Monday, 23 December 2013

The Rocky Road to Christmas

I am writing this post under protest. I am not sure who I am protesting but here I am typing away under sufferance. You see I had finished this post about Rocky Road a week ago but in the rush of attempting to do a million things at once I must have not saved it. So here I am a week later with a little window of time to make the finishing touches to it so I can satisfyingly/apprehensively click the “Publish” button only to discover I can’t find the document- anywhere!
This is the fourth day of our Christmas trip away to visit my family and who knows whether it’s a combination of the change of weather, change of time zone or change of environment but Master Q and Miss M have decided they won’t sleep. They are Not.Having.It.
They have been taking it in turns to wake at the ungodly hour of 4.30am and refusing to go back to sleep and so Husband, my Mum and I have been taking it in turns to get up with which ever little misfit has decided that this is an appropriate time to start the day. I shouldn’t be so infuriated because if we were at home there wouldn’t be two extra adults to lend a helping hand and give us a break but I am still annoyed. I let it slide the first few nights but this morning I had had enough. And so when I dragged myself and my computer outside to finish this post only to find I would have to write it all again I felt like bursting into tears. Totally ridiculous reaction I know, but these are the kind of things that push you over the edge when you are tired and worn out, aren't they? You are exhausted, struggling to put one foot in front of the other and attempting to take some time out to do something for yourself and WHAMO! It feels like the universe is punishing you for wanting to do something purely for your own happiness! I’m sure the ‘universe’ is playing its really little violin at the moment and yelling at me to “Swallow some concrete and harden up!”, but still it’s an emotional ‘rocky road’ (pun intended!) being a Mum and I’m not going to apologise for losing it over something so trivial but I will move on…
Rocky Road. I have been making this little gem for friends and family for Christmas for the last few years and even though I am on the sugar-free band wagon I couldn’t deprive my loved ones of these little treats, could I? I will confess I did have some little tastes during the process of making these but it was all in the name of quality control!
According to the font of all knowledge ‘Wikipedia’, “Rocky Road was invented in Australia in 1853 as a way of on-selling confectionery spoiled by the long journey from Europe. Gold miners in towns outside of Melbourne, such as Ballarat, were wealthy but uncultured. Unscrupulous businessmen took advantage of these men, mixing the spoiled confectionery with low quality chocolate and other 'filler' ingredients, such as locally foraged nuts. The name Rocky Road is derived from the 'Rocky Road' travelers had to take to get to the gold fields”. Now I am not sure as to the veracity of this story but I did enjoy this little tale!
My Rocky Road contains four ingredients; chocolate, marshmallows, peanuts and coconut. My version definitely does not contain glace cherries or Turkish delight, these two ingredients are at the top of my ‘most disliked’ ingredients list. Rocky Road is one of the simplest gifts you can make for Christmas but for me there are a number of things which make my rocky road a crowd pleaser. I use a combination of dark and milk chocolate, I use unsalted roasted peanuts and I always use Pascall Marshmallows (this is not a sponsored post, I just love them!). In my twenties I had been known to scour convenience stores and petrol station shops in search of the illusive Pascall all-White Marshmallow packet this is how much I LOVED THEM! When making Rocky Road however I relent and use both the pink and white marshmallows, it makes them look a lot more delightful.

Every year I do vow that I will find a way to wrap them in a much more ‘modern/edgy’ looking way but in the rush of Christmas I always fall back to clear cellophane and curling ribbon – 80’s Style! I think it suits the kitsch-ness of Rocky Road anyway.

To counteract the sugar-filled Rocky Road I decided to attempt some sugar-free truffles as gifts this year. I trialed two truffle recipes from Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar; a chocolate orange truffle and a coconut truffle. The ingredient combination of the chocolate orange truffle tasted great but no matter what I did I could not form them into anything resembling a truffle so I abandoned this one. The coconut truffle (you can find the recipe here) was also a little difficult to form into a ball and I felt like Goldilocks either finding the mixture either ‘too hard’ or ‘too soft’ to work with but I eventually rolled them into truffle-like formations and covered them in shredded coconut. They are of course nowhere near as sweet as the Rocky Road and are very ‘coconut-ty’ but I think the pure white, snow-like look of them are a great contrast to the jagged, gnarly look of the Rocky Road.

Make a batch or two of the Rocky Road and take them along to your Christmas day celebrations, they are an easy last-minute treat and sure to be a crowd-pleaser!

Nicole’s Rocky Road


(Yields approx 24-36 pieces)
1 x 250 grams good quality milk chocolate
1 x 250 grams good quality dark chocolate
½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts
½ cup dessicated coconut
1 x 250 gram packet Pascall marshmallows

1.Line a plastic slice container or slice tin with greaseproof paper making sure the paper extends over the sides
2.Cut the marshmallows into quarters using kitchen scissors or a knife and place into a bowl along with the coconut and peanuts
3.Break chocolate into glass bowl
4.Place the glass bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water, ensuring the water doesn’t touch the bowl (you can also melt the chocolate in the microwave in 20 second intervals but be careful as it easily seizes in the microwave) and stir until chocolate is melted
5.Once melted quickly combine the chocolate with the other ingredients
6.Pour mixture into the tin/container spreading to edges (if you like it thicker just spread it to half of the tin)
7.Place in fridge to set for approx 2 hours
8.Once set lift paper out of tin and cut into pieces

What is your signature Christmas treat?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

