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Oh my goodness. I just improvised the most amazing cake.

Best cake EVER

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Dear anat,

I am going to see you SOON OMG! And lo, there will be much baking. A and I are already poring through our recipe books and making plans for exciting stuff we can forage and eat. I can’t wait!

Here’s a recipe to tide you over. Very simple and not requiring any shopping.

Honey spice cakes

This recipe is kind of circular in its origins. A British friend tweeted about it, I begged for the recipe, she emailed it to me. She sold it as “cake in a saucepan”, but it’s really just mixed in a saucepan and cooked in the oven. For a very short amount of time, I learned! So basically, it’s a super-simple recipe that you can throw together usually with things already in the pantry, and very quickly. And quite delicious without being too fancy!

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Remember when I was visiting you and we went foraging in your village and the nearby forest to harvest various tree bits for yarn dyeing?
Forest on Monts de la Madeleine
To go all schmoopy for a moment, that’s one of my favourite memories of that trip – I always get a kick out of being in European forests (my childhood as a high fantasy fan, of course), and it was so much fun to tromp around with you on the loamy ground amidst the furry trees, plucking moss off the low-reaching branches. (And of course discovering all the bugs that emerged from the moss when we opened those lunch boxes later. Hah!)

And of course, getting up from the epic knitting sessions whenever I needed a break and adding more water to the yarn-and-walnut-shells stew.

So anyway. One day I’ll get around to my own yarn dyeing – it’s in my genes, apparently; I have mustard coloured yarn hanging around somewhere that my grandmother spun and dyed with onion skins. In the meantime, though, I’ve been getting out there and doing some harvesting of my own, only living in the city means it’s more urban foraging than foresty rambling.

In aid of urban foraging, there’s a Feral Fruit Trees of Australia gmap that anyone can update (and someone around our neighbourhood has updated it a lot, yay!), but our recent foraging occurred because Alex went to a community meeting and asked if anyone had any lemons.

Someone gave her directions to a vacant lot in an affluent suburb about twenty minutes’ drive away, and we went off on an adventure. The lot seemed to previously have a big house on it – it was house-less, but enormous with a whole bunch of established fruit trees of increasingly wildness leading down to a creek front. The lemon tree was enormous and covered in lemons, though clearly other foragers had been there before us and most of the fruit within reach were gone.

But, we scrambled down the hill anyway and Alex grabbed the branches she could reach and shook them while I ran around picking up all the lemons that fell on the ground.

Alex has plans to make preserved lemons, and I have plans to put lemon in basically everything – already I have a Moroccan chickpea & chicken soup that has lemon juice and zest, and a dal saag recipe with lemon juice, and of course: gin & tonics.

But a fairly typical Aussie classic is the lemon slice. I just used my first two foraged lemons to make a batch – they smelled amazingly good just as I was doing the zesting, here’s hoping they taste just as great!

Lemon Slice

First lemon slice: success!

Recipe adapted from


  • Grated/zested rind of 2 medium, ripe lemons
  • 200g Arnott’s granita biscuits (or alternative!)
  • 100g butter
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut


  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 40g softened butter
  • Lemon juice


  1. Chuck the biscuits in a food processor until they’re fine crumbs. In a large bowl, add the lemon zest and coconut. Mix all together.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together the condensed milk and 100g of butter until the butter is all melted.
  3. Pour the butter/milk mixture into the dry ingredients bowl and mix together.
  4. Grease a 3cm deep, 15.5cm x 25cm slab pan and add a layer of greaseproof paper to cover all surfaces. Leave overhang so you can lift the whole slice out when it’s set.
  5. Press the mixture into the pan evenly. Put it into the fridge for about 1.5 hours, or until firm.


  1. Mix icing sugar, softened butter and 2.5 tablespoons of lemon juice thoroughly in a bowl with a wooden spoon. When smooth, pour over the biscuit base and make sure it’s spread evenly. Put back in the fridge for another 30 mins, or until the icing is set (hard).

Chop into squares or rectangles!


Now, that was the first batch I made. On the second batch I got a bit more creative – put in slivers of coconut instead of a small portion of the desiccated coconut, and used half coconut cream and half sweetened condensed milk. For the icing I used lime juice. I want to do the whole thing with lime (instead of lemon zest), but limes are so expensive here right now! Alex also suggested BLOOD ORANGE SLICE, which sounds AMAZING, but it’s totally the wrong season for oranges right now. So, stay tuned!

