Aussie Jelly Bar

I made these for my older son’s birthday because they are so eye catching and, from nine years of throwing children’s parties, I know how popular anything is with jelly in it. I love how pretty all the layers look once the jelly has set, and I also wanted to pay tribute to the wonderful baking traditions of Australia, and New Zealand too, where I have had the most delicious homemade-tasting slices, cakes, tarts and pies at almost every random cafe we’ve dropped into while travelling.

Be ready to watch the jelly bars vanish as quickly as they arrive at the table!

Biscuit layer:

  • plain biscuits (like digestives or grahams), 250g
  • butter, 185g, melted
  1. Mix together and press into the base of a baking tin lined with parchment paper and pre-spritzed with Pam spray


  • condensed milk, 400g, or one tin
  • lemons, 2, juice of
  • gelatin, 2 tsp
  • water, 3/4, for the gelatin
  1. Dissolve the gelatin in the water, which should be freshly boiled, allow to cool
  2. Mix the milk, lemon juice and dissolved gelatin well, try to minimize bubbling
  3. Pour over the biscuit layer and refrigerate for at least two hours
  4. Feel free to add a few tablespoons of sugar to this layer, as the entire jelly bar isn’t as sweet as the image may lead one to believe


  • *Jello, 85g, strawberry or raspberry flavour
  • boiling hot water, 1 cup
  • cold water, 1 cup
  1. Dissolve Jello in hot water, add cold water, allow to cool
  2. Pour onto lemon layer which should be firm
  3. Refrigerate for three hours or overnight
  4. Cut into squares and serve

*or any brand of jelly. Zero-sugar jelly is fine too

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June 28, 2009. Tags: , , . Baked Goods, Desserts, Festive, Kids Cuisine. Leave a comment.

The Ducklings (Not, I Repeat Not, a Diva Food Item)

This is not a Diva posting on Food, but more on Love and Family (see my blurb on the Home page, I’m supposed to be writing on the other stuff too). Family brought home the ducklings and I fell in love. Here’s what happened.

My Third Grader at Hillside worked his charm on me last week, begging to be allowed to bring home a pair of chicks or ducklings for the weekend that his class had been watching grow from pre-hatching days, courtesy of a local farm. Once the little birds get to what he aptly calls the ‘leggy’ stage, they’re sent back to the farm, where I’m sure they are allowed to feed and run freely and live a long and carefree life, safe from insinuations of tarragon or plum sauce, or whispers of the dreaded word, “roast.”

“They’re really easy to look after,” my 9-year-old assured me, “and there will be many lessons learned.”

He was right about the latter and I dearly hope he learned as much as I did.

Lesson #1: What goes in must come out. A lot. The minute we walked through our door with the adorable, fuzzy 3-day-old house guests, my son announces, “Oh, by the way, all they do is poo and pee the whole time.” No kidding.

Lesson #2: Never switch your NYT subscription to an online one the week you adopt ducklings. I had to rummage around for old copies of the NYT, stopping short of my souvenir ones of President Obama’s inauguration. Those duckies had plenty of riveting reading material by some of the country’s top journalists all weekend.

Lesson #3: Don’t be a chicken about handling ducklings. I had no idea this would be challenging. They’re not chubby or ‘solid’ like young cats or pups. Indeed, you can feel every rib under all that blanket of yellow down – a bit of a surprise if you’re not used to it. So my son (an expert bird handler by now) had the job of transferring the ducks to a box while I cleaned out every last detail of their post-digested oatmeal and grits. About four or five times a day.

Lesson #4: Ducks like their oatmeal with water

Lesson #5: As much as drinking it, they enjoy sitting in their drinking water, however small the bowl

Lesson #6: Ducklings snuggle and sleep together. They are very sweet this way

Lesson #7: Ducklings do not quack. They cheep, and they do this quietly.

