Thursday, 25 April 2013

Red Velvet Cake

As promised, here is the post with recipe for the Red Velvet cake I made for Littletree’s birthday.

Of course, being me, I refuse to use red food dye, so I figured I could do it with beetroot. Really longtime readers might remember that I used to make candy for Littletree from beetroots (and later blueberries) and unrefined sugar (recipe HERE), but I didn’t want to go for my usual ‘ah, I’ll just make it up as I go along and she’ll be right’ random recipe, so I asked the internet to find me someone with experience who’d done an all-natural red velvet cake with beetroot before.

My awesome friend Rose T came up with this brilliant recipe on Sophistimom blog, so that seemed like a good start.

It looked pretty simple, and was almost all ingredients I already had to hand, so off we went…

I roasted beetroots the night before and let them cool.

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I blended said roasted beetroots in my trusty food processor with the 1/4 cup of lemon juice and a spoonful of vinegar. But my measurements aren’t too accurate, since we moved and I can’t find my measuring cups, so I’m just eyeballing it.

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Then away with the food processer and out to a mixing bowl and my trusty, vintage SwiftWhip beater to cream a 250 gram block of butter (because I can’t get my head around American recipes that call for a “stick” of butter), and a whole tub of cream cheese. Again, I don’t know ounces, so I just put in the whole tub. I think it was 200g. The little bit less cream cheese cancels out the little bit extra butter. At least, it does in my book.

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Also, creaming cream cheese and butter is hard work with an old-fashioned hand beater. But worth it. Once it was sort of soft enough, got into creaming in 2 1/3 cups sugar. Again with the using a juice cup and kind of guessing, but it turned out that I used the precise amount of sugar that was left in the jar. Then I cried because there was no sugar left for my coffee.

Once the sugar is creamed in, slowly add in four eggs. This is to make the batter easier to beat, and we nurse our blisters and wonder why we struggled through the creaming of butter and sugar. Also add in a sploosh of vanilla extract (I make my own, soaking organic vanilla beans in alcohol).

Then comes the silly part: where you need to use a second mixing bowl. I usually cheat on this bit and just bodge it all into the one bowl, because I loathe and detest washing up. But I have an indentured person now to do the dishes, and it was to be a special cake for Littletree’s birthday.

So I sifted 2 cups unbleached flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder (there was some debate on the internet as to how much cocoa to use, so I made something up), and 1 1/2 teaspoons himalayan salt into a mixing bowl, and slowly added it in to the wet batter. Then I stirred in the beetroot puree, and we were good to go!

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Nice and red!

Grease and line three 8” cake pans… um, I don’t know how big 8” is, and I only have two round springform pans of indeterminate size, so I greased and lined those and called it good. Now, given that the recipe was for a three layer cake, and I only had two pans, I just kind of guessed at dividing the batter into thirds, put the first two in the oven, and then did the third one in a re-used pan.

Turned out on a rack to cool while I whipped up cream cheese frosting (two tubs of cream cheese, all the icing sugar I had (which turned out to be somewhat less than the recommended four cups), another whole packet of raw, organic, local butter (yay! I found a dairy just up the road selling unprocessed butter and cream!), 3 dollops of cream and a splash each of vanilla and almond extracts. Blend well.

The fun part was schmearing frosting between all the layers and covering the cake… you know, because I had to keep testing to make sure the frosting tasted good.

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Once I’d done the cake, I suddenly remembered that Littletree had requested chocolate-dipped strawberries to go on top, but I’d totally forgotten. Standard fall-back plan: grate some chocolate on top of the frosting, and call it art.

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The cake was a huge success of epic proportions; it looked awesome – sufficiently red; tasted great – rich and tangy; and the kids gobbled it up!

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So much nom!

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Sunday, 21 April 2013


We held the party for Littletree’s birthday yesterday, so we had about a dozen tween kids running amok around the place (about half of whom ended up sleeping over)! I survived, and all I got was this t-shirt pile of dishes.

The kids all had an awesome time

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Making a mess, playing on the trampoline

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Swimming and kayaking in the creek

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I made (at Littletree’s request) a very elaborate Red Velvet Cake (all natural, organic, coloured with beetroots, and iced with raw-butter cream-cheese frosting – I’ll make a post about the cake separately, with a recipe)

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The cake was a huge success

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Littletree got lots of lovely presents

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And got to spend time with lots of her best friends (actually, half of the home school group came!)

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Of course, the five girls who slept over stayed up till midnight giggling, but thankfully, the kids’ room is at the other end of the house from mine, so I wasn’t disturbed in the slightest :-P

Friday, 19 April 2013

Animated Children

Littletree did an awesome animation and art workshop with home school group this week.

