Cook this: snow globe cupcakes 

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Tis the season for Pinterest fails. Epic ones. I was fully prepared for this to be one of them, and my first attempt was. But, practice and persistence (read: stubbornness) prevailed and I somehow managed to get out a batch of snow globe cupcakes for Christmas dinner!

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After reading the instructions, it actually seemed pretty straight forward…
• Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water.
• Melt the gelatin sheets in a small saucepan.
• Blow up water balloons and affix to skewers with tape.
• Rub a little cooking spray oil over the balloons.
• Transfer melted gelatin to small cup.
• Dip balloons in and poke skewers into styrofoam and leave to dry for 10 minutes.
• Re-dip balloons and leave to dry overnight.
• Slowly let the air out of the balloons and you’re left with a lovely little transparent bubble that you just need to trim the bottom of and plonk gloriously atop your cupcakes.

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Not that hard once you’ve made the mistakes the first and second time. When you give it a go, here were my main mistakes that led to my fails:
• 12 sheets of gelatin will just make 12 balloons. There is no room for error if you want a full dozen cupcakes. I’d suggest buying more to be safe.
• Don’t use too much oil to rub over the balloons or the gelatin won’t stick at all.
• Really secure those balloons tightly to the skewers or they’ll fall right off with the weight of the gelatin.
• If you don’t have a styrofoam block to stick the skewers in, grab a few tall vases or glasses and fan them out – if they bump and stick to each other, you’re screwed.

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Ready to give them a go?! I found my inspiration and the accompanying instructions here – if you’re brave enough to give them a try, let me know how you go!

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Photo essay: our Italian family Christmas Eve tradition… Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!! I hope everyone enjoyed the day with their loved ones and made it onto the “good” list and had a visit from the jolly man 😉

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Seeing as how Christmas is (to me, anyway) more about spending time with the people you love, and also as how this blog is in large part my digital time capsule, I wanted to share something a bit special this morning as we all rush off to open gifts and deliver trays of pavlova to the family lunch table. I wanted to share a few pictures of our most important and enduring family tradition; dinner with dad’s side of the family and his parents’ house. More commonly and affectionately known as “The Feast.”

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Traditionally, Italians don’t eat meat on Christmas Eve; instead, they indulge in seafood. And so every year, Nonno hits the Preston Market, sparing no expense for the freshest prawns, calamari and lobster he can get his hands on (and being a decades old customer, he gets some pretty good stuff).

The Feast happens Christmas Eve, every year, without fail. I’ve only missed one; last year, because we were in Chicago (eating Italian food at Eataly, because anything else on Christmas Eve would be sacreligious). International travel not-withstanding, it’s a given that we’re all there every year. Mum and dad, my auntie and uncle, us three girls plus our other halves, and my cousins. Nonna and Nonno host every year in their big, beautiful house, and whatever else has been going on is forgotten for the night. This year is the first year we’ve done it without mum and dad; it’s their turn to be overseas this year. So I thought I’d capture a bit of the fun for them so that they wouldn’t have to completely miss it 🙂

 

Tradition dictates the following:

– But first, wine. This year’s conversation between Nonno and I:
“Jessica. Wine?”
“Yeah, why not Nonno?! Just a little bit though, I’m driving.”
“No! Let’s get drunk!”

– Food. Calamari come first. If you arrive early enough, you make your way to the pizza room to “help” fry them (read: eat a few pieces before anyone else). Once served at the dinner table, fights to the death over the golden grilled pieces of deliciousness are not uncommon. My cousin has been known to eat more than the rest of us combined (that kind of behaviour has now been outlawed).

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– Then comes pasta. Because that’s what Nonno wants to eat. Every. Single. Day. There are also those two idiots who have as much freshly grated parmesan in the bowl as pasta – I’m one of them.

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– Next up: giant mutant prawns and lobster. They’re fresh and clean and absolutely enormous, served with lemon wedges, tartare sauce, and a simple salad dressed with olive oil, salt and vinegar. My uncle waits (sometimes) for everyone to take their share of the salad, then proceeds to eat his share straight from the big metal bowl, while laughing maniacally at whatever’s going on around him.

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– Also a few bowls of bocconcini. Nipple jokes are inevitable. They don’t make us giggle any less now that we’re all adults.

– And don’t forget the fruit platters, Lindt balls, coffees and Nonna and Zia’s zeppole – Italian sugar-coated donuts made from the lightest, fluffiest dough. Zia even made a few balls and filled them with Nutella; further proof that Italians are the original hipsters. We’ve been making this stuff for years!

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The only thing missing this year was mum and dad, who are currently enjoying a beautiful, cold Christmas in a little Italian town with mum’s extended family 🙂

So, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Buon Natale! I hope everyone had/has a great weekend 🙂

Christmas Eve Eve. Theme: New Orleans

It’s no secret that husband and I fell ass-backwards in love with New Orleans in January; when we visited the shopping centers to get some new Christmas decorations back in November with the idea of having a theme instead of random crap everywhere, and found packs of baubles and beads in green, gold and purple, as well as sparkly mini Mardi Gras-style masks, it seemed like the universe was throwing us a bone. We stocked up, decked out the tree, and couldn’t have been happier with the result! The only thing missing is a sparkly gold flour de-lis tree topper, but by the time I thought of it, it was too late to order one… Maybe next year.

