A trip to the Brooklyn  Children's Museum and a 3 hour drive home thru Manhattan traffic.  4 kids, no snacks, nor water and Grandpa- who decided that it was too much. "Let me out"- Broadway,  a walk, a pub and Penn Station (Lucky Grandpa)...

3 Hours later and in need of drink, how about a Bombay- British COSMO...

2 oz  of Bombay sapphire 
1/2 oz Cointreau 
2 oz of Cranberry Juice
1 tsp fresh Lime (juice)
Add Ice and a wedge of lemon or lime

  • Pour the gin, Cointreau and juices into a cocktail shaker which is half-filled with ice cubes.
  • Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. 
  • Add a lemon or lime wedge to serve.

The Journey begins with:

1. Lessons from a gingerbread expert and a handy tip- use Meringue Powder!

2. A well thought out  plan, as instructed...

3. And memories of christmas in Mexico and  a famous childhood song...
There's a house with floor, with a floor, with floor
There's a house with some walls, with some walls, with some walls
There's a house with a roof, with a roof, with a roof (long pause....)

There's no more house anymore, anymore. There's no more house anymore...

But how about cocktails in Mexico???
In our Mexican inspired Gingerbread house...

With deluxe hotel style accommodation or you may prefer...

a beach hut with sea views

Each uniquely created by some fabulous, up and coming young and talented designers...
Lessons Learnt:
The gingerbread recipe- tried 3- the best and tastiest came from Martha Stewart's Baking Cookbook...The others were bland or molasses heavy...
Children and candy- don't mix! It was a quiet activity only because their mouths were full of candy (you mustn't talk with your mouth open!).

Construct with experts (or Grandpas with a lot of patience). Call on the preteens for decorating advice.

Let your house dry for an hour or two before adding candy- don't get over excited or have an ADHD moment...

The mansion vs the hut- Stick with the hut...This way everyone has their own accommodation, extended family should never live together for too long...And vacations are meant to be about rest and relaxtion...

The Best Advise
TARGET's $20 one - likely to be last year's house, (maybe even the year before) but buy it and save yourself the hassle..The kids only want the candy and to destroy it!
Baking from scratch sometimes isn't worth the mess, hyper kids nor the stress...

& yes the challenge will continue next year, now that the perfect gingerbread recipe has been discovered...The secret- fresh ginger! Merry Christmas xo

Let me introduce you to two fabulous women - Janet and her best mate, Liz, who also happens to be my neighbour. Janet recently volunteered to host the 2011 Cookie Exchange on my street (which I often refer to as 'Sesame Street' for it's friendly cast of characters).   

Now, there has not been a cookie exchange on sesame street since 2007.  Call her brave or silly, whatever it may be, Janet was keen to restart this tradition.  I was indeed honored to be invited.  Am I a fan of the Cookie Exchange? Not having been to one, I guess it would be unfair for me to comment, but I was a little scared, especially after I'd read the rules online!  However, in true Kate style, I was up for the challenge - either that or desperate for a ladies lunch minus my favourite small people...!
Now what to make? So many choices and this year, the Tim Tams-substitute-for-homemade-cookies wasn't going to cut it... I was after something a little different, something that tasted great, but had a little individuality... Passionfruit kisses... using my very last tin of passionfruit (yes, I'm not a fan of tinned fruit or any tinned food- but at $5.00 a passionfruit, the imported tin from home will be perfect)... I love my neighbors but I wasn't out to bake the million dollar cookie- it just needed to taste good and look bloody cute.

And truly, how hard can a 3 ingredient cookie be?

Well, I learnt the hard way.  And who or what does one blame for this disaster? PMT (well that's boring ).The hubby that I sent out with shopping list, who rarely goes to the supermarket [and as I discovered there is a good reason why] ?? The list of 10 things, 12 max ??  Ten phone calls later, he finally had it under control...Distracted by the supermarket helpline, the sweet little white kisses started to burn...

OR should I simply blame the cookbook??  Anyway, of course it wasn't my fault!  Batch number 3 and a day later, we had perfect little kisses - cooking time (done 5 minutes at time, to work out the right timing) 20-30 minutes. Oven not 250F - let's try 225F. Let's favourite cookbook, hubby and PMT off the hook...

Kissing advice
The 20 minute batch - let's just say they lost the crisp and gained some chew, once iced and bagged.
The 30 minute batch - left to dry overnight :perfect and crunchy.

My advice: keep your kisses simple - don't bag or add icing, just put them in a sweet little jar or bowl to snack on xo
5 hours later - I had mastered the perfect kiss

Thankfully there was Champagne, with freshly squeezed orange juice to help numb the pain of the cookie baking experience!