In more urban foraging news, we discovered that the big, draping tree in our front yard is a weeping mulberry! And the branches are COVERED with unripe berries. So, here’s hoping we can keep the birds off and have a great harvest there, too. Jam!

Dear ana,

Poor neglected epistolary blog indeed!

I’ve been a pretty terrible correspondent because I’ve been a pretty terrible homemaker for most of this year. Being in a months-long funk is not very conducive to creativity, so I’m sad to say I’ve been eating pasta with sauce out of a jar for most of my dinners and falling into bed with the internet instead of knitting.

But, this story has a happy ending!

I’ve moved into a bigger house (with, as you already know, our mutual friend Alex), and it has resulted in a flurry of domestic activities. It’s amazing how much more motivated to do stuff I am when I’m in a bigger house (natural light! dishwasher! KITCHEN!) and around someone else who is also enthused about cooking, gardening and crafting.

So I’ve been baking and frying and stewing and knitting and gardening and decorating quite intensely for the past month or so. Hopefully this means I can post here more frequently.

As I’m typing this I’m sitting at our kitchen table, and opposite me Alex is measuring out the yogurt culture she received in the mail today so we can make our own yogurt. I have a lemon slice setting in the fridge, and cooked dinner for everyone tonight while looking out the kitchen window at Alex and my other housemate, Lisa, mow the lawn and plant our new vegetables (four varieties of tomatoes, capsicums, various herbs).

For dinner I cooked this ‘mediterranean’ gnocchi dish. Melbourne in particular is a city with a big Italian migrant population (WWII era, I believe), and their evolved influence informs a lot of our standard food (pizza, pasta, and ‘antipasto’ are fairly typical fare). This dish in particular I kind of improvised based on a dish I ate in a fairly upmarket (though very hip!) Italian restaurant near my friend Jackie’s place on the other side of town. I loved the dish so much when I ate it that I immediately had Jackie (who is a fabulous foodie herself) tell me just how I might prepare it. Here’s what I wound up with:

Fried Gnocchi with Mediterranean ‘Vegetables’


  • Basic potato gnocchi – You can buy plastic-wrapped packets of them off the shelf (non-refrigerated!) in the supermarket here
  • Olive oil – LOTS
  • About half a small onion
  • Salt
  • Antipasto vegetables – black olives, roasted red pepper, marinated artichokes, marinated eggplant – anything will do
  • Proscuitto if you’re a meat eater
  • A fresh, ripe tomato
  • Fresh parsley
  • Parmesan cheese

In terms of quantities, remember that gnocchi is very filling. So measure out how much gnocchi you want to eat, and then measure out your antipasto to be about equal quantity to the gnocchi in total.


So, you can roast or fry the garlic. I kind of decided to do this at the last minute, so I fried the garlic, but putting whole cloves of roast garlic in is a freaking awesome path to go down, I must say. But I fried, so:

  1. Fry your garlic (minced) and onion (diced finely) in a cast iron pan with lots of olive oil and salt. Do it over a medium-low heat and do it for a long-ish time – you want it to caramelise. If you’re eating meat, toss the shredded proscuitto in towards the end of this process to crisp it up a bit. When the garlic/onion is about right (give it a taste!) take it out of the pan. If the pan is all cruddy now, rinse/wipe it out.
  2. Now it’s time to fry the gnocchi. Fried gnocchi is pretty much the best thing in the entire universe. While boiled gnocchi ranges from doughy to gooey, fried gnocchi goes chewy and soft and caramelised – basically like the most perfect roasted garlic. It’s amazing. So: Your pan should be about medium heat. You need more olive oil. Put your gnocchi in the pan, all spread out evenly. Leave it to cook for about four-five minutes, until it’s slightly grilled (kinda golden) a bit on one side. Then you can toss it around to cook more evenly. Having one side crispy gives a nice bit more texture. Test it by biting into a bit every so often (you should be able to feel with your stirring when it’s getting softer). When it’s just about done (about 8 minutes)…
  3. Add all your pickled antipasto vegetables. Don’t even chop most of them them up – just make sure they’re relatively well drained. Whole olives, whole strips of pepper/capsicum, quarters/sixths of pickled artichoke hearts. Add back the garlic and onion (and proscuitto). Mix it all in. You want to make sure the antipasto stuff is hot enough but not cooked any more.
  4. Once everything is heated through, turn off the heat and add a diced tomato and a generous handful of chopped parsley, mix that through too. (Room temperature tomatoes are best!!) Again, you definitely don’t want to cook the tomato, just stir it through.
  5. Serve with parmesan cheese.

