Christmas Pudding

Remember to soak in brandy and flambé!

I am the sole heir of a Christmas pudding recipe handed down through the generations. While Margaret was alive, she referred to it as her family’s secret recipe and I was the only person with whom she shared it. Over the years, I have faithfully followed the recipe and have delighted many friends both in Australia and overseas with this traditional Christmas treat.

I always think of recipes in terms of the person who shared it with me. Each time I make a dish, it is infused with love for, and memories of, the person who was kind enough to share their skill and knowledge with me. It is a true act of friendship to hand someone the gift of a great recipe. I hardly ever use commercially printed cookbooks, but I always return to the scraps of paper with scribbled recipes that friends have shared. Not only does it bring joy to think of people who have accompanied me at points in my life, it also brings joy to the people who are in my life now. A recipe is a gift of paying it forward.

I have never cared much for keeping secrets. Now that I am the sole guardian of Margaret’s Christmas Pudding recipe, I wonder about the felicity of the secret. Imagine if our forebears had kept recipes for bread or wine a secret. Would we have national cuisines if all recipes were fiercely guarded or just family feuds over the best dishes?

I don’t want to be the last in line to make this adaptation of a great Christmas pudding. The recipe is too good for that. My apologies darling Margaret but the secret is out.

                                                Christmas Pudding

6 oz breadcrumbs
2 oz flour
4 oz butter
½ lb sultanas
½ lb currants
4 oz raisins
2 oz glacé cherries
1 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated)
½ tsp mixed spice
½ lb brown sugar
2 eggs
¼ pint stout
½ cup grated carrots
1 tsp marmalade
½ cup warm milk
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 tsp bicarb

Mix butter and sugar until smooth. Mix all dry ingredients except spices and bicarb. Dissolve latter in warm milk, add lemon juice, rind and add beaten eggs and stout. Mix all ingredients together. Cover and leave. Stir again and if dry, add more milk and stout.

Cook for 5 hours in buttered pudding container with a tight lid, lined with grease proof paper. Serve hot.

Gosling Creek Reserve

“The path reveals itself once you start walking.”
― Abhijit Naskar, Aşkanjali: The Sufi Sermon

The grass is long after all the rain. In parts of the reserve, it reaches past my shoulder. Rivulets of water course down the slopes to form boggy marshland and the creek runs fast and free to pool in a small pond. These are the things I forgot to mention when I invited my friend, Penny, for a walk with her two dogs. I have sensible walking boots; she wears flat slip-ons. Our dogs run wild while we jump across puddles or find grass tufts that take our weight as we cross the great wet expanse. Her shoes squelch and slide, but we make it across the worst of it with our balance intact.

Birds twitter in treetops and we hear a stream burbling not too far from us. As we approach a small bridge, the type you would find depicted in a Monet but without any of the charm, water rushes past us as if in a hurry to make it downstream. One of her dogs leaps in and lets the deluge wash over him. We can’t help but be swept along with his exuberance. After a while, he joins us on the path shaking the water off his loose skin, seemingly in both directions at once with a whip-flick motion that drenches us as he runs past. We laugh at his joie de vivre and watch the dogs bound through the high grass.

As we reach a well-trodden path around a pond, we hear a chorus of frogs in the tall reeds. Looking closer, we see a mother duck with five tiny ducklings drift towards the foliage for protection. The dogs haven’t noticed them. They are much more interested in a larger version waddling on the path ahead of us and make a half-hearted attempt to run after it. The duck launches itself into the pond and elegantly glides away. None of the dogs have an appetite for a serious chase, especially one that involves the effort of swimming. They are already running zigzag, following a new smell that has caught their attention.

On the other side of the pond is a park bench. We head towards it for a rest. The bench is dedicated to the memory of a girl called Mel, the same age as my daughter. She would have been 25 when she died. I think of her family and friends and the unspeakable loss they must continue to endure. My heart breaks for these nameless strangers. I wonder how this young woman died and why the seat was erected here. I can’t help but imagine various scenarios and fill the gaps with conjecture, but I will never know her true story.

We take a seat, but the dogs start barking and beseech us to keep moving. After a couple of minutes, we give in to their demands and begin our walk back. I decide that the asphalt track does have its merits, especially as we feel the first drops of rain, first on our arms and later, on our shoulders. Tree roots have cracked open the surface of the path and we tread carefully to avoid tripping on fissures and craters. At the same time, I’m glad nature is winning the battle here, and consider it likely that the trees will outlast the asphalt.

The path is suddenly steeper. We see hemlock growing up to two metres and it has invaded large tracts of the grassland. The plant is highly toxic and there is no antidote to hemlock poisoning. We call the dogs and make sure we don’t brush against it. This section of the reserve looks neglected, and we are aware that there may be snakes in the weedy vegetation. Best move on swiftly.

