The sun had not yet peeped over the horizon as I peeled myself from our cosy bed. I had set my alarm early that Sunday morning to allow myself enough time to bundle together everything i needed for this, the first of what I hope will be many, pot-luck "Instagram meet" picnics. Jars of homemade pickles, relishes and rosemary and poppyseed crackers were placed into the cooler bag while my vintage china plates, tea cups and cutlery were wrapped in a white tablecloth, dainty blue flowers embroided around the edges. As I gently placed these into the picnic basket, the kettle was busily boiling and the thermos sat waiting patiently. Last but not least was the burnt butter and beetroot cake, which sat happily on the floor in front of the passenger seat.
Beau and I waved good bye to Ben as he shut the gate behind us. Another adventure awaited! They had predicted showers but all I could see ahead were clear cornflower blue skies as we made our way to the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, in Melbourne.
We managed to find a car park right out the front, with Beau tucked into his pram and me juggling baskets, cakes and the black card table, we found the perfect spot. From the gravel path we made our way over the lush green grass and there stood a magnificent Moreton Bay fig tree. The sunlight dappling the ground underneath as the rays filtered through the large branches. Trees like this, with their grand old trunks always stop me in my tracks, if only they could tell us their stories it would be like sitting with an old wise "well-travelled" woman. Underneath the fallen leaves had created a carpet and I set about "styling" up the table.
It was when Beau and I were collecting leaves when out from under the canopy of the low-lying branches we met Meredith (@meredithgaston). A glowing, radiant human being who is may i say, as kind and beautiful as she comes across in her many books and her instagram page. I felt as though I was meeting an old friend and as we sat under the tree hearing one another's stories while Beau drifted off to the land of nod. we enjoyed a lovingly prepared salad of slow-roasted tomatoes, tempeh, quinoa which had a delicate crown of micro greens before being joined by yet another lovely soul, Eleni (@myfamilysfooddiary) and her beautiful daughter, Xenia. She has a passion for her Greek culture that I find infectious and makes me want to cook and eat everything that she shares so very generously on her instagram page and her blog.
I find it so uplifting when i get to meet (in real-life) people who i have "met" through social media, especially when they are as geniune and down to earth as they come across in the digital world. I guess it may be because we feel like we know them a little bit before we meet each other and have common interests. I have been so incredibly lucky to have been able to have that connection with quite a few people who I have befriended through this amazing platfrom that opens the world up to even bigger possibilities and new connections. Which is why I am determined to meet as many of you who have been following me, showing me support and leaving some of the most beautfil, heart felt comments that quite literally leave me with a tear in my eye. And its not only those who follow me but those I enjoy following too, reading your stories, indulging in your beautiful photography and trying to soak up as much of the knowledge that is so generously shared by others, that leaves me wanting to make those connections in the real world too. So watch this space as I would love to try and organise little meet ups like this a few times throughout the year.
Even as I write this, a couple of weeks later, I cant wipe the smile from my face. Human connection brings so many values to our lives. A sense of belonging, community and a support system and meeting people who are like-minded creates conversations that flow on for hours without a care in the world as to what time it is. I think that is priceless, especially in a world where life seems to whizz by 1000km an hour and in 5 minutes you are another year in! And saying "How is it already April?"
I left those gardens that sunday afternoon with two new friends, a happy heart and a belly full of delicious food. And for that I am grateful. As I am a big one for giving and sharing I would love to share with you the brunt butter and beetroot cake that I made for this special day. With the idea that you too can perhaps make it, gather some of your community and enjoy together. If all you get from it is a couple of hours of good conversation, laughter and a memory of a lovely afternoon then im pretty sure that it would be better than sitting at home, by yourself in front of a screen. Just try it, you may come away with a new friend or two, and we can never have too many of them!
Burnt Butter & Beetroot cake
Makes a double layer 23cm cake, or you can halve the recipe and make 1 23cm cake.
6 free-range eggs, at room temperature
350g caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
500g beetroot, grated. if you can find a mix of different colours, red, striped and golden beets then its makes it just that little extra special
350g plain flour
pinch of salt
10g baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
240g unsalted butter
Preheat your oven to 170' and grease with butter and line with baking paper either 2 23cm cake tins or 1 23cm.
In a small saucepan, pop in the butter and you want to melt it and then cook it until its reached that lovely nutty brown colour and smell. Watch it carefully though as when it does get to this stage it can easily go too far! Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and add the salt into a bowl.
Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla until its turned into a fluffy, pale concoction, almost double in size of the original mixture. It will be almost cloud-like. Gently fold in the sifted flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt until almost combined and then do the same with the beetroot. Turning the bowl as you gently fold the batter over itself until its all combined.
Next you want to add a couple of spoonful's of the batter into the burnt butter and give it a stir really well. scraping up any of those burnt bits that stick to the bottom. Pour this into the rest of the batter and gently fold again.
Pour half into one tin and the other into the second tin. Or alternatively just the one tin if you are halving the recipe. smooth the tops with a spatula.
Pop into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the tops bounce back when lightly touched. If they don't then just bake for another 5 minutes. All ovens are so different, so go with your gut feeling.
Remove from the oven and let them rest in the tin/s for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
*I like to bake this cake the day before assembling it, so as to make sure it has completely cooled before icing. But if you don't have this time, then simply pop her into the fridge for at least an hour after she has cooled at room temperature for about 40 minutes and then you will be right to go. It is quite a delicate cake so just be extra careful when removing from the tin/s.
Once you are ready to "dress" her up. Choose a lovely cake plate or any plate that it will fit nicely on and place the first cake layer on, then spread with half of the icing and a drizzle of the reserved beetroot syrup. Position the second layer on top and again spread lavishly with remaining icing. Arranging the beetroot slices on top in whatever way takes your creative fancy. Just make sure that you have removed the cardamom pods. Drizzle with remaining syrup.
I also like to scatter a few little edible pink rosebuds over the top, or for something even more elaborate, you could try adding a touch of edible gold leaf for a little sparkle.
For the ricotta and cream cheese icing
Halve this if you are making just the one cake.
250g cream cheese, at room temperature
zest of a lemon (or orange would be lovely too)
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using hand held beaters, beat the cheeses together until smooth, add in the zest and the icing sugar and continue to beat on a relatively high speed until its lovely and smooth. Set aside.
For the candied beetroot
2-3 small beetroot, thinly sliced, I don't have a mandolin, but if you do then definitely use it. try using the one colour for these for if you were to mix the red with the golden everything would turn pink!
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 crushed cardamom pods (optional)
In a medium saucepan pour in the water and add the sugar, over a medium-high heat, stir the sugar until it dissloves then add in your beetroot slices, cardamom pods (if using) and vanilla bean paste and continue to simmer just so that there are little bubbles on the surface popping through for about 20-30 minutes, or until the beetroot has turned translucent. Using a pair tongs, place the slices onto the baking tray lined with baking paper and leave to cool.
Pour the syrup into a small bowl and set aside. You will use this later for drizzling over your cake.
The layered cake shown here has been made with a beetroot praline instead.
Here is the recipe.
350g beetroot, peeled and thinly sliced
200g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 cardamom pods, crushed
Add the sugar, vanilla and water to a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved, next add you beetroot slices and then reduce to a simmer and cook until it has almost reduced, 15-20 minutes, stirring now and then.
Using tongs, pull out the beetroot slices and lay them onto a cooling rack with baking paper over the top, pour over any remaning syrup and allow to cool.
These are a lot more candy-like than the recipe above.
*This lovely cake will keep, wrapped in the fridge, for up to 5 days.