Saturday, 20 January 2018

Triennial at the NGV, Melbourne

A few days ago when it was a hot 38 C, we spent an afternoon in the air conditioned National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) viewing the Triennial exhibition.  It was a fun exhibition with lots of colour and surprise.  Artists from all over the world were represented with lots of activities for kids.

Going to the NGV on a hot day is brilliant if only for the water wall out the front.  Inside is a colorful structure to relax on a snaking seat that I did not photograph.  Then you feel the awe at this giant reclining Buddha surrounded by classical nude statues, created by the Chinese artist Xu Zhen.  The statues look tiny but they were actually life sized.

Our next destination was the drinks station in the cafe to fill our water bottles.  We had already eaten at Southbank and so, sadly, did not have the time or inclination to eat in this gorgeous replication of a Moroccan tea house, designed by Hassan Hajjaj.  It was stunning with bold colourful patterns, milk crates with cushions, and beautiful hanging glass lamps.

Next we went to a room full of everyday items transformed into works of art by We Make Carpets.  At the very top of the page is a collage of lots of these artworks.  From top left clockwise the art works are all from this room except the first: i) wallpaper of soft drink bottle from cafe, ii) kitchen sponges with scourers , iii) felt (I think), iv) pegs, v) shuttlecocks, vi) pool noodles.

There are lots of interactive activities for the kids in this room.  Make a prison of pool noodles and bursting out of them was the favourite for Sylvia and Dash.  There was also an activity to make a pattern of tiles and stick felt on the wall.

Outside we saw odd squares and circles on the wall.  Sissel Tolaas, a Norwegian chemist and artist, had created this SmellScape Melbourne_PastPresentPast. 

It seemed very odd to walk along the corridor putting your nose close to the ceramic pieces to smell them.  The kids didn't like most, though they liked what Dash thought was meat and Sylvia thought was a smoked almonds smell.  Most smells were hard to name.  Some were awful (horse poo? coriander?), but others were more nostalgic (dusty old books?).

Our next stop was Yayoi Kusama’s Flower Obsession.  This was my favourite exhibit.  A whole house had been furnished with items from Ikea.  Each visitor to the house was given a flower sticker and asked to find a space to stick it.  When we visited the exhibition had been going for about a month and still had 3 months to go.  Look at how covered the above kitchen is.  You can make out the chairs but not the sink and oven.

Lots of unexpected items were covered with stickers, such as a pot plant or a guitar or a jacket hanging in the bedroom.  I left my flower on a bookshelf.  The kids were fascinated by the toilet.  Of course!

We then headed over to the South side of the ground floor where there was a lot more to see.  This huge picture by Olaf Breuning a person covered in people with emojis over their faces was so big that the kids were not even half its height.  They were quite fascinated here too.

This room by Uji Handoko Eko Saputro, AKA Hahana was quite trippy with lots of stripey patterns, woollen cylinders, and mirrors.  It took a while to get perspective on how big it really was. 

I really loved this exhibit of simple woollen weavings by Akay Koo'oila Women's Art Centre Artists from Cape York in Queensland.  It could have been a CWA craft display but was probably more colourful and looked gorgeous all hung together on fishing nets.

We walked through lots of rooms with interesting artwork such as Paulina Ołowska's paintings (the woman on the horse was stunning) and Neri Oxman's The Vespers Series with odd masks that reminded me of aliens in Dr Who.  No photos taken as I was supervising and talking.

The beautiful swirling lights in the room created by teamLab was great for kids to dance about.  I think it was called Moving creates vortices and vortices create movement.  The lights reacted to movement.  At first it seemed a very crowded room until the brain understood that there was a feeling of so many more people created by the clever use of mirrors.  It felt very other-worldly.

Another amazing interactive room was the Alexandra Kehayoglou woollen rug that created a landscape and was reflected by mirrors on the ceiling.  We were invited to take off our shoes and lie on the rug.  Looking up at the reflection of the rug with people lying on it really did give a different perspective.  And it was very relaxing too.  I could have just lain there all day.