It is SO DELICIOUS. The caramelly garlic and olive oil goes perfect with the texture of the gnocchi, and the various flavours with the antipasto is a perfect complement. Having everything the same bite-size makes for a great balance of flavours when you’re eating, too. Usually when I make pasta I make a tomato-based sauce that I throw things into, but I absolutely love this method of just tossing big chunks of things in with the chunks of gnocchi without glueing it all together with any sauce. And it is so damn easy, and antipasto vegetables can hang around the fridge (and/or cupboard) for months and months.

Alex wanted to write up a food blog post of her own about it (in fact, now she’s finished with the yogurt cultures and is typing away madly on the other side of the table), so I think that counts as a success. Will no doubt be making this again! And next time I must remember to take a photo, too.

I look forward to reading more about your food and knitting adventures soon, too! I hear that you’ve been doing some natural yarn dyeing again? Do tell.

<3 <3 <3


Dear ana,

I’m sorry to hear you’re not having a very productive time of it, lately. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing? I’ve been baking frantically since the year began, it seems – for parties and barbecues and picnics and stitch n’ bitches, and… well, for every possible occasion that I can make people nom the things I’ve made :)

I’ve just gone back through all the photos I’ve taken over the past couple of months, and unsurprisingly a lot of them are of food. Most of them are worthy of reporting on, so I shall do so here.

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Dear ana,Banana Cake

I hear you have some overripe bananas, so I’m sharing my banana cake recipe. It hales from my childhood–I think I had some at my friend’s house (age 5? 6?), and Mum made sure to get the recipe, and it’s been made hundreds of times since.

I made another one of my own last night, after finally purchasing a thermometer for my increasingly decrepit oven. The first time I tried to use the oven after I moved into this house, the temperature knob came off in my hand; another time when I opened the door the glass panel on the front fell right off (it’s since been repaired).

At one point a few months ago I tried to cook a honey and spice cake, but within about 15 minutes of being in there the top had started to burn while the bottom remained liquid; by the time it was no longer raw I had to saw 2 inches of charcoal off the top of it.

So, upon installing the oven thermometer, I discovered that ~160°C on the thermometer = ~120° on the dial. Thus I was able to set it accordingly, and lo and behold, my banana cake turned out awesome. I forsee more baking in my future.

At any rate, here’s the banana cake recipe. Measurements are Australian (I believe there’s a slight difference in US/Aus cup & spoon sizes, I’m not sure how we compare to European measurements).

The cake itself is rather ‘mild’ for a cake, I suppose–leaning towards banana bread, but I think a bit too soft and sweet for that. But not too sweet for my tastes! It doesn’t need to be iced–the browned top sort of caramelises deliciously, it really is just perfect as it is. But don’t make the same mistake I did and take it out of the pan too soon–I ended up peeling the top and the bottom of the cake off because I didn’t let it cool for long enough. (On plus side, it meant I got to eat all those delicious scrapings aaall at once.)

Banana Cake


  • 2-3 bananas
  • 125g butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 & 1/2 cups self-raising flour
  • Powdered cinnamon, or any other spice you fancy–this time I also put in a wee pinch of nutmeg, and a small spoon of minced ginger

Round or square cake baking tin (NOT a loaf one!)


  1. Over-ripen 2-3 bananas. As in, as close to completely black as you have the patience for. If I end up with over-ripe bananas before I’m ready to make a cake, I freeze them. Defrost before using.
  2. Beat together:
    125g butter
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
  3. Mix in:
    The 2 or 3 mashed overripe bananas
  4. Add:
    2tbsp milk
    1&1/2 cups SR Flour
    good pinch cinnamon (and/or spices of choice)
  5. Cook for 30-45 mins in moderate oven (150-170 celcius) or til springs back then test with skewer. I find the colour is a good indicator; it should be golden brown (see pic).
  6. Let stand for a couple of minutes, turn out & cool on wire rack.
  7. NOM

So, now I know the oven is working, I have plans for all the things I’m going to bake! I’ve been using Evernote to clip recipes I want to try so I can read them from the iPad when I’m in the kitchen; the only problem is that I can’t adjust the text size on the fly in Evernote on the iPad (which seems a huge gap in functionality–I just want to zoom a bit! Note to self: submit feature request).

Here are a few of the ones on my to-bake list:

Also, as I’ve become a bit more cluey about cooking in the past year or two, it’s occurred to me that this banana cake recipe is pretty standard; I could fairly easily substitute some ingredients for others and experiement–e.g. zucchini and chocolate cake, pear and honey cake, etc etc, om nom nom.

Baking ahoy!