Famous chocolate cake comes to Baking Blind

Famous chocolate cake comes to Baking Blind: Jo and her cake are so renowned that they appear on the cover of the telephone book!  She was festooned with all her Country Women’s Association badges and awards when we cooked it together in Kiama, New South Wales, Australia https://youtu.be/6gjS2qauKQY

She is a very special baker: hugely knowledgeable, practical and great fun.  And, like any cook, generous in sharing her recipes too.  This cake is very straightforward to make: melt most of the ingredients together and then mix in the eggs and flour.  The result is incredibly liquid: more like a sauce than a familiar cake mix.    Pouring it in to the baking tin was even trickier for me without sight but we managed it.

Jo’s tip for an award-winning cake is to turn it out on to a cooling rack covered with a tea cloth.  This keeps the top flat and smooth, rather than trellised by the rack.  Just that extra care that separates the home cooks like me from the prize-winners like her.  No wonder she’s running a successful cake business.

The result is a cake that can be dressed up as much as you like: Jo’s cover cake was sandwiched around chocolate ganache and decorated with a chocolate flower.  She also uses this mix to make cup cakes and “cake pops” (rounds of cake impaled on a lolly stick, covered in more chocolate and dipped in sprinkles).

Its testimony to her skill and achievements that every home across the area has a picture of her and her cake on their telephone book.

Next time, meet professional blind chef, Martin, in Sydney.

 

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Forces finalist

Here’s a short interview to read, hear and see about being a finalist in the Ex-Military in Business awards:

https://www.forces.net/military-life/veterans/british-ex-forces-business-penny-melville-brown

I’m in the “most inspirational” category which is probably where they put all of us who don’t fit in elsewhere – the story of my life!  There are nine other excellent contenders so I strongly suspect that   I won’t get pulled out of the hat next week.

But it will be good to show all the employers present that people with disabilities  have lots of workplace potential.  Its certainly time that more of them  recognised that just having a health condition doesn’t fry our brains or make us incapable of doing a good job.

 

 

Near Death

 

We’d had a magical morning with aboriginal bushtucker expert, Fred.  He’d introduced me to his wilderness “supermarket” where nature can provide nearly everything for survival.

There was lamandra: a type of grass that has rhubarb-like thick succulent bases to the stems that you can eat.  The seeds can be dried and ground for flour to mix with a little water and bake on a stone for basic flatbread.  And the long grass-like stems themselves are fibrous and strong – perfect for weaving in to baskets or plaiting for a little bush bracelet.

The banksia tree has enormous flowers and equally big seed heads that are packed full of natural oils.  Fred explained that one of these seed heads, pre-heated in a fire, could be carried in your lamandra basket to another camp to start the next fire.  Useful in times without matches and when there are no handy boy scouts to rub together.

He had some invaluable tips for testing which bushtucker is safe to eat: usually, anything red is worth avoiding.  But, if the birds are eating red berries, they are probably safe.  You can double check by rubbing a little of the berry juice on the soft skin inside your wrist.  If it doesn’t react, you can try the next test: rubbing a little on the inside of your lip.  Again, if your mouth doesn’t swell or go numb, its probably safe.  On the other hand, you might prefer to be safe rather than sorry and rely on an expert like Fred.

And minutes later, the risks of nature really came home to me.  When we had finished filming, Toby and a friend went off for a swim.  As I arrived to join them, there was the squealing wheels of police cars and officers asking who had called for help.  I could only guess!

Toby and our friend were about 300 metres out in the sea where they had been swept by a rip current.  There was no way that they could get back to the beach and they were getting cold and tired trying to stay afloat in the choppy water.

Four police cars, two paramedic units, two rescue surfers and two helicopters arrived within minutes – plus the local television reporter.  The first surfer to arrive went straight out with his   board to give them help, closely followed by the second with a special rescue board equipped with handgrips and  straps.