Went with 66 cookies and came home with 66 cookies... Now what???

PS I did also come home with this fabulous breakfast  recipe...
Stuffed Baked French Toast
Created with love, LIZ xo
Pantry Must haves
20 - 24 slices bread (I use Pepperidge Farm sandwich)  crust trimmed
6 eggs 
4 cups half and half
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
dash nutmeg

16 oz. cream cheese (2 pkgs Philly brick, not whipped)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
Optional - fruit, berries, applesauce
Spray 3 qt baking pan with nonstick spray.  
Arrange  half of the bread in pan so that the botton is complately covered (it is OK to cut and paste).
In a separate bowl mix eggs, half and half, vanilla and sugar.  Pour 1/2 liquid over bread.
In a separate bowl combine filling ingredients (except optional fruit) beating until creamy.
Spread over moistened bread, layer fruit if using. Arrange the other half of the bread over the top.
Pour the rest of the liquid mixture over the top.  Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
Let come to room temperature for an hour, then bake at 350 for 60 minutes.  
Let stand 10 - 30 min before cutting and serving.
Serve with heated maple syrup.  [I like a 50/50 mixture of commercial like Aunt Jemima and pure maple syrup heated for 1 minute in the microwave].

I found this visual & chuckled...

Image from Marbles the Brain store http://www.facebook.com/marblesthebrainstore

Let's discuss the Ptooey Gland of my daughter.  Below is a sample of her thought patterns from a classroom 'Thankful Book'.  NOTE the last [orange page] and what she is 'thankful for'...

 & The Whine Region
Hyper-thalamus. Triggers startling adrenaline burst before bed...

Miss T won.  Macaron Experiment No. 10 underway with toddler assistance...

Mummy's 11th attempt after toddler had gone to bed... 
Recipe??? Still perfecting.  A work in progress- a mission impossible?  Never...Will I brave this delicate, delightful yet most frustrating of all baking delights (excuse me; have I described a toddler or a cookie) for my first ever cookie exchange party???

Handy tips learnt from the above success story...
Martha's Recipe works - well it did today!
Use Red Mills Finely Ground Almond Meal/Flour- from blanched Whole Almonds (AVOID THE CHEAP ALTERNATIVES)
Heat your oven at 325F and drop it to 300F when you're ready to bake your macaroons.
Tap your baking tray 3-4 times to release the air bubbles- after you have piped your macaroons onto the tray...
Let your macarons sit before baking for at least 30 minutes (These words of wisdom came from a mate and a macaron master )!  

PS- And when someone says "Macarons- EASY -PEASEY"...DON'T BELIEVE THEM!
So...the journey continues....

Handy Hints
Make your favourite cake the day before. (You can use a packet mix but I find them to be a little sweet) 
Then add the chocolate and it's a sweet disaster!
Take it slowly and don't cheat - this is a labour of love- it's messy and fun.
Have your design planned out before starting.

Step 1.  Cool your cake (preferably overnight) and break it into chunks ...

Step 2.  Crumb your cake at a medium speed in cake mixer.

Step 3.  Mix and blend your favourite icing recipe.  
NOTE: Packet icing is very sweet- AVOID!

4.  Place icing in seperate bowl- return crumbs to bowl- and add a tablespoon of icing at time (mix on a medium speed, with a dough mixer)....One batch of icing should be enough for two cakes... Think of play dough when you do this part!
WARNING- this is the part that every cake pop beginner stuffs up.  If your cake is too moist it's very hard to work with...

5.  Shape cake dough - keep it simple! I use a small ice cream scoop to ensure that my pops are similar sizes...
6.  Set in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight... 
You can freeze the mixture, but don't dip the frozen cake 'balls' straight into the melted chocolate as  it will cause the chocolate to crack.
If you freeze your cake balls,  remove them from the freezer an hour before you need to work with them.

7.  Melt your chocolate- I use electric chocolate melting pots- it's worth the investment!

Expert advice- only take 10 cake balls out of fridge at a time...
8.  Dip your stick into the melted chocolate- then into a ball of cake. Let it set for a few minutes..
9.  Then dip the whole cake into the melted chocolate.
10.  Tap the stick gently to remove the excess chocolate- check your design plans as you may need to add something to your pop before the chocolate is dry (for example I needed  to secure the chocolate sprinkle button)
 11.  To  DRY: Stick your pop upright into a foam board or peg holder to dry... This is a balancing act!

12.  To STICK/glue extra candy to your pop:  Using a paint brush, apply melted chocolate to the area. Hold candy for a few seconds.  Once the chocolate has dried the candy is secure xo

START SIMPLE and have fun!

