Recently there was a gathering of the clans at my house. When I say clans, I guess I really mean clan in the singular, for although the party consisted of my sister and I and some of our cousins, collectively we only represented two families within one clan – our two fathers were brothers.
From talking to friends I get the impression that we are an unusual bunch, that is in the sense that as cousins we catch up on a regular basis. Tallying up the total children from both fathers, which includes a second marriage in one case, we consist of 11 girls and two boys. Taking away those that live on the other side of the nation, the one who lives on the other side of the world, the very special one who has since sadly departed, and various others who lead very busy lives, clan gatherings typically consist of a core group of five or six faithfuls and sundry partners. Mostly girls.
I love these gatherings. We are like one family of sisters, so similar and yet so different, so perfectly comfortable with each other, so genuinely interested in each other, and so inextricably bound by pride in our family name. I, for one, would not give up the name for the world.
We cousins have fallen into a comfortable pattern of meeting up every few months on a rotational basis as to who will host. This time it was my turn to again blow the cousin’s whistle and call my kin to gather. Okay that’s not what Browning meant by this lovely turn of phrase, but it suits my topic beautifully and I’m going to run with it.
Thanks to the current State government dragging its heels on fulfilling a pre-election promise to rid my suburb of an increasing mosquito problem, I decided that an evening soirée in the courtyard at the back of my house was not an appealing option. I decided instead to indulge my OCD, of the baking variety, and host an afternoon tea.
This was my menu:
- Cheese and herb scones
- Salted caramel macarons
- Brownie bomb cake pops
- Cheese straws
- Mystery Parcels
A note on Mystery Parcels: The initial intention there was to make small vol-au-vents with a mushroom and chicken filling. I didn’t have the time to have a stab at making the puff pastry by hand, so I decided to use the frozen ready made sheets I had in the freezer. But disaster struck when I let the sheets defrost for too long and as I now know, the pastry becomes completely unmanageable when fully defrosted. I did not know this at the time (whimper). I could at least salvage enough out of it to make the cheese straws, but not the vol-au-vents.
And so, with one and a half hours to go until guests arrived, and still needing to tidy the house, clean the toilet, mow the back lawn, shower, dress and set the table, I dashed down to my local Coles supermarket for ready made vol-au-vent cases. And there were none. By the time I had got home with a new packet of frozen puff pastry sheets, I had lost the will to live and was ready to cut satanic symbols out of the pastry instead of wind-wafty circles. The idea of vol-au-vents did, at this juncture, get wafted away on the wind, and it became time to improvise. I threw some grated cheese and smoky BBQ sauce (the squeezy bottle variety) into the chicken and mushroom mixture, and spooned blobs of it onto pastry rectangles that I then crudely bundled up into little packages and dubbed them Mystery Parcels. And it is indeed a mystery to me how they became the highlight of the whole spread!
Personally I found the Brownie Bomb Cake Pops were my favourite. They were easy, a little bit boozy (containing Tawny Port in the absence of any Brandy), looked great, and gave the opportunity to use up some of the myriad paper cases sitting in my cupboard that are hopeless for cupcakes (they really are just a pretty face). The white bits are chocolate pearls, available from the supermarket. The recipe came from the a fabulous little book published by the Australian Women’s Weekly, called Cute Cake Pops.
A final note on the origin of this post’s title. It is a quote from Robert Browning’s poem, Andrea del Sarto, which is about the eponymous Renaissance artist, who happens also to be a favourite of mine. The poem is too long to include in this post, but the complete text can be read here. The quote comes from the final line of the poem:
Again the cousin’s whistle! Go, my love.