The bulk of the Triennial exhibition seemed to be on the ground floor.  There was more on the higher floors but I found it a bit harder to navigate.  Maybe a map would have helped.  Once my mum, Dash and Chris had left, I went up in search of Ron Mueck's skulls.  Having only seen pictures of the pile of skulls I was quite surprised to come across this giant skull in the European paintings rooms.

Even having seen one of the giant skulls I was still surprised at seeing 100 skulls a few rooms away that were so much bigger than I had expected.  I am sharing a photo with people in it so you can get some sense of the size.  Even given that the skulls were made of resin and too big to be real, there was something disturbing about all these skulls, all this death.

I highly recommend the Triennial as a place to visit if you are in Melbourne in the next few months. I would love to go back and am more likely to do so because it is free.  It would be great to go through and look at some of the exhibits we missed or skimmed over and be able to enjoy a bit more of the issues as well as the fun.

NGV International
St Kilda Road, Melbourne CBD
15 December 2017 to 15 April 2018
Entrance charge: free

Also check out  "NGV Triennial: astounding blockbuster grips the heart ... and repels the nostrils:, The Guardian, 17 December 2017.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Tree house birthday cake

Sylvia and I love browsing birthday cake books.  When it was her cousin's birthday recently we knew exactly which birthday cake we wanted to make for him.  A tree house seemed just right for an active, adventurous kid like Dash.  I am not sure it was quite the easy party cake the book promised but it was fun and we were pleased with our cake.  So was Dash.

We baked the cake the day before the party and decorated it early on the day of the party.  We ignored the instructions to take the cream filled centres out of the oreos and when the  oreo trunk was not so stable we realised that melted chocolate holds far better than cream and we replaced the cream centres with oreos.  We also found that the hold in the middle of the cake seemed much bigger than the oreos.  I was tempted to plug it with melted chocolate which would have made it more stable but perhaps too much chocolate!

I decided that the cake needed more than just some (coconut) green grass and some mint leaves, which was what the Australian Women's Weekly book had.  So Sylvia and I had fun using chocolates and lollies to make a bit of garden around the tree house.

When it came to building the actual tree house out of ice cream wafers (we bought these in the section of the supermarket that had ice cream cones), I found that my experience of making gingerbread houses was really helpful.  I used the same method of holding up the walls with whatever was on hand until they dried.  I had to trim the wafers a little to make them fit when putting the house together but it wasn't too hard.  However I would not claim this was easy.

On the picture in the book you could not see the joins between the wafers.  I am not sure how they did this and got the wafers to stick together.  I did wonder about using white chocolate instead of dark but as tree houses are rustic creations I was not too concerned.

Yet again we had trouble finding pretzel sticks (as had been the case last year).  We tried quite a few shops - not just the supermarket.  Finally we did find some but they were thicker and had sesame seeds on them so we bought some chocolate pocky.  This actually worked well because you didn't see the chocolate joins.  I was relieved about this when we had to fix the ladder a few times. 

Finally our tree house cake was finished.  We were proud of our achievement.  The next challenge was to take it in a car an hour down the freeway to Geelong.  Sylvia often sleeps during the drive to Geelong and as we drove I could see her dropping off.  The cake was right beside her.  Which would be good for her to check on it.  But was worrying as she nodded off and her head kept drooping in the cake's direction.  I kept watching her in the rear vision mirror and finally had to wake her up for the sake of the cake.

Despite our best efforts, the tree house came off the perch and broke a little and the trunk fell over.  I had feared this might happen and taken along my melted chocolate pot and some icing.  You never know when you will need to patch up a cake.  We were able to fix it quickly once we got to my parents.

Other than cake dramas, there was lots of fun happening when we arrived.  Lots of presents.  Check out this cool lego birthday cake.  Dash's parents are amazing party planners so it was a great celebration. 

His dad had made one of his amazing mocktail punches for the kids.  And he had drawn colour your own placemats for the kids.  Something for them to do while everyone arrived.  (See Sylvia's below.)  Some of the kids were outside playing cricket as it was a really lovely sunny day.

There was party food.  Cheezels, chips, sausage rolls, cocktail frankfurts, sausages (yes Dash likes sausages), fairy bread, Tim Tams.  And the cake.  The kids had a discussion about blowing out the candles that amused me.  They decided you couldn't blow too hard or you might blow the tree house over.  Everyone enjoyed the cake.  I was really happy with the frosting that was really creamy and chocolatey and not to toothachingly sweet.