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Once the tree was up, we had another Christmas tradition to discus – our Christmas Eve Eve dinner. Yeah, it’s a thing (for us, anyway). It all started when we first started dating 11 Christmases ago; between Christmas Eve dinner with my family, a quick Christmas morning visit to his parents’ place, Christmas lunch with my family and back with his family for Christmas dinner, we didn’t actually have any time for just US. So we made Christmas Eve Eve our thing, and it just kinda kept going…

All it is is that we have dinner together that night, no matter what. Some years has been as simple as a Nandos chicken wrap or bowl of pasta; other years have been nice restaurants and fancy home cooking. This year we thought it’d be fun to keep in theme and go New Orleans style 🙂 it was also my turn for Breakfast Club, so I thought I’d incorporate that in as well, and made muffulettas for breaky. Not quite the Central Grocery stuff, but not bad…

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I still had to work, so after breaky I got on yo that, but not before setting up the slow cooker for dinner. One of our favourite and most memorable meals in New Orleans was the BBQ we had at The Joint, particularly the pulled pork with slaw and mac & cheese. So dinner was pulled pork, mac & cheese pots and slaw.

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And don’t forget the beignets for dessert, albeit half a pound lighter on the powdered sugar than Cafe du Monde 😉

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Our only other Christmas tradition now is to take Marley for a walk to the park so he can play for a while, then come back and have home made scones with jam for breakfast.. After that, we’re at the mercy of our families! How about everyone else – what holiday traditions does everyone have?! I love hearing about these things!

Cook this: cranberry gingerbread granola

Because I’m kinda getting into Christmas more than usual this year, and wanted to find a way to extend the gingerbread man into a legitimate breakfast option.

You know what’s funny? I used to HATE gingerbread men as a kid. Absolutely hated them. I think it was because I was always given ones that had cinnamon as well as ginger in them, and cinnamon just makes me sick. So for the longest time I’ve gone without. Until last year; I gave this recipe a crack and just didn’t put cinnamon in (duh). Now, these gingerbread gentlemen are year-round favourites in our house!

I’ve made a few batches leading up to Christmas this year, too, and added dried cranberries in the last batch, which made them even better )didn’t actually think that was possible), so I based this granola recipe on that successful and quickly devoured batch…

Ingredients (makes 4 serves):
– 2 cups rolled oats
– 1-2 tsp ground ginger (depending on how strong you want it)
– 1 tsp brown sugar
– 2 tbsp nuts or seeds of choice
– 3 tbsp maple syrup
– 2 tbsp vegetable oil
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– small handful dried cranberries

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a baking tray with paper.
2. Combine 1½ cups of the oats, the ground ginger, brown sugar and your nuts or seeds in a large mixing bowl, and set aside.
3. In a smaller bowl, combine the maple syrup, oil and vanilla; pour that into the oat mixture and stir through to coat the oats well.
4. Pour the oats onto the oven tray and bake for 15 – 20  minutes (depending on how crunchy you want them), checking every 5 minutes or so to toss the oats around, ensuring they bake evenly.
5. Let them cool on the tray, then mix in the rest of the oats and the cranberries, and enjoy! If you have a lovely friend like I do, you may even get a cutie pie gingerbread man to thrown in with your breakfast 😉

Another Christmas gift guide… for the classic bookworms

Well, this is it! Saturday morning and time to get that Christmas shopping done! Before you get started, here’s one last guide – some of the literary classics for the bookworm in your life! Bonus? They can all be ordered online at Book Depository to arrive in time for Christmas!

Clockwise from top left…

1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
What’s it all about? The classic teenage struggle against life and death and loneliness and isolation and all of the difficulties that come with those tumultuous years.
Buy it for: The one who’s had a rough trot.

2. On The Road by Jack Kerouac
What’s it all about? One of my favourite books of all time, Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical piece is based on the travels he and his friends took across America which defined a generation, and continues to capture those of us with gypsy hearts even now, almost 50 years after it was published
Buy it for: The gypsy heart and wanderluster

3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
What’s it all about? It’s the classic Victorian horror tale about the vampire that inspired all the tales and movies to come. And it’s a classic for a reason.
Buy it for: The fantasty and horror buffs

4. Slaughterhouse5 by Kurt Vonnegut
What’s it all about? A satirical look at the experiences of the protagonist’s journey through World War II, told in flashbacks and memories
Buy it for: Anyone who’s seen a “everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt” tattoo and not known where the quote came from.

5. 1984 by George Orwell
What’s it all about? The original Big Brother – the classic dystopian tale of a society where nothing is sacred and nothing is secret.
Buy it for: The skeptics. And the optimists.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
What’s it all about? This is another huge favourite of mine – it’s about Dorian Gray, a beautiful young man who wishes to stay that way. This isn’t about a piece of art, it’s about the evil within us all and the lengths we’ll go to to get what we want.
Buy it for: The one preoccupied with youth and beauty

7. Around The World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
What’s it all about? The premise of the story is quite simple: Phileas Fogg, an upstanding but eccentric English gentlemen makes a bet with his mates to the tune of, today, what is around £1.6 million (or just over AUD$3 million!) that he can travel around the world in exactly 80 days
Buy it for: The escapist.

