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No bake mint chocolate cheesecake

I think it’s been about 10 months since I last visited here. Life with two small people is needless to say, very busy. Jam packed really. From the moment Thea comes into my room and grins her morning bed hair grin at me and Pat cries out to join in the fun, it’s non stop action and a little bit of chaos for the next 12 hours. Add work into the equation. A nutrition course. Building a new house. It makes for a full day. But I wouldn’t have my life right now any other way. Yet this post is not about any of those things. The reason for my sudden impetus to write, apart from the fact that I’m craving to put the jumbled sentences swimming in my head in to a meaningful form, is that my sister-in-law Tash, one very cool lady and among many things, a passionate doula, has asked me to share the story of Pat’s birth. And the timing seems just right with the anniversary of that day fast approaching.

Pat’s impending arrival was jigsaw puzzle perfect. I found out I was pregnant two weeks after running my first marathon. Immediately I made a vision board full of round tummies and chubby newborns. My second pregnancy was going to be different. This time I was going to grow the little human inside me for the full 40 weeks. I was going to have a peaceful natural birth and I was going to cradle my newborn son in my arms before the cord was even cut. Wrong. For all my positivity, at a 24 week scan, booked so that Pat’s size could be measured to check that everything was on track, it was discovered that I had the same complication that I experienced with Thea. The flow of blood in the umbilical cord was compromised and he wasn’t getting all the nourishment that he needed.

Hearing the news time slowed down. My cheeks flushed, my heart started racing and a tumultuous feeling settled in my stomach. This can’t be happening. Not again. Not two premmie babies. But with Thea on my lap as testimony of a beautiful outcome, I accepted what I had been told and decided to maintain my optimism.

Fast forward through 12 weeks of ECGs and growth scans, to 36 weeks and five days pregnant and the night before my Caesarian was due to take place. I had been told in answer to my requests to deliver baby later, “No, going over 37 weeks is really not a good idea as the chances of the cord giving up get much higher.” I had also been told no to trying for a natural birth. It was all out of my hands and to be honest knowing that all the monitoring and stress related with having a high risk pregnancy was going to be over was a huge relief. That said, I was sad. Sad for the loss of those final few weeks. Sad for the negativity surrounding my unborn baby which the doctors and nurses insisted on fostering. Sad knowing it just wasn’t my fate to experience a natural birth. I am aware that these things are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but let me tell you, becoming a mother is life changing. And how your child is delivered leaves an indelible mark. One moment you are someone, the next you are a completely different person with feelings so big that they are able to bowl you over.

I spent a sleepless six hours in bed, getting up to go to the loo what seemed like every five minutes. I just couldn’t get comfortable. Couldn’t relax. I wasn’t so much worried about having two children and how logistically it was all going to work, or about how Thea was going to react to having a brother. No. I was anxious in that visiting a hospital three and four times a week to check the progression of your pregnancy because it’s considered high risk really gets into your head. Would baby be ok, healthy, a good size? Or was he going to be tiny and need help? Mark and I finally got up at six o’clock on Thursday June 30th and left the house for the last time as a family of three.

I knew what to expect. Cold room, bright lights, lots of people, numb legs, screen in front of my face, Mark’s cheek pressed close mine. And the birth of a baby. A joyous occasion. But I did not experience joy. I felt sadness. Despair. Powerlessness. I felt defeated. I had written down a few things that I would like to happen at the birth this time around, like to see Pat coming into the world, but not one of my requests was honoured. It was like with Thea but worse, because this time I thought I might have some control over the situation, but really I didn’t. I was a number on a list and my son’s birth was just part of a routine day.

But then the moment came. I heard the words that I ached to hear. It took a while and I really didn’t think that it wasn’t going to happen and had been forewarned it might not. Would you like to hold him? I howled. Wailed. A primal explosion of emotion washed over me as my perfect little boy was placed on my bare chest. He squealed, I soothed. I cupped him in my hands. He was breathtaking. A gorgeous 2.4 kilos, 10 tiny fingers, 10 tiny toes and the gentlest dusting of soft brown hair. Oh all the things that we will do together, all the memories we will make, all the possibilities in the world that lie ahead of you. My boy. We did it. You’re here.