Then there was the watermelon pinata.  As usual there was the queue of eager kids and the concerned adults.  However now the kids are older, the first little boy to bash the pinata with a cricket bat felled in with one hard blow.  The pinata was strung up again but it fell to the ground quickly, even with a broom handle instead of cricket bat.  After a bit of bashing it on the ground it collapsed, as did some of the whizz fizz packets inside.  Lots of fun for the kids!  Then we headed off to the beach to end the day with swim and sand.

I am sending this cake to Tin and Thyme for We Should Cocoa

How to make a tree house birthday cake
Adapted from Australian Women's Weekly Easy Party Cakes

You will need:
1 mud cake
2 packets of oreos
dark chocolate 
1 batch chocolate fudge frosting
mint leaves
sour strips
other green lollies
crunchies and chocolate sultanas
1/2 to 1 cup desiccated coconut
green food colouring
wafer sheets
pretzels (or poky)
mini oreos

Use a 4cm diameter scone cutter to cut a hole in the Cut a 4cm hold in the cake.  (Discard cake or save to crumble and use as dirt for garden sections.)  Scrape the cream out of the oreos and join together with melted chocolate stacking in the hole in the middle of the cake as you go.  This is your tree trunk.  (Don't be tempted to keep cream in oreos or the stack is less stable to hold the tree house.

Rub a few drops of green food colouring through the coconut.  Spread frosting over the top of the cake.  Arrange mint leaves, green lollies, crunchies and chocolate sultanas around the edge of the cake to make the garden around the edge.  Sprinkle coconut over the rest of the icing while it is still damp so the coconut sticks.

Make ladder with pretzels or poky sticks.  Break one stick into smaller rungs.  Use two sticks to be the sides of the ladder.  Use melted chocolate to glue the rungs to the side sticks.  Set aside in a safe place (ie it is quite fragile.)

Make the tree house.  Cut wafers to make windows and a door.  Glue wafers together with melted chocolate: Put some melted chocolate in a longish tub so you can dip the edges of the wafers into chocolate.  Place aside to dry and gently use a knife to prize off surface.  I did two layers of wafers for the floor to make it more stable.  When you put together walls, use boxes to keep walls upright while they dry.  Then put on roof and hold for a bit to dry.  If you are concerned about roof falling off you can put something underneath the edges to stop it slipping.

Once tree house is dry use melted chocolate to place it on tree trunk of oreos.  Make a few little branches of mini oreos and use melted chocolate to attach one to the tree trunk (I trimmed this one and had it on an angle) and one coming out of the tree house.  Use green strips from sour strips and mint leaves to decorate tree and tree house.

Mud Cake
adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe

250g butter, chopped
150g dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup hot water
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups GF plain flour
1/4 cup GF self raising flour
1/4 cup cocoa
2 eggs

Grease and line 22 cm round cake tin. Preheat oven to 160º C.

Combine butter, chocolate, water, sugar and orange juice in a large bowl and microwave (or heat in saucepan) til melted. Cool slightly (if you have time and patience).

Add flours, cocoa and eggs and mix til combined and smooth. Don't worry if not 100% smooth mixture - just mix in as much as you can or sift flours and cocoa if you can be bothered.

Pour into prepared cake tin and bake 1 1/4 hours. Cake should be cooked but slightly gooey (ie the sort of gooey where it doesn't look like cake batter).  Sit at least 10 minutes (I did overnight) before turning out onto rack to cool.

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

1/2 cup dark chocolate melts
3 heaped dessertspoons of margarine
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp water, or as required

Melt chocolate and margarine together.  Cool until treacle consistency rather than water consistency.  I find melting in the microwave helps to melt at a lower temperature.  Gradually stir in icing sugar.  Add a dribble of water to loosen up.

On the stereo:
Tigermilk - Belle and Sebastian

Monday, 15 January 2018

Chocolate, cranberry and apricot sourdough bread

Just after Christmas I made some chocolate fruit bread to take to friends place for lunch.  It was a variation on my favourite overnight sourdough loaves.  The night before the lunch when I was planning to put the dough together, Sylvia was not sleeping (thanks to all the unsettled festive evenings).  So we talked about what bread I could make.