Lesson #8: Ducklings grow on you. No matter how much time and trouble their toilet habits caused, we all miss their quiet, snuggly, sweet sunshine-yellow presence!

June 23, 2009. Tags: , . Kids, Musings, Stories. 3 comments.

Lunchbox Star: The Cheese and Chutney Sandwich

Another winner for the school lunchbox and one that easily fits into a picnic basket, too. Both my children have recently requested easy meals they can despatch with haste in order to get to the more important tasks of hanging with friends or hanging on a climbing frame (usually upside down, which can’t be encouraging for any sandwich).

Layer up wholemeal bread with double brie, baby spinach and mango chutney (Trader Joe’s). Slap ’em together and serve with a side of fruit. I saw not a crumb in either lunchbox after school!

Some mums might fret about the choice of cheese, but feel free to substitute low-fat (i.e. flavorless, plasticky) cheddar for it. But moi? I’ll pick the full-fat one myself, thanks very much. It’s not as if we have brie every day or top it off with vats of ice cream at the same sitting.

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June 18, 2009. Tags: , , . Kids Cuisine, Lunch, Lunchbox, Nutrition, One-dish meals. 2 comments.

Pistachio and White Chocolate Cookie

I love the green saltiness of pistachios against the creamy white chocolate in in this cookie. Anyone concerned about the amount of (supremely unavoidable) butter might be comforted to know that studies suggest pistachios help to reduce the bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, in your system, while raising the good (high-density lipoprotein). In other words, they’re heart healthy.

They also pack a huge amount of lutein, the antioxidant found in dark, leafy veggies. Before you eat vats of the stuff, take a look at the Telegraph’s story.

Add a drop of almond essence to bring out the nut in the cookie (and in you!) .

  • butter, 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks), softened
  • white sugar, 1/2 cup
  • brown sugar, 1/2 cup
  • egg, 1, large
  • white wholemeal flour, 1 cup
  • ground pistachios, 1/2 cup
  • whole pistachios, 1/2 cup
  • white chocolate chunks, 1/2 to 1 cup
  • baking soda, 1 tsp
  • vanilla essence, 1 tsp
  1. Preheat oven to 375F, 180C
  2. Cream the butter and sugars together, add the egg
  3. Add baking soda and flour, cream till combined
  4. Fold in the pistachios and chocolate
  5. Bake about 12 mins or till golden brown
  6. Allow to cool and store in a tin, if the family hasn’t gobbled them all up!

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June 11, 2009. Tags: . Baked Goods, Cookies, Kids Cuisine. 2 comments.

Kids in a Candy Store

This admission will horrify many a grandmother, but our oldest son never knew what a sweet was until he was 6 years old. Undoubtedly my fault for attempting to sway the course of nature and avoid him inheriting my debilitating weakness for sweets. I did succeed, for by 6, his palate for smoked salmon, pesto, sushi and fresh fruit was so determined that he had no interest in candy.

While he loves chocolate now, he doesn’t hanker after it in large amounts, nor does the word ‘cake’ quicken his pulse as much as the word ‘computer.’ This upsets me no end, since I am a maker and baker of the stuff (cake, not computers) and enjoy stuffing my face with it too.

On the upside, while he says No to cake elsewhere, my firstborn adds, “I only like your cakes, Mummy.” Which is rather satisfying. Except I don’t see him eating any.

Anyway, our second son came along and changed all that. From pre-birth days, he would kick in excitement if I so much as drank anything sugary, and, well, if I ate chocolate, there would be no sleep for me that night thanks to the in-belly gymnastics. Postnatally? He’d give up his three square meals a day for a barrel of candy any time.

So, upon persuasion by sweet-loving child #2, we made a trip recently to Dylan’s Candy Bar in Manhattan which, surprisingly, went down well with both children (and both adults). The colours, the shapes, the variety, the .. CANDY! We honestly didn’t know where to look in this brainchild store of Dylan, daughter of the designer Ralph Lauren.

