatever level they were comfortable with.

And you did.

Donations started to arrive on our doorstep a few days later and soon my study was overflowing with tins of baked beans and tuna, with toothpaste, biscuits, lollies and more. I’ve been both humbled and overwhelmed by the response.

Thank you. Thank you for letting me know how this has impacted on each of you. I agree that the stark contrast to our far more privileged lives is sobering – and the realization that our contributions will make a real difference to people’s lives is indeed heart-warming,

I thought you’d like to know that we surpassed our arbitrarily chosen target for donations by a goodly margin. Between us we gathered 15 complete hampers, as well as some carry-over items. Lolo Caseiro, the Kitchen Manager at Manna, and her son Kai helped me unload the boxes when I delivered them to the depot this morning. They were delighted with everything and assured me that it would all be used. They’ll be distributing 300 hampers to the homeless of Perth close to or on Christmas Day and our contributions will be included.

We did a good thing, folks.


Lolo and Kai at Manna with our hamper contributions.


Have you ever walked past a homeless person, perhaps in an arcade or in a bus station? And have you ever thought something along the lines of how hard their life must be compared to your own? I certainly have.

There is a fine line between living a life inside society and enjoying its privileges, and one lived having fallen through the cracks. Those cracks  must just seem to get deeper and deeper – and finding a way out could rapidly become insurmountably difficult. Or at least seems to be so when living it.

Perhaps it was thoughts like these that got me to start up our Foodbank charity food drive late last year. Since then we’ve generated a steady slow flame of community support, and delivering the accumulated goods to the Foodbank depot regularly every three months. It’s been a tangible way of helping those in need – and a mindful acknowledgment of how much we have by comparison to them.

This quarter we’ve decided to shift our focus slightly. We’ll be supporting the Manna Christmas Hamper for the Homeless project. Manna has been providing food for the homeless since its inception in 1996, when the founders drove past a group of homeless people taking shelter under a tree on a cold and rainy Perth afternoon. The group was still there hours later when they passed by again. So they went home and made them some soup.

From these gentle and kind beginnings grew an organisation that’s continued to gain momentum, providing hot meals and other simple home comforts to the needy and disadvantaged in Perth. The people for whom the cracks are widest.

This year, at a time when we all get together to celebrate family and friendship, to share gifts and food, I thought that perhaps we could all spare a thought – and a few items – to help them out.

So I invite you participate in our Christmas Hamper Food Appeal.

All it takes it to put together one or more hampers for the homeless and needy of Perth. The list that Manna provides is heartbreakingly simple, so much so that it brought me to tears when I read it. The ask is really so very small.

Why not join us in trying to make this a slightly jollier season for others?manna_hampers-for-the-homeless-2016

Please note: We’ll be delivering all hamper donations to the Manna depot at the end of the first week in December.

We’ve been part of a vegie-buying co-op for over 20 years. For much of that time, three of my friends and I would take it in turn to pair up and trudge off to the local wholesale clearance markets on Saturday mornings. To avoid confusion, we devised a roster-system. Each of us went three times in a row, once with each of the others, then swapped over. That sounds more complicated than it actually was – so here’s a table to clarify things:

vegie rosterIt all worked very smoothly , although there were some very clear guidelines we were all expected for follow:

  • No kids
  • No calculators
  • 7am departure – no matter how cold it is!
  • Always take the trolley
  • We don’t go to the markets from mid-December to mid-January (too many people!)
  • Taste the apples before buying!

Even so, it was all pretty straightforward – and the mental gymnastics of remembering what we’d bought, what it all cost, how it all got divvied up, and who owed what was – no doubt – very character building. Oddly enough, despite the pre-7am scurry, the occasional cold, wet and miserable mornings, and lugging heavy boxes of fruit and veg to and from the markets, it was mostly fun. It was (and is) remarkably good value.

One of the more entertaining aspects was one I introduced fairly early on. I’d regularly see some or other vegetable or fruit I’d been meaning to try or that I didn’t recognise. So one day I randomly added one of them to our standard selection of apples/bananas/potatoes/tomatoes, etc. By ‘one’ I do, of course, mean a BOX of whatever it was; this is, after all, a bulk-vegetable clearance market!

Once they got over the shock, they all took to the idea. Soon, the surprise veggie became a feature.  Not every week, but often enough to keep us interested to see whether our veggie box included a vast quantity of some or other unexpected fruit or vegetable. It might be parsnips – or quinces – or eggplant – or kūmara – or kai-lan (Chinese broccoli) – or okra – or pattypan squash… pretty much whatever amused or appealed to the shopper-of-the-week.