She was quite taken by the idea of chocolate in a bread ever since I made the Malted loaf with chocolate, figs and brazil nuts a couple of years ago.  So we decided it would have chocolate.  I wanted nuts but Sylvia was not keen.  We agreed on some dried fruit.  I meant to put in only cranberries but didn't have enough and had some leftover dried apricot.  And Sylvia insisted on cinnamon and treacle.  I also used soy milk rather than water as a friend had told me how soft his bread with milk was.

So the recipe was a bit of a brainstorming hotch potch.  The dough seemed quite tough when I shaped it the next morning.  I decided to make one loaf and one batch of rolls to squirrel away in the freezer.  Rolls last really well in the freezer but they take longer to shape.

Then I lit the gas oven and waited for the dough to rise.  I think the dough got an extra hour of rising thanks to my fickle oven.  It just would not stay alight.  Every time I thought the oven was preheating, I would peek in and find the flames had gone out.  I wonder if it was the unseasonably wild rains playing havoc with the gas pipes.  It was very frustrating.

I had planned to bake the bread and give it some time to sit before taking it to lunch.  Instead by the time I was ready to go, I was just taking the bread out of the oven and took a very hot loaf to lunch.  Fortunately it had time to cool before we ate it, as we had some eggy pastries with salad first.  Then we sliced into the loaf and ate it warm with lashings of butter.   Wow, Just Wow!  As Sylvia likes to say.

Meanwhile Sylvia had a lovely time playing with her friend and sister, especially with Tom's new Google Home Mini that he had been given.  He set it up to so this little disc of technology could answer his questions.  The girls were very excited to talk to it.  ("What time is it?  What is the weather?  Do you know Siri?" etc etc.)

And the loaf was really good.  Perhaps even better for sitting around waiting for the oven to light.  The chunks that were exposed on top were pretty charred but warm chocolate and dried fruit in a lightly spiced lightly sweetened fruit bread are heavenly.  We enjoyed eating the rolls warmed from the freezer over the next week or so.  I am sad to report they did not last long.

More fruit bread on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Chocolate, cranberry and apricot sourdough bread
Makes 2 loaves or 24 rolls or a half of each
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe

350g sourdough starter
550g soy milk
18g salt
3 tbsp golden syrup
3 tbsp treacle or molasses
2 tbsp olive oil
zest of 2 oranges
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
200g chopped dark chocolate (I used 70%)
200g dried cranberries
100g chopped dried apricot
500g plain white flour
500g spelt flour
fine semolina or flour to dust surfaces

[A few hours before making the loaf, take sourdough starter out of the fridge and feed it so it gets bouncy and bubbly before you weigh it.]

In the late evening, at least half an hour before going to bed (or first thing in the morning) mix everything together.  It is easiest to mix everything except flour first and then add flour.  Use hands to mix if required.  Set aside covered with a tea towel for half an hour.  Knead in the bowl for about 1 minute.  Cover with greased clingwrap and leave at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured board.  Shape into a loaf shape or rolls.  Place on a floured surface and cover with the lightly greased clingwrap.  Set aside to rise for 30 minutes.  While the loaves rise, preheat oven to 240 C, with casserole dishes heating if you are using them.

Slash the loaves and put in the heated casserole dishes with lids on (or on a tray or in a tin).   (They don't need greasing.)  Bake for 20 minutes with lid on.  Remove lid and bake another 20 minutes.  If crust needs more colour, reduce oven heat to 180 C and return to oven for another 10 minutes (mine was quite well browned without the extra 10 minutes).  Cool your loaf on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing.

NOTES: For more extensive notes on this method, go to my post on overnight sourdough bread. Other dried fruit could be used.  I used half white and half spelt but you could use all white or half white and half wholemeal.  I made one loaf and 12 rolls.  For the floured board I used semolina flour but when I shaped the rolls I found it useful to use a little regular flour on my hands.  To make sure the bread is vegan make sure your chocolate is dairy free.