Still, there was too much choice and my younger son came away with not very much. He grabbed a modest-sized plastic ‘house’ and filled it with a few jellybeans, sour gums and M&Ms, put back the giant lollipop (see photo) and that was that.

Fabulous eye candy though, even if you haven’t the stomach for it!

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June 8, 2009. Tags: , . Kids Cuisine, Musings. Leave a comment.

The Mango: Moist, Majestic and Morish

Mangoes featured very strongly in the early days of Richard’s and my romance, the buds of which were planted in India, from where the fruit originates. Indeed, we all have a soft spot for the fruit and are thrilled that it’s back in season again.

When I grew up in my grandmother’s home in Malaysia, she had a massive, enormously fertile mango tree right in front of her house. Its branches hung low and gracefully, providing welcome shade and coolness, and inviting my brothers and I to clamber upon them and give them the adoration they deserved. As if we didn’t spend enough time there, my grandfather tied a plank swing seat to one of its branches (the kind that would give anyone at Health & Safety a heart attack), and thus were spent the remaining hours of our carefree, childish days.

In the heat of the tropical summer, the tree would be heavily pregnant with fruit, leaving us awash in mangoes for months. My grandmother would give away as many as she could to the delighted neighbours, who were also the recipients of all the other fruit, veg and herbs that grew in Gran’s garden – soursop, jackfruit, coconut, plantain, bananas, papayas, Lady’s fingers (okra), basil, curry leaves, tomatoes.

While she had dozens of recipes for the bananas, plantain and coconut, the mangoes we ate fresh, and immediately. It didn’t make sense to adorn or dilute a fruit so voluptuous, so complete in colour, taste and perfume.

Having said that, my younger son loves homemade mango smoothies or mango lassis nearly as much as he loves the fresh fruit.

My favourite mango is the Alphonso, which is grown mainly in Western India. There’s no match for the perfect sweet yet tangy and firm flesh of this cultivar, along with its citrusy mango aroma and intense yellow-orange colour.

As I have yet to find these mangoes in north America, I am eternally grateful to Costco for regularly bringing in Champagne mangoes from Mexico. The taste isn’t as explosive, but the colour and texture are there, along with the lack of fibrosity that separates a good mango from its lesser brethren. It might behoove you to know the average Champagne mango packs a modest 80 calories, with lots of Vitamin A, C and folate too!

How to cut the mango? This could require a video (another blog entry, another day). Take the fruit and, keeping in mind it has a large seed in the middle, cut a semi-circle off each side. With your knife, make hatches and cross-hatch them so you have little square or diamond shaped segments of flesh (see photos). Hold each half and invert them by pushing the skin upwards. To eat, use a spoon and scoop the squares off. Or just dive in, face first!

For more mango recipes, click here and here.

(All text and photos or images are copyright protected. Please do not reprint any stories, recipes or photographs without the author’s permission.)

June 5, 2009. Tags: , . Asian, Kids Cuisine, Musings, Nutrition, Spring, Summer, Vegetarian. 6 comments.

Almond and Chocolate Chip Cookies

An all-time favourite for the lunch box and after school, now with added protein. They are delectably squidgy and nut-scented 🙂

  • plain flour, 2 cups
  • almond meal, 1 cup
  • white sugar, 1 cup,
  • dark brown sugar, 1/2 cup
  • butter, 1 1/4 cup
  • eggs, 2, large
  • vanilla, 1 tsp
  • salt, 1/2 tsp
  • baking powder, 1 tsp
  • chocolate chunks or chips, 1 cup

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F, 170C
  2. Cream the sugar and butter till light and fluffy
  3. Add eggs and cream further
  4. Sift flour, salt and baking soda together
  5. Add flour mixture to creamed sugar/butter, in 3 parts
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips
  7. Bake for about 12 minutes, allow to cool on a rack

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June 4, 2009. Tags: . Baked Goods, Cookies, Kids Cuisine. 3 comments.