The encounter was far too brief though and we were separated until the next morning. My time in recovery was full of tears and anguish. Mark had gone with Pat to the nursery and I had no way to contact them. My temperature kept dropping and my whole body shivered. Anxiety churned in my stomach. With no idea what was going on, I was beyond stressed. Having experienced Thea’s birth, where I knew that she would be taken away from me, this time round I was full of hope, but equally trepidation. How was my little boy doing.

The next morning full of gusto, my focus entirely on Pat, I lowered my limbs out of bed, renewed my senses under a hot shower and headed straight for the nursery. I was going to cradle my baby boy, feed him, drink him in. Bring him home. He latched straight away, tears pricked my eyes and my heart soared. By 4pm that afternoon, I was allowed to have him in my room and soon discovered that unlike Thea, he was not going to sleep unless held. And that was fine with me. In the clinical setting of the dimly lit hospital room, the two of us dozed and the bad memories of the day before faded. By 1pm on Saturday, Pat Finch Thompson, in a little red onesie, was securely cocooned in his car seat and we were on our way home.

Recollecting Pat’s birth still makes me sad. Wether my experience with Thea marred her brother’s arrival, or the weeks of monitoring before he was born, or simply the fact that we were separated. Above all though, his entrance into the world may not have been what I wanted, but he was safe and cared for and there have been a multitude of joyous times since that day. I often think that the challenging events in life, the most uncomfortable of times, can teach the biggest lessons. From both my pregnancies I have learnt to surrender, yet not without optimism, but perhaps more importantly, that having children is not about me at all. It’s about them.

And the mint choc chip? Having Pat come home straight after having him was so different to my experience with Thea. The way my body changed over the first few weeks of his life really did make me feel like I’d had a baby. My capacity to eat chocolate was unending and I craved mint chocolate more than anything else. Mint slices dipped into hot cups of tea, mint chocolate mousses, mint magnums, mint choc chip ice cream, no bake mint chocolate cheesecake… If I had craved family sized portions of lemon dressed salad when I was pregnant, now it was all about sugar. And so I give you this no bake mint chocolate cheesecake. Enjoy.

No bake mint chocolate cheesecake

Makes about 10 servings. I would give credit but the recipe comes from Ma Lyn’s recipe book in the form of a very old clipping.

Crumb crust

Combine the biscuits and butter in the bowl of a food processor and whizz until fine crumbs are achieved. Press the crumbs into the base of a lined 20cm loose bottomed cake tin and chill until firm.

Filling

  • 1 tbsp powdered gelatin (I used Great Lakes gelatin)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla (I used Sunshine vanilla powder)
  • 4 drops real peppermint essence (I used Doterra)
  • 90g dark chocolate, melted
  • 375ml evaporated milk, chilled

Soak gelatin in cold water. Add boiling water and stir until dissolved. Cool.

In a large bowl or stand mixer beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, vanilla and peppermint essence.

Gradually add the melted chocolate, then the gelatin mixture, then the evaporated milk. Keep mixing/beating at high-speed until the mixture is thick and has doubled in volume. Pour the mixture into prepared tin and chill for at least two hours.

Decorate with chocolate shards or sprinkles and enjoy.

If you liked this recipe then you might like chocolate fork biscuits














Almond tart with strawberries

I can’t really keep it a secret any longer. If you visit here often you’re going to notice sooner or later anyway, so I’d better come clean. For the last three months I have been living in a house with views that take my breath away daily. With gardens so pretty and scent heavy, I feel like I’m in a fairytale when I walk through them. I’ve fallen asleep to the reassuring sound of breaking waves and woken to magnificent patchwork orange and magenta skies. So this almond tart with strawberries was perfect for a Sunday lunch with friends in such a special place.