On the Stereo:
Reputation: Taylor Swift

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Ocean Grove holiday and eating 2018

We are back from our week at the seaside in Ocean Grove.  The suitcases are unpacked but I am yet to do all the loads of laundry.  It was a holiday of the hot tub and the stub club!  The house we hired didn't have wifi but it had a hot tub in the backyard.  So we were mostly offline with lots of relaxation in the hot tub as well as lots of time at the beach.

It was a huge house with 5 bedrooms so lots of the family could stay.  My mum and dad, my sister and her son and me and Sylvia stayed the whole week.  Other siblings and kids came and went because Ocean Grove is close to where they live in Geelong.  One night we had 8 kids and a full house, which was quite fun but chaotic.

On the first morning, my brother Paul took a group of kids to the beach early and my nephew stubbed his toes and almost knocked off his toenail.  Paul heroically piggybacked Dash home about 4  or 5 blocks.  Amazingly, Dash's toenail healed wonderfully over the week.  We attributed it to the healing properties of the sea.  There were too other stubbed toes on the holiday, hence the Stub Club!  My dad is also convalescing and I am sure walks on the beach were very good for him too.

The above picture of the sunset was from one night when Paul decided to run to the beach to photograph the sunset.  We only got halfway there before the sunset was over.  So we had to be content with the photos we took along the way.

The reason we were staying at the holiday house was to celebrate my parents wedding anniversary.  So we had a day where Susie's boyfriend cooked meat on his Webber, the rest of us made salads and desserts.  Above you can see salads lined up on the bench.

And here are the salads.  Keep in mind that I photographed them while work in progress because it was such a busy time getting lunch together that I didn't have much time for the camera.  Clockwise from top left: My mum's brown rice salad with lots of pulses, nuts ad pomegranate seeds; Chris's garden salad with fetta; Chris's pesto pasta salad with haloumi, Fergal's seedy carrot salad.

Fran is into stunning platters at the moment and made two.  The above one was camembert, avocado dip, corn chips, popcorn, carrots, celery, blueberries and some strawberries and mint for garnish.  It was a beautiful platter of nibbles to keep us going before a 3pm lunch (because Dave was arriving late).  A late start also gave time for speeches and for Paul to lead the grandchildren in an anniversary song.

I made a Cobb Salad with smoked nuts and a blue cheese sauce.  (You can see the Cobb Salad recipe on my previous post.)  It was pretty easy to make in the holiday house.  Fortunately my mum already had some blue cheese on hand and the dressing was easy to make by hand, though the recipe I used directed to use a food processor.  In the photo above the table is set for 8 but my brother Andy brought along an extra trestle table to seat all of us. 

I was pleased after a large plate of salads to still have room for dessert.  We had a generous spread with Fran doing a chocolate cake dessert platter, and my mum making raspberry cheese cake and pavlova three ways. 

My family all has different preferences when it comes to pav.  The kids love peppermint crisp, my mum loves passionfruit and Dash prefers his without cream.  My mum caters to everyone.

We spent quite a bit of time at the beach.  It is never as much as I would like but I can't complain too much when I had a few days when we managed two trips a day.  The Ocean Grove beach is very flat with a huge expanse of beach at low tide (above) and almost at the ramp at high tide (above). 

The weather went up and down.  One day it was a high of 41 C and then next day it would be 21 C.  Fortunately the rain held off until we left on the last day.  But there was a lot of watching the mercury. 

Trips to the beach involved a lot of slathering on sun cream, digging in the sand and riding the boogie boards.  We had a well trodden path to the clothes line where we hung out the wet bathers and towels.  And my dad did a sterling job of searching for my niece's lost fitbit (that was found in her clothes when her mum did the washing).

Other than the anniversary lunch meals were very casual.  They ranged from leftover salads to dips and bread to a taco table to sushi to fish and chips.  We had fish and chips on the night that we had 8 kids in the house and sat outside once we had dragged the last kid out of the hot tub to eat dinner.  The kids loved having coco pops for breakfast, most of my family loved egg and bacon whereas I was very happy to have baked beans on toast.

We didn't eat out much.  My favourite place was Kyosk which I will write about separately (because I loved the avocado, beetroot dip, sauerkraut and pistachios on toast so much). 