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The kids worked together to create a town out of plasticine and mixed media, each child making their own dream house in the town.

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They all worked together to envision how their town would be… apparently there needed to be a lot of snakes and endermen and creepers from Minecraft.

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Then they photographed their towns behind a “green screen”

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followed by the kids acting out being in their town in front of a green screen.

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For the finishing touch, they uploaded all the footage into the computer and rendered it so the kids are walking around their houses. Littletree is climbing up a fruit tree in her little plasticine garden, it’s amazing!

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Happy Birthday Littletree

Sunday was Littletree’s 10th birthday, and since she was still tired and jetlagged from her trip, we planned to have a quiet day doing whatever she wants, and save the big birthday party for next weekend.

She didn’t know it, but I went in together with my parents to get her a trampoline; quite a fancy one. I woke her up with snuggles in the morning


and brought her out to the balcony to greet the sunrise… and see…





Then we went for a swim in the creek


And a trip into town to play Ingress while learning about local landmarks.

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Littletree hacked many portals

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Then we went wandering around the shopping mall, because Littletree needed new shorts (she just keeps getting bigger!) and we stopped for morning tea, and then had sushi for lunch

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Followed by Littletree’s favourite; Indian take-away for dinner with a video.

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Then we snuggled up together and read stories. Littletree said it was her best birthday ever. :)

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Welcome Home Littletree

Littletree is home again, after her visit with her family. She had a good time, but she’s super happy to be home again.

First thing she did (after talking our faces off about her adventures) was dive into the creek to freshen up.

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So great to be home in our rain forest again!

Then Littletree wanted a bowl of her favourite: my home made noodle soup, with roasted turkey

noodle soup

She had gifts; amba for me (it’s a kind of spicy mango pickle sauce that I’m incredibly partial to), and Bamba for the indentured person our visitor.

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Bamba is kind of sort of like cheetos, but made from peanuts, and it tastes like peanut butter. I do not like it.

Of course, as a welcome home, I made a very fancy roast dinner for Littletree

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And we had a quiet evening of snuggling up, followed by a lazy day going around the neighbourhood playing Ingress.


Of course, tomorrow is Littletree’s birthday (though the party won’t be till next weekend), and we have a special day planned… She doesn’t know it yet, but we got her a very big surprise present (and somehow managed to keep it hidden for two days)!

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Saturday, 6 April 2013

Fresh bread, hot out of the oven

Because here in the forest, that's how we roll.


Served with lashings of butter

This bread is THE easiest bread you will ever make, because you don't have to knead it. It takes about 15 minutes of preparation time, just rises very slowly - rises twice for 6-8 hours each time. So yes, you need to plan ahead a bit, but ultimately, it’s almost no work at all, no kneading, but it takes a while. Worth it though!

Mix together thoroughly
- 1 & 3/4 cups warm water
- 1 scant tablespoon salt (good celtic or himalayan salt)
- 1/4 tsp instant yeast (yes, that's all)
- 1 cup all purpose flour - unbleached, organic white flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
(for the flour I've experimented with using spelt, rye, etc... some work better than others but they all seem to work, try what you like.)

Cover loosely & let sit 6 - 8 hours. Mixture should
be risen and possibly bubbly. It may have risen & fallen and be
sitting on top of a bed of liquid. This is called a "poolish". If you wish & you're able to, you can go on to the next step as soon as the poolish becomes bubbly, but it's all right to let it work till it gets to the "sitting on liquid" stage.

Add & mix well with spatula:
- 2 cups flour (For the basic recipe, I use half whole wheat & half unbleached white flour; you can experiment as you wish)
At this point you can add any ingredients you'd like:
herbs, seeds, nuts, olives, cheese, sun dried tomatoes, dried fruit and spices, chocolate chips, etc - be creative

Cover & let work till risen (6-8 hours or over night). At this point
the dough should be doubled in size and you should be able to see
large bubbles just below the surface.

You can bake the bread now, or delay baking by doing the following:
Sprinkle top & edges with 2 TBS flour & fold sides in to centre all the around the bowl. Fold the dough over a few times. Set aside for another 3 hours or so.
(If you don't have time to bake the bread at this point, you can
repeat this step. The flavour will develop further if you do, but
will still be good if you don't. I usually don't)

pre-heat oven to 260C. Bake the dough in a covered pot/ tin for 30 minutes. Then uncovered for 8-10 minutes at 230C. I usually line the tin with baking paper; works really well, and just cover with aluminium foil. 
(note that times may vary depending on the size of the bread - I often use this recipe to make rolls, but this time is about right for a "standard" loaf.

This is traditional baking at its best - the minimal yeast and slow rise time make for a better bread, without the need for chemical bread improvers or loads of yeast. super super easy, and super super yummy.