Parenting lesson 101- ignoring your child's protests to get out of bed and ready for school, generally works - "let them be late and suffer the punishment! Why should you stress your morning out with pre-teen defiance?". 
Maybe because your child has a field trip that day, leaving at 9.15am and by the way he needs to take lunch when of course you gave him lunch money that day...Oops! 

Outcome: The principal's lunch went with child.  Mother went home very embarassed.  Oh yes and the 'evil, forgot-to- give- to- mum reminder notice' was discovered in preteen's homework folder later that afternoon (a little too late)... 

Time to move on and we had some major sucking up to do.  So together, preteen and mum made the most delicious morning tea, hoping to smooth things over with the not-too-pleased-and-rightfully-so teachers and very hungry principal. xoxoo

Caramelized Ginger and Pomegranate Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Before you start
  1. Set oven at 345 f
  2. Grate fresh carrots - 1 1/2 cups 
The Pomegranate or Ginger Caramel

Pantry must haves
1 Tbspn of butter
1 Tbspn of grated fresh ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
115g pomegrante seeds ( This can left out if you're not a fan)
2 tbspns caster sugar

Melt butter over a low heat.
Add ginger and cinnamon and cook slowly for a few minutes to release aromas.
Stir in seeds (if desired) and sugar.
Add a little water if needed. Slowly reduce to a thick syrupy texture. Set aside.
The Cake

Pantry Must Haves 
100ml (1/2 cup) of vegetable oil
150g of plain (all purpose)flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
225g granulated sugar (caster)
2 eggs
3 Tbspns of sour cream or creme fraiche 
1 1/2 cups  of grated carrots


Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
Stir in sugar.
In another bowl whisk eggs, oil and cream.
Add flour and mix at a medium speed.
Stir in  caramelized ginger mixture
Scoop into patty pans (cupcake cases) using an ice cream scooper (1 1/2 scoops per case)
Cook for 20- 30 minutes til golden brown.

 Serve with Cream Cheese icing
6 Tbspns of Cream Cheese
6 Tbspns of Butter
3 cups of icing sugar
Beat all ingredients together. Spread or pipe icing, and top with grated carrot or a mini carrot stick 
What is a Cookie Exchange???

Let travel back a few years. I had been in the States for less than 3 months - Halloween, Thanksgiving (well I missed that one) and now an invite to a cookie exchange...WHAT IS A COOKIE EXCHANGE? I was give a few instructions - but I think I stopped listening at the '...make 12 DOZEN Cookies...' part.  What does one do with 12 DOZEN Cookies??  I still have a pillow case of candy to dispose of...Now you're going to add a mountain of cookies to the pile?  

Sadly I missed the cookie exchange that year as I had to suddenly return home to Australia, so that year I sent home 12 packets of TIMTAMS for my husband to deliver to the Cookie Exchange - well someone had to experience this cultural phenomenon.  According to Robin Olson (who surprisingly, has copyrighted the official Cookie Exchange  rules) I FAILED! I got .5/10 (no bonus points for creative thinking I see!).  Well I never was a great test taker and clearly this is one that I didn't study for xoxo 

"The Rules of the Cookie Exchange"by Robin Olson ©1997

  1. All cookies should be homemade, baked and main ingredient must be flour. X
  2. No plain chocolate chip cookies, cookie mixes, no-bakes, meringues or bars. x

  3. Please bring 12 dozen total cookies.    "I think there is 12 in packet 1/2 a mark for that one"

  4. The theme is "Christmas Cookies" (You can make any theme you like.) X

  5. Arrange cookies in a basket or platter and be creative! Bring a large container to carry away your cookie, (or the hostess can provide a take away container.) X
  6. Email a copy of your recipe before the party (or bring recipe to the party) x
  7. Christmas (or party theme) attire is encouraged! x

  8. RSVP as soon as you can and let me know what type of cookies you are planning on baking - no duplicate recipes are allowed. x
  9. There's a prize for the best Christmas outfit. (Give prizes!) I don't think I won????

  10. If you don't have time to bake, or have burnt your cookies, but still want to attend, you must go to a real bakery and buy 6 dozen yummy cookies. X


2011...Maybe this is a site that I should have taken to time to look at back in 2007...Now I'm scared (outfits, christmas decorated cookies!!), why did I take the time to research. I should have just played the foriegner card & made those chocolate chip cookies as planned...

Well as expected that invite has come around again and this year I have plans... To get a little creative with rules, play the foreign card and modernize the COOKIE EXCHANGE xox 

Click HERE for the Cyber Cookie Exchange
I Would like to invite you to a CYBER COOKIE Exchange (Weight Watches approved) - no outfit needed or piped icing cookies required! 

Simply click on the Gingerbread-man for THE PANTRY CYBER RULES & let's make cookies xox