Above is my meal of pumpkin fritters, cracked wheat salad and labne that we had at Napona one night.  It was a very stylish restaurant but not quite my sort of menu.

Sylvia did not fancy her kids spaghetti with tomato sauce at Napona so she spent a bit of time outside.  I was quite taken with their garden of succulents.  I have never seen succulents looking so pretty and green.  My photo does not do it justice but I am sharing the photo in case I ever have the opportunity or yen to do such a garden myself.

The adults were happy to spend time sitting around reading books and magazines.  I finished Family Baggage by Monica McInerny.  The younger kids were more interested in games.  The house came with some construction games like the marble drop and the magnetics (above).  My older nieces were using Youtube to teach themselves how to solve the Rubik's Cube.  There was also plenty of rooms for hide and seek.

And there were board games.  Dash brought along his Harry Potter Cluedo.  We brought along Forbidden Island.  Someone brought along Monopoly (Australian here and now edition).  And one afternoon when Sylvia and Dash started poking me in boredom, I sat down with them and played Scrabble.  My dad was brilliant and helping with words but I was amused to see that the kids were happier to put down a naughty word than to score lots of points.

And then there was one last dinner to use up all our holiday pantry and one last sleep.  The last night was a hot one that ended in rain at about 6am on our last morning that required a dawn run outside to bring in our bathers and towels for the last time so they weren't wet on the drive home.  I was quite tired as we left and a bit narky that the rain robbed me of my last trip to the beach but I was glad to get home.

Previous posts on Ocean Grove:

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Vegetarian Cobb Salad with smoked nuts and blue cheese dressing

So many times I browse a magazine, love a recipe and pass it by.  I was all prepared to do so with this Cobb Salad.  Then the carrot salad I was going to make was not needed as my brother in law has a famous carrot salad.  So I turned to this Cobb Salad for my parents' wedding anniversary lunch down at the beach this week.

Lately I have fallen in love with arranging vegies and fruit on a platter.  So I don't know why I don't make lots of cobb salads.  Perhaps this will now change.  This one was wonderful.  In fact any selection of vegies would work with chopped nuts and this rich creamy dressing.  I substitute chickpeas for the boiled eggs but loved the summeriness of the vegies.

Thanks to my sister who selected a ripe avocado for me.  It is not my forte.  And blue cheese is also usually out of my comfort zone.  But I was encouraged by so many blue cheese lovers among my nieces and nephews.  If blue cheese is not your thing, another creamy (and/or vegan) dressing would work too (I would suggest something mustardy)

Here is my plate of salads from the buffet.  I am making the most of the rare moment of wifi while we are at the beach to share this salad.  I will be back after my trip to share more of the beach holiday and more of what we ate including some of these salads.  Suffice to say, we are eating well on holiday!

More spectacular salads from Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Asparagus, strawberry and greens salad with poppyseed dressing (gf, v)  
Beetroot, raspberry and feta salad (gf)
Leon superfood salad (gf)
Quinoa, cashew and honeyed carrot salad (gf)
Strawberry avocado and walnut salad with a chocolate vinaigrette (gf, v)
Watermelon, mint and feta salad (gf) 

Cobb Salad
Adapted from Super Food Ideas Jan/Feb 2018
Serves 4-8

400g tin of chickpeas, drained
2 bunches of asparagus, chopped
125g raspberries
125g blueberries
1 ripe avocado, diced
250g strawberries, halved
few handfuls baby French kale leaves
1/2 cup smoked or roasted almonds, finely chopped

Blue cheese dressing:
60g castello blue cheese
2 tbsp light sour cream
3 tbsp milk
squeeze of lemon juice, to taste
1-2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

Firstly make blue cheese dressing by mixing all ingredients until creamy.  If too thick, add a little more milk.

Cook asparagus until just on the crunchy side of cooked (2-5 minutes depending on thickness - watch it as it cooks quickly and you want to retain green colour). Plunge into ice cold water to cool.

Arrange fruit and vegies in rows on a platter.  Scatter with chopped nuts.  Serve with blue cheese dressing either on the side or drizzled over salad.

On the Stereo:
Franz Ferdinand