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Pavlova

I had a group of  school-friends’ over for lunch yesterday — the first group event I’ve had in the new house. We reconnected at a school reunion some years ago and ever since, nine of us have been meeting for lunch and a catch-up a few times a year.  It’s generally at someone’s place, but sometimes we have a picnic or go on an outing — for instance earlier this year we met at a sculpture park, and ate lunch from the cafe.

berry pavlova

It’s usually a “bring a plate” event (a bit like the American “pot luck” I suspect), which makes it easier. (Speaking of “bringing a plate,” years ago, an American friend of mine, when she was first invited to an Aussie party and asked to “bring a plate” did just that. Assuming the hostess didn’t have enough plates for everyone to eat off, she bought two empty plates, one for her and one for her husband. We think we speak the same language but it’s not quite true, is it?)

So because this gathering was at my new house, and it was close to Christmas,  I decided to celebrate by making a pavlova (or pav), which is a favourite Australian dessert. It has a meringue base and is topped with lashings of whipped cream  and fresh fruit. The shop-bought pav’s are generally crisp meringue all through but the best home-made ones have a crisp meringue shell that is marshmallowy inside. (The secret is adding a little vinegar to the whipped egg-whites.)

I was a bit apprehensive about using my new fancy electric oven (which is quite technological compared with my old gas oven) especially as the recipes on-line varied in cooking temperature for fan-forced from 80C to 130C but they all agreed on 90 minutes cooking time! So I went for 105C and crossed my fingers. I baked it the night before, turned the oven off after 90 minutes and didn’t open the oven until the following morning, (which is supposed to prevent it cracking) and to my relief, it came out perfect and uncracked.  That’s it below.

But the moment I put the whipped cream on it, it cracked — so then I fretted that it might not be properly cooked inside. So I slathered over the cracks with whipped cream, and piled on the fruit — in this case mixed berries — and hoped for the best. And when we cut it, it was perfect — a crispy meringue shell, marshmallowy inside, and not too sweet. Everyone loved it and some came back for seconds and there’s none left. I was so pleased. 

Have you ever baked a pav? Or eaten one? I know a lot of North Americans never have, and I don’t know about  people in the UK or Ireland, but they’re very common here and in NZ. It’s very much a summer dessert. So what do you like to bring when you’re invited to “bring a plate” or a potluck?

Adding comments here:

Anne here, and the comments are NOT working again — curses! Constance had trouble posting and wrote to tell me so — thanks Constance — so I’ll post her comment here:

Love the beach Christmas tree, Anne! Happy first Christmas in your new home! We had fresh balsam trees for Christmas when I was growing up and I am lucky enough to have many of the ornaments my parents bought the year I was born. I see very similar ones for sale at antique stores and think, first, I’m an antique!! And then I think about passing them along to my niece sooner rather than later! My husband still insists on a real tree, while I am very impressed with the artificial trees that go up in minutes and already have perfectly placed lights!

Our favorite tradition is Christmas Eve lunch with one of my husband’s sisters and her family, which we have been hosting for about 20 years — and our two nieces, now in their mid 20s, still insist it’s exactly where they want to be! They also insist on the same menu, so by now I could probably cook it in my sleep! We always have leg of lamb, with roasted potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, and a large citrus salad scattered with pomegranate seeds.

The only thing that changes each year is the cookie plate. I love to bake cookies and try at least one new recipe each year. There are usually five or six different kinds of cookies. This year‘s new cookie will be a pistachio, white chocolate shortbread recipe I found online. It will be surrounded by decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread people, hazelnut wedding cookies, and pecan tassies. Pecan tassies were my grandmother’s specialty; they are like tiny little pecan pies made in a miniature muffin tin. We will have champagne and wine, cider, and lots of hot tea! And then we’ll bundle up and take a walk to the beach – the Atlantic Ocean is about 1/2 a mile away.

I’m sure your parties will be very festive – and I’d love to see your handmade decorations! Merry Christmas!

Constance

*******

From Anne — love the sound of those cookies, Constance. I generally bake some to give as presents to friends, so I might go in search of that pistachio and white chocolate one.

Love the sound of the  pecan tassies, too.  In Australia, tassie is our nickname for the island of Tasmania so if I made them I’d probably have to make them in the shape of Tasmania. Or draw it on with icing. <g>

Thanks.

A Christmas tree?

For most of my life, my family had a real Christmas tree, generally a pine tree planted by my dad, or a branch cut from one. For me the smell of the freshly cut pine was always a big part of Christmas. When my parents got too old to host Christmas, my sister and I took it in turns, but hating the dropped needles of the real tree, she bought a fake one made of fibre optic strands that reflected many colors. Pretty enough, and no needles but none of that magic, evocative pine fragrance. When it was my turn, of course, I continued to have a real tree, sometimes a branch from the trees that Dad planted, sometimes a bought tree.

But many of my childhood Christmases were spent beside the beach, and though we did have a real tree either at my grandparents’ home nearby, or once in the annex of the caravan, the beach is the strongest memory. It’s a bit of an Aussie tradition, and the photo of this little driftwood tree is a wonderful reminder of those days. 

I had a chuckle this morning at an article about bad Christmas trees. It’s here.

I wish now I’d taken Mum and Dad’s boxes of decorations, but they were stolen by thieves — along with a heap of other things. Stinkers! I gather that beautiful antique Christmas ornaments are worth something. For me, they involved priceless memories.

These days, with no family closer than a thousand kilometres away, I don’t make such a big deal of Christmas. My gatherings are of friends, not family. I still have a tree of sorts, but a teensy tiny one. This was the smallest yet — a sprig in an old glass inkwell, and yes, that’s a match box beside it.  I’ve also used bunches of twigs, sometimes spray painted silver, and hung small paper ornaments from them. 

I  love making things, and have a pile of hand-crafted ornaments that I’ve made — quite a few from paper, and easily made. If you’re interested, I’ll share some, along with instructions for making them.

I have two gatherings planned, the first in my new house. One is for a small group of friends — we’ve been meeting for dinner and cards for decades. That will be a reasonably traditional dinner. And on Sunday I’ve got some of my old school classmates coming, and that will be a surprise, as it’s “bring a plate” — which I think is a bit like an American “potluck.” But I’m not sure how much Christmas decorating I’ll do. I’ll keep you posted. I’m always interested in what other people do and eat at Christmas, so feel free to share yours.