8. Lillytales wooden bookmark
What’s it all about? These gorgeous wooden bookmarks are handmade in Melbourne, and they are the best accessory for a new book!
Buy it for: Everyone! Obviously!

9. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
What’s it all about? The romantic comedy with a sad twinge about a young woman with commitment issues in New York who’s just trying to find her way. Still quite relevant, despite being written over 50 years ago…
Buy it for: The one who doesn’t realise the movie was based on a book.

Also gift guiding…
for the travellers
for the foodies
for the tea lovers

Another Christmas gift guide… for the travellers

Happy Friday! Hope everyone is ready for the weekend Christmas shopping anarchy that’s about to hit… A little more help coming your way this morning, your gift guide for the travellers and explorers…

Clockwise from top left…

1. Scratch map
What’s it all about? A world map with a foil layer that can be scratched off to reveal the countries you’ve visited. Amazing! Available all over the place – Australian Geographic stores, Etsy, eBay, etc…
Buy it for: The visual record-keepers.

2. Mini globe & stickers
What’s it all about? I decided to take my scratch map idea to another level – I found this cute little globe for $7 at Kmart and bought a pack of stick on sparkles to lay over the cities I’ve visited. Awesome little piece to add to anyone’s bookshelf.
Buy it for: The travellers who like to decorate with their travels.

3. Notebook
What’s it all about? Pretty straightforward – I always carry a notebook when I travel, and I’d rather have  a pretty one! I picked this one up for $4 from Officeworks; Typo also have a lot of very cute ones around.
Buy it for: The travellers who like to record as they go.

4. Luggage tag
What’s it all about? Finding your suitcase on the conveyor belt is never fun – a colourful luggage tag is a no-brainer. I love the ones from Typo and have bought them for heaps of family and friends over the years.
Buy it for: The easily frustrated and impatient traveller.

5. Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food
What’s it all about? One of the best parts of travelling is experiencing all the different food. This is a part travel guide, part cookbook. It’s a great way to re-live the memories you’ve eaten, and it gets a lot of use at my house – the gozleme are a massive favourite!
Buy it for: The travelling foodie.

6. Lonely Planet’s The Travel Book
What’s it all about? It’s a classic for travellers – all of the places in one nifty little volume with all the basic information to get you motivated to pack your bags and visit Tunisia or Belize or New Caledonia…
Buy it for: Everyone!

Also gift guiding…
for the foodies
for the tea lovers
for the classic bookworms

Another Christmas gift guide… for the tea lovers

Next up is the tea lover gift guide, because how could I not?!

Clockwise from top left, we’ve got…

1. T2’s Melbourne Breakfast Tea
What’s it all about? My favourite black tea – deliciously rich, with an amazing vanilla flavour.
Buy it for: English breakfast tea drinkers who are due for a change

2. A T2 tea set
What’s it all about? T2 have the most stunning tea sets, at a range of prices to suit everyone. The one pictured was a gift from my sister for my birthday, but it’s not my only one!
Buy it for: Everyone. Whether they’re being used to drink or decorate, there’s something for everyone in there!

3. English Tea Shop tea
What’s it all about? Organic, fair trade and utterly delicious, these are my favourite tea bag teas. I go through a 20 pack box of English Breakfast tea probably every 6 weeks or so, and I’m also in love with the lemongrass, citrus and ginger first thing in the morning.
Buy it for: The tea lovers who care about what goes into their tea, and where it comes from.

4. The Old Tea Shop almond & vanilla tea
What’s it all about? One of my favourite places to buy tea from, the range is enormous (over 200 different types), the gem scones baked on site are fantastic, and you can order online if you don’t have time to get to Warburton. My favourite is the almond and vanilla black tea.
Buy it for: Again, everyone – with over 200 teas to choose from, it shouldn’t be too hard!

5. Target glass teapot
What’s it all about? I’ve always wanted a glass teapot, and when I found this one for around $20 at Target, I jumped at it – there’s something beautiful about watching the tea infuse…
Buy it for: The tea lovers who have every other type of teapot.

6. The Spice & Tea Exchange coconut oolong tea
What’s it all about? Hands down the best non-black tea I’ve ever had. Found it in New Orleans and just found out I can order it online to be delivered to my door! It’s the most incredible coconut, woody, fresh flavour, get on it!
Buy it for: An alternative to the standard black or green tea options.

7. Op shop tea accessories
What’s it all about? Underrated way of shopping for tea accessories; hit the op shops and see what you can find! I got that teapot at an op shop for $10, and the vintage cup and saucer for around $15, and they’re my favourites in my big collection because they’re the two pieces that really have soul 🙂
Buy it for: The special tea loving hipster in your life.

 

Also gift guiding…
for the foodies
for the travellers
for the classic bookworms