It's not you, it's me

I’m scared. Alright I’ve said it. It’s out there. I am in the midst of one of those ‘life changing’ moments and I am worried I am about to make the wrong decision. You know the ones, they disturb your sleep and follow you around all day like a dark cloud looming ominously overhead. Your head spins like a tornado as you lament over the possibilities.
Ok, enough with the weather metaphors, what are you on about?  
Well let me explain…
For 14 years I have defined myself by my job. The one where you get paid, not my recent unpaid position as Mum, housework doer (I hate the terms housewife and homemaker) and general dogsbody. Without being specific (bear with me but for a number of reasons I can’t actually state my job title) my job was at one stage my dream career. I went to uni specifically to do this and it has been a huge part of my life for the last 14 years (minus 2 years of maternity leave and one of unpaid leave – so really 11 years!). Unfortunately though like I am sure many others before me have experienced my dream job has not turned out as I had hoped. So now on my second period of extended maternity leave I find myself at a crossroads. Grateful that I have a choice, but nonetheless a difficult one.
Come to think about it my career is a lot like a bad relationship.
When you think about breaking up with him you list all the things wrong with the relationship. How he has changed you, made you more cynical, more negative, more untrusting, how he has basically sucked the life out of you and you are worried you will never love again. You are angry and hurt and betrayed. You let yourself be open to him as a young 21 year old and you wonder what kind of person you would be now if it wasn’t for his influence over you. But time passes. You reflect on it again and you realise he probably wasn’t to blame.
You knew what he was like when you met and although things were good at the start you knew a few years in it just wasn’t working. You took time off, took a break from the relationship hoping to find some answers. You came back refreshed but without the resolve and enthusiasm you hoped you would have and instead of making a difficult decision you decided to go back to the familiar. You pushed through the next five years, you hoped things would change and there were good times, but overall your heart wasn’t in it. After all these years together you feel like this bond is a part of who you are, how people define you and in a strange way you like this. You like the way the outside world sees you when you are together and sometimes through other people’s eyes you get a glimpse of how you wish it would be. But it’s fleeting and not the true state of your relationship.
So it’s time. Time to cut the cord. You have different priorities now and you have to let go of the ‘you’ that was. In a lot of ways it was only a fa├žade anyway. That doesn’t mean this isn’t going to be tough. There will be times when your world gets quiet that you will mourn this loss, that thing that defined you is no longer there now. There will be moments when this realisation brings tears and a sense of regret. You will be without a net now, no comfort zone to fall back into. But with time you will find out who the new ‘you’ is, she will be able to believe that there is more good in people than bad. That dreams are possible and that you really do have a life to be grateful for. When the wounds have healed and the ‘you’ that was lurking deep down comes to the surface someone will ask you “What do you do?” and you will stand tall, chest puffed out and say “I am a Stay at Home Mum, sometime blogger, creative wannabe and believer that anything is possible”.
So this is end.* We’ve had some great times over the years, but it’s just not working.
And if anyone asks you why? All you need to tell them is, “It wasn’t you, it was me”.
*It is possible that I will change my mind about this decision…this is how I feel today, who knows what tomorrow’s machinations will bring!
Have you struggled with making a decision about your career after kids? Would love to hear your stories.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Almond Meal Cupcakes with Soy Milk Powder Icing (Sugar Free)

If you live within a 50km radius of my kitchen you would have heard me yelling, “I hate this damn oven!” on Saturday afternoon (that is the G rated version!) while I attempted to bake these cupcakes. My oven seems to get hotter and more uneven each time I bake. So I was certainly a tad annoyed (to say the least!) when half of my batch of Almond Meal Cupcakes were a little over cooked. To be honest they were really just a vehicle for another trial of Sugar Free Icing/Frosting and were edible so I suppose I shouldn’t be too angry.

Even though the cupcake recipe contains almond meal it isn’t gluten free (but could be easily made this way by using gluten free flour) and just to be tricky again the icing isn’t dairy free either even though I used soy milk powder to make it. But it is as usual sugar-free!

The almond meal cupcake recipe is adapted from a recipe. The icing as I mentioned is another attempt at creating a great sugar-free frosting that could easily replace sugar-filled traditional buttercream icing (which for me is the holy grail of sugar free baking!).
This version gets close, the texture is great and it doesn’t use any white sugar substitutes which is what I am aiming for, but with the main ingredient being soy milk powder it does have a nutty taste. Husband thinks I should call it Peanut icing but soy users will know that the nutty taste that comes with soy products is distinctly soy and not peanut tasting. They still tasted great and were extremely filling! So without further ado, here is the recipe.

Almond Meal Cupcakes

125g butter, softened
½ cup stevia powder (I used Natvia)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup almond meal
1 1/3 cups plain flour
2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius (160 fan forced)
Line a 12 hole cupcake tin (this recipe can yield up to 15 cupcakes)

1.Cream softened butter in electric mixer, add stevia powder and cream until light and fluffy
2. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined
3. Add vanilla extract and combine
4. In a separate bowl combine almond meal, plain flour and baking powder and whisk to combine
5. Add meal/flour mixture and milk alternatively to mixer until just combined
6. Spoon batter into cupcake tin and smooth top
7. Bake for 15 mins or until skewer comes out clean
8. Turn onto wire rack to cool
9. Once cool ice with soy milk icing
Soy Milk Powder Icing

2 tbsp softened butter
1/3 cup rice malt syrup
½ cup soy milk powder (can be found at health food shops)
2 tbsp cream
2 tsp vanilla extract

1.Add butter and rice malt syrup to bowl and beat together with metal spoon until smooth
2. Add cream and vanilla extract and combine
3. Add soy milk powder and mix together until smooth (add extra cream or soy milk powder until desired consistency is reached)
4. Ice onto awaiting cooled cupcakes!
Watch this space for the next sugar-free icing/frosting recipe!