One by one, they were brought ashore on the boards with the helicopters’ downdraft blowing them along.  It really had been touch and go – a few minutes more and they would have drowned.  The paramedics stepped in to check vital signs, wrap them in towels and foil survival “space blankets”.  On their shaky thin white legs, they looked like a couple of oven-ready chickens!

All my hard work to promote the Baking Blind adventure went for nothing – they made the national news that night while I languished on the side-lines!  But the relief was enormous.  I’d felt completely useless standing alone on the beach walkway.  A blind person staggering around on the sand would have just distracted the rescue team so I could do nothing but worry and wait.  My lasting thanks to a man from Cumbria who came to talk to me: he could explain what was going on and reassure me that he could still see two heads out in the sea.       It was a desperate feeling to be completely unable to help in anyway

Fish – Aboriginal style

Meet the fabulous Fred – bush tucker cook and expert forager as he showed me how to make this superb and simple dish near Seven Mile Beach in Australia  https://youtu.be/40kJYIzyNw4

This was one of the most memorable days during the whole of my time cooking around the world – entirely due to Fred, his knowledge, humour and great food.  His whole sense of place and history brought all those generations of the indigenous people of Australia alive for us info@fredsbushtucker.com.au.  He even had a perfect way of catching fish with leaves from the wattle tree.

But, being modern folk, we’d come equipped with a fresh snapper fish from just an ordinary supermarket while Fred had brought the rest of the ingredients and his barbecue to a local wildlife area.  He too has some disability – along term back injury – but he used his bushcraft to find and make his own walking cane.

This was nearly the same as cooking en papilotte (in a paper parcel) and even his bush equivalent had a similar name.  He’d gathered the paper bark from trees near the Wolagong steel works so they came impregnated with their own Smokey flavour.

The bark was thoroughly soaked while we filled the fish cavity with river mint and lemon myrtle gathered fresh from the wild.

The fish was wrapped in the bark with a knot that would embarrass any Boy Scout. Paper bark is very waterproof so it has many uses from thatching to being aboriginal greaseproof paper for us.  The final touch was to enclose the whole parcel within two huge lily leaves.  They are enormous, thick and succulent  with the perfect shape to enclose a whole fish.  They needed trimming with an axe – I did the chopping while he kept his fingers clear.  The whole plant-made package went straight on to the barbecue for about half an hour and the end result was succulent soft fish scented with the herbs – delicious.

 

Meet the CWA and their scones   – https://youtu.be/I3M-tbtufog  down-under equivalents to our British WIs and their Victoria sponges.   I was learning from the very best in Kiama, Australia

Jo, one of the renowned champions of the Country Women’s Association was generous enough to share her amazing recipe for lemonade scones: just self-raising flour, cream and the fizzy drink of your choice.  She and others make over 50,000 for just one local show so I knew she was a top expert.

This was my first cooking session after landing in Australia following a long and day-late flight from China.  The warm Spring weather and the charm of this little seaside town nestled in the countryside was a complete change from the teeming metropolis of Chongqing.

It was a real privilege to start with a lesson from Jo, an award-winning cook who has turned her skill in to a thriving business (Sweetwood cakes).  We spent a sunny morning in the bright kitchen of Ken and Rosemary, long-term friends who were generously hosting me in their Kiama home.  Gemma, herself a professional pastry chef, and fellow CWA-member, Jennifer, were there too – making sure that my attempts wouldn’t utterly disgrace their exacting standards.

Cooking alongside Jo was a delight: her passion, knowledge and great sense of humour were just what I’d expect from a completely confident and super-competent cook.  We laughed all morning and invented new recipes on the spot: how about beer in place of lemonade to make scones for a ploughman’s lunch; perhaps even a cream tea would be more luxurious with a champagne scone? The variations could be as endless as there are carbonated drinks in the world!

When I got back to the UK, sparkling wine was the perfect alternative and I added horseradish sauce to half the mixture for savoury scones to serve with a smoked salmon mousse.    Definitely one for the recipe book!