Over the years a couple of people dropped out of the group, others joined – then left, until only a couple of market-diehards remain. Since neither of us have children living at home any more, we go far less frequently these days – and instead of going together, we drag our menfolk along to help with the heavy lifting. It’s still worthwhile – and a surprise veggie still shows up periodically.

On my last excursion I paused next to an odd-looking lumpy, purple vegetable, curious as to what it was. I  was immediately approached by several people who also wanted to know. They (wrongly) thought I might be able to tell them, based simply on the fact that I was lurking near the lumpy purple pile. We soon realised nobody had a clue and sent a ‘volunteer’ to ask the vendor. Although he was equally mystified, one of his packers suggested it might be something called kohlrabi.

Fair enough, thought I, and bought some.

By Anita Martinz from Klagenfurt, Austria (turnip cabbage) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It turned out that it was indeed kohlrabi. The internets informed me that it’s a relative of wild cabbage and one of the 150 healthiest foods on Earth. Pretty much every part of the plant (other than the peel) is apparently edible, and preparation methods range from baking to frying, tossing in salads or eating it as a low calorie raw snack.

I sent the leaves and stems off to DaughterDearest for her chooks to turn into eggs, along with a kohlrabi of her very own to experiment with at home.  Some of ours was oven roasted, along with some sweet potato and carrot. Whilst tasty enough, the flavour of the kohlrabi was somewhat overpowered by the other vegies. So I used the rest up in a salad. It was super tasty – crunchy and delicate in flavour, the kohlrabi well complimented by the apple, nuts (I used pecans instead of hazelnuts) and parmesan.

I’ve added the recipe to my make-again database and will make it as an interesting addition to Xmas lunch (if not before).  I wonder what the others made with theirs…

I enjoy baking. Well, cooking, really – but baking perhaps a little more than any other option. This was great when the children were young and had troops of ravenous friends stampeding through the house on a regular basis. Cookies, slices, cakes, scones – they all disappeared in record time, consumed by ever-hungry and surprisingly undiscriminating youngsters. Ours was the house where there was always something tasty to eat.

Sadly, these days everyone seems altogether too grown up and concerned with figure shape and weight to make the most of one of my baking frenzies. So I’ve had to devise a cunning plan: I’m baking a little less often and, when I do, I’m making batches of smaller items. That way we (and guests) can enjoy a small tasty treat with our cuppa, and the rest of the bake-a-thon goes into the freezer for another time.

Mini bakes

Mini banana loaves have been a hit, as have these very tasty peanut cookies. Both freeze really well and taste very yummy as a mid-week treat or emergency teatime offering when people drop by unexpectedly. The nutty muesli squares didn’t make it to the freezer, but did provide mini lunchbox treats for Himself for a couple of weeks 🙂

My next foray into mini-bakes is a variation on a recipe I found in a delightful book called Traditional Teatime Recipes. It’s full of simple yet tasty sounding offerings – many of which are now on my list to try out over the next few weeks.


First off the rank is the orange tea bread. The recipe apparently originated at Moseley Old Hall, in Staffordshire. Whilst that’s vaguely interesting, I’m actually making it (today) because it sounds delicious, we have guests this evening (dessert, anyone…?), and I have a fridge full of oranges from our neighbour’s tree.

Here’s the recipe, in case you’d like to give it a go too.

Orange Tea Bread – adapted from Traditional Teatime Recipes

75g butter, softened

1 cup plain flour

1 cup almond meal

1½ tsp baking powder

1 large egg, beaten

cup caster sugar

2 oranges <juice one, zest both – reserve second orange>

50g walnuts, roughly chopped <I used pecans>

1 – 2 Tblsp extra caster sugar  <reserve this for sprinkling on top of the cake>

FIRST: set your oven to 180C  (350F) and prepare a medium sized loaf tin <or, in my case, 6 mini loaf pans>

THEN: rub butter into flour and baking powder, then stir in the sugar and chopped nuts.  Mix in the egg, then add the juice from one of the oranges and the zest from both of them. Beat the mixture well, then fold in the almond meal.

Spoon mix into the prepared loaf tin / mini loaf pans

NEXT: cut the pith off the outside of the remaining orange. Then, holding it over the tin/s <to catch the juice>, carefully remove the segments. Arrange the orange segments over the top of the cake/s, then sprinkle with the extra caster sugar

FINALLY: bake your loaf in preheated oven for about 45 minutues – or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave the cake/s in the pan/s to cool… if you have the patience. Such yum!

MORE NOTES: the original recipe didn’t include almond meal; it called for 1½ cups of plain flour. It also gave the baking time as 1¼ to 1½ hours.

Orange teacake