I spent about an hour this afternoon gardening. I’ve still got dirt underneath my fingernails, and smudged on the knees of my jeans. We don’t actually have a garden per se, it’s more of a terrace. But it’s big and sunny, and we’ve been slowly filling it with greenery. When we first moved in we inherited a few plants – rosemary and thyme, a small olive tree and a dry lavender bush, as well as loads of mint. We’ve since added flowers for the kids, a rose bush that S brought home this morning, a cumquat tree, tomato bushes, Vietnamese mint, parsley, coriander, lettuce leaves, a chilli plant, and a slender ghost gum. Everything is planted in a haphazard mix of terracotta pots and wooden planter boxes.
This detailed rundown of our garden, though, is actually a roundabout explanation for why this is my first post in some three months. Gah!
This garden, you see, is part of a bigger project. In the past three months we have bought a new apartment (our very first!), renovated it, and moved in. Renovations – little did I know – are really fucking time consuming. Everything has to be chosen – tiles, taps, benches, paint colour (and white isn’t just white, apparently). Then tradies have to be met at all goddam unnatural hours of the morning, then there are delays, and plumbing issues, and the packing up of the old house into boxes. During that time S and I were both still working, I also took on a freelance job, and our very energetic toddlers have continued to bring much mayhem, sleeplessness, and love into our lives. I’m not complaining, mind you, just offering a reason for why I have left this space dormant for way too long.
We moved almost six weeks ago now, but it finally feels like we’ve settled in. We don’t yet have curtains, or a bathroom tap. But we do have a new couch, about half of the book collection is out of storage, and the aforementioned garden is really starting to take off. We even have a baby Christmas tree in the corner of the lounge room, which the kids adore, of course. Our apartment is bright and light, with views over the treetops towards the city. It is in walking distance to daycare and cafes, to S’s work and to the park. Now that the weather has (finally) started to warm up, every evening, after the kids have gone to sleep, S and I take a few moments to sit out on the terrace, amongst our budding plants, under the darkening sky.
I’m hoping this pretty Blackberry Pavlova will make up for my long absence. Pavlova is a classic summer holiday dessert in Australia, and for good reason. It’s light and airy, and the perfect amount of sweet to finish off a meal on a warm night. Plus it is the best way to showcase the bounty of summer fruit that hits the markets this time of year. With the crème fraîche and the blackberry jus, this pavlova is a slightly more sophisticated version than your standard one. I topped it with mango as well as blackberries to bring a hint of the tropics down to Melbourne, but really you could use whatever summer fruits you have on hand – berries are ideal, as is sliced banana, kiwi, ripe peaches.
Make this for your Christmas dinner dessert. I guarantee there will be no leftovers!
To get your meringue crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, there are a few tips to follow: make sure your eggs are room temperature, use a very clean whisking bowl, and leave the cooked meringue in the closed oven until it is totally cool (if you have the time, a few hours is best).
5 egg whites, room temperature
250 gms caster sugar
1/2 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp cornflour
100 gms blackberries
2 tsps caster sugar
1 tbsp water
Rind of 1/2 a lime
300 ml heavy cream
200 ml crème fraîche
3 tsp icing sugar
1 large, ripe mango
200 gms blackberries
Preheat oven to180°c/350°f and prepare a baking tray by lining it with baking paper and tracing a large circle on it.
In a clean bowl start whisking your egg whites on a medium speed. When they start to form peaks add the sugar in a slow steady stream (without stopping the whisk) and turn it up to a high speed. Keep on whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is thick and glossy. You can test if the sugar is dissolved by rubbing a small amount of the meringue between your fingers – if it is smooth it is ready, if it feels gritty it needs a little more whisking. Turn the speed back down to medium and add the vinegar and vanilla essence, whisking only a few more times to mix through. Remove the whisk from the bowl and sprinkle the cornflour over the top, using a spatula to very gently fold the cornflour in.
Spoon the mixture onto the prepare tray and smooth into a circle with a flat top, working quickly to get the meringue in the oven as soon as possible. Pop the meringue on the middle shelf of the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 120°c/240°f. Bake for 90 minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the meringue inside, with the door shut, until cool.
While the meringue is cooking, make the blackberry jus. In a small heavy-bottomed pot over a low flame heat the 100 grams of blackberries, the water, caster sugar, and the lime rind, finely grated. As it cooks, use a fork or potato masher to crush the blackberries. Leave over the low heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture has thickened into a syrup – approx. 12 minutes. Spoon into a bowl to cool completely.
In a large bowl mix the cream, crème fraîche and icing sugar. Whisk until thick and firm. Add the cooled blackberry jus to the whipped cream and fold through. Just give it two or three folds so it forms lovely purple streaks through the whipped cream.
Spoon the cream onto the meringue, leaving a small border around the edge. Thinly slice your mango and put that on top of the cream, pile the blackberries into the middle, and finish it off by spooning the passionfruit over the whole lot.