You might recall that back in April a tree fell on our house, and as a result we relocated that same night to Ma and Pa’s. Well a very generous friend offered us their home for the months of August, September and October. And so this is where my photos have been taken lately. In the beautiful kitchen of a Palm Beach house with panoramic views of the ocean. Believe me that I am not exaggerating when I say that sometimes I look up from the dishes to catch a glimpse of a whale breaching. That at night I can see Barrenjoey lighthouse intermittently twinkle in the distance. That I am extremely lucky and grateful for the opportunity to have stayed in such a beautiful location.

I think that Thea has enjoyed her stay too. We go the beach daily, sometimes twice, making the most of our temporary seaside location. I put her porridge in a little container, grab a coffee and we go, with obligatory bucket and spade in tow, to have our breakfast on the sand. I don’t know if I would do this if it was our full-time home. There is definitely something to be said for being placed in situations that not only force you to realise how fortunate you are, but also to make the most of your time.

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The spotted gum tree that crashed through our roof has also made realise that our house overlooking the sparkling Pittwater, a five-minute walk to Clareville beach, was a great home. I’m not sure that we fully appreciated that. We were so focused on renovating it and making in to the thing that we wanted it to be, that we never stopped to fully acknowledge how good it was: All those evenings spend sharing food with friends and family on the deck, this one and this one, oh and this one, especially stand out, as well as the dinner parties inside by the fire like this one.

When we do move back to our home (seemingly still light years away as our insurance hasn’t even been settled yet) I’m planning on throwing the biggest dinner party ever. I intend to celebrate where we live. With lots of delicious food. Delicious wine. Flowers. Music. And possibly even bite size versions of this almond tart with strawberries. It really is that good and definitely fitting for a special occasion. Even Thea thinks so.


Almond tart with strawberries

Adapted from a recipe in The River Cafe Cookbook 2

For the pastry

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g self raising flour
  • 55g icing sugar
  • 100g butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp cold water

For the almond tart filling

  • 265g soft butter
  • 265g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 265g almond meal

To serve

  • 250g strawberries, hulled and halved
  • icing sugar
  • creme fraiche

To make the almond tart pastry, pulse the butter, two flours and icing sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the yolk and pulse until mixed in and then with the motor running add the cold water in a steady stream until the pastry comes together. Remove from the processor, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes before rolling out (with extra flour) and lining a 28cm diameter, 3.5cm deep loose bottomed fluted tart tin. Pop the lined tin in the fridge for another 20 minutes or so and then bake it in a 180 C oven.

**A note on baking the tart shell. Use baking beans. Seriously. I don’t know why I waited so long to become the owner of these little ceramic balls that have changed the appearance of my pastry shells for the better. I used to bake my tart shells with nothing and the sides would always shrink and the bottom bubble up. Then I got a little less lazy and started using dried kidney beans to keep the base of the tart shell flat. But after a while they began to smell. And just weren’t all that pretty. So one day, when in a kitchen shop looking for some platters, I came across Tala baking beans and my tart shells have been beautifully golden and even specimens ever since.**

For the almond tart filling, using a hand-held or stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter together. When the mixture is pale and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, followed by the almond meal. Spoon the mix into the baked tart shell and bake for around 40-50 minutes until the filling is set. Don’t be tempted to overfill the shell as the mixture does puff up and will spill over the edge resulting in a messy end result.

Once the almond tart is cooled, decorate with strawberries, lots of icing sugar and enjoy with spoonfuls of creme fraiche.

Like this dessert recipe? Then you might enjoy my two tiered Pavlova

 

Brown sugar meringue roulade

The prunes kept staring at me from the shelf in the pantry. I had bought a packet of the sticky, black fruit to make devils on horseback, and decanted the remainder neatly into a glass jar. But every time I went to the shelf for some ingredient or other, the prunes looked on woefully, and the little voice in my head said to me, you have to use them up you know. For what though. The last encounter I had had with the dried fruit was in little, yellow, single serve packets, for breakfast every morning while in hospital waiting to have Thea. Which is rather apt as it was around this time two years ago. So I decided to create a recipe to honour the prunes. I came up with a brown sugar meringue roulade filled with cinnamon stewed prunes and cream.

I’m like the proverbial bull in a shop full of delicate objects when I get an idea in my head. I have to make it come to life. NOW. It’s probably a very annoying attribute for those around me, but at least I can be described as a doer. Without a moment’s hesitation, even though it was 10pm, and half the house had gone to bed, I found the recipe I needed for the fruit and began the stewing process. My mother in law questioned me in disbelief, was I cooking again this late at night. No, just soaking some oats for porridge, I sheepishly lied.

I learned how to a make meringue roulade from a no-nonsense, very practical, very experienced lady named Rosie, whilst attending her information laden cookery course in 2003. A course that, enlightened after working as a chalet girl in France where I realised that cooking was for me, I managed to squeeze into after another attendee dropped out. Fate? I like to think so. During my time with Rosie, I learnt the technique for making an amazing and versatile little salad dressing, since tweaked to become my own. I learnt how to make my first ice cream. Elderflower and gooseberry, the ingredients picked straight from the garden. I learnt how to make puff pasty and croissants. To lay a table. And pop a champagne cork, or not as the case may be.

I also learnt from Rosie about the characteristics that make a really good recipe. It’s thoroughly tested with clear instructions and reliable. And I was told that if you get just one recipe from a cookbook that you use time and time again, then the book was worth the money that you paid for it. This could explain why my cookery book collection is so large. And still growing. Hopefully though, this meringue roulade recipe, personalised with the use of brown sugar to complement the prunes, is one that you will be able to make over and over. Fill it with the fruit of your choice, stewed rhubarb perhaps or fresh raspberries. Replace the whipped cream with Greek yoghurt or even mascarpone. But do try it.


Brown sugar meringue roulade

  • 100g brown sugar
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 150ml egg whites (4-6 whites, it’s always best to measure the whites exactly as eggs can vary in size so much)
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • few drops white vinegar
  • 400ml cream, whipped
  • cinnamon stewed prunes as per Molly Wizenburg’s recipe

A stand mixer will make life much easier when making meringues, but a hand-held mixer will work as well. You will just be left standing in the one spot for a while.

Begin by whisking the egg whites until soft peaks form. Now add the cater sugar, one spoonful at a time, over about 5-7 minutes. Do not rush. This step ensures that the sugar is well combined with the egg whites.

Now add the brown sugar, a little quicker than the white, one spoonful after the other. Just make sure that each spoonful is visibly incorporated before you add the next.

When all the sugar has been added, turn the whisk off. Add the icing sugar, cornflour and vinegar and then turn the whisk on again for about 10 turns, or until everything is just combined.

Transfer the meringue roulade mix onto a baking paper lined tray (mine was 42cm x 30cm) and spread it out evenly. The mixture does not need to be even, peaks and waves will make the finished roll a little more spectacular.

Bake in an oven preheated to 150 C for 30 minutes, or until the top of the roulade is firm, but the base still slightly soft. Cool in the oven with the door held ajar with a folded tea towel.

When the roulade is cool, which will probably take a few hours, lay a clean tea towel on a work surface. On top of this lay a piece of cling wrap. Now invert the roulade on to the cling wrap. Spread it with cream and decorate with prunes.

To roll up the meringue roulade, use the tea towel to help you fold the edge of the roulade over and then to push it along as you continue rolling. This way you don’t have to handle the delicate, and somewhat sticky meringue, and you can use the tea towel to provide momentum.

Slice as neatly as you are able and maybe garnish with some toasted flaked almonds before devouring.

Love making meringue? You may also like my top Pavlova making tips