A galah flies across our path while a magpie struts in the next field, head bobbing forward and back until it sees our dogs. Begrudgingly, it flies to the nearest branch and keeps a wary eye on these bumbling, ground-sniffing predators. The birds, as ever, win against these domesticated, well-fed, and pampered dogs.

We reach a plateau where large fallen limbs of tress are neatly placed along the verge of the path. No doubt a storm has raged here not long ago. Some of the branches are horizontal while others lean precariously on the trunk of a tree. In time they will offer shelter to ground dwelling creatures and their sacrifice will not be in vain. Further, there are trees with protruding branches at crazy angles that remind me of some Halloween prank. They look almost human with one or two additional limbs waving in the wind. We marvel at their shapes and pick up our pace. We can feel the steady drops of rain on our faces now and head for the car.

The dogs have one final crazy dash across a field. They sprint in circles just as though they were running on an invisible racetrack. We call and they return, tongues to one side, panting and spent, content to go home. We laugh at their antics and know we must come again soon. At the carpark, we say our goodbyes and stomp to remove the mud from our shoes.


I turn off the TV after the 7 o’clock news. The thought of watching another twee English ‘who dunnit’ with a meddling vicar is exasperating. Instead, I brave the lashing rain and Antarctic winds to get wood from the backyard. I peel back the tarp to find a dry stack and begin to load up my left arm with four or five logs, nowhere near enough to last the night. I repeat the process, cursing under my breath as l lose my footing and slip forward onto my knees. I drop the bundle and have to start all over. My right knee smarts and my jeans are now wet.

Tonight, I couldn’t be bothered with the careful assembly of paper and twigs to make sure the fire starts. Outside, it is six degrees, and I am cold. Impatiently, I shove pieces of cardboard into the fireplace, break up a cube of Samba firelighters and build a tepee of kindling around it. Thankfully, the fire catches and I slowly add larger pieces of wood.

I stare into the fire for a long time, watching the flames engulf the wood. The strong winds must be helping to draw the fire up. I watch mesmerised as the flames lick the back and then the sides of the log. The underside is glowing a crazed orange with hairline cracks developing in the structure of the wood. I can’t stop watching this dance of the flames and soon I notice that I am no longer cold.

The dog stretches out in front of the fire box and falls asleep. Her fur becomes hot to touch but she remains there, contented. I keep watching, unable to take my eyes off the log as it turns from brown to yellow to orange with tinges of blue. The fire now consumes everything I care to feed it. It has turned into a crackling, hungry beast.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus, against Zeus’ wishes, took fire from the gods to give to his beloved mortal beings. This knowledge gave humans not only the means of survival, but it was the cornerstone that enabled civilisation, culture, and the arts to flourish. Zeus’ punishment was to nail Prometheus to a mountain and send an eagle to devour his liver. As Prometheus remains immortal, his liver regenerates, and the eagle feeds evermore.

I am grateful for the warmth still left in the glowing embers. But I do think about poor Prometheus. Looking at tonight’s culmination of culture on TV, I wonder whether he has since regretted giving humanity the gift of fire. I’m not sure I would have bothered.


I will never be minimalist, a giver away of objects that don’t bring me joy. Nor will I join the latest Swedish craze of death cleaning. As far as I’m concerned, I spent what seems like a lifetime cleaning up after my daughter, and she may as well return that favour when I die.

I like my house filled with books and nicknacks. I look up and see a row of seven miniature blue and white houses that I brought back from Amsterdam in my twenties and think fondly of the four days I spent there. Admittedly, three of these were wasted in various bathrooms as I valiantly fought off food poisoning. I couldn’t look at mayonnaise nor chips for eight long years thereafter. Ironically, the delft houses are now on a shelf in my kitchen, a sober reminder to check use by dates and abide by the three-day rule for leftovers.

In the lounge room, two carved wooden cows take me back to the year we spent in Switzerland. Real cows greeted us daily as we waited at the bus stop in front of a row three storey apartment blocks. They seemed as incongruous there as the many cows here in my living room. Somehow, these two carved cows attracted bovine themed curtains, black and white ‘cowhide’ gumboots and a large painting of a heifer by a well-known artist.

Then there are the two pairs of babies’ boots – my own and my daughter’s, 35 years apart. While I have no memory of wearing my own, I do have memories of my daughter wearing hers. This includes collecting her from childcare and hearing her cry all the way home. When I finally removed her shoes, I found that one of her toes had accidentally been bent back in the boot. I felt faint looking at the deformed toe, but it snapped back into position and her smile returned as if nothing had happened.

On another shelf are some of the penguins I acquired after watching a movie at 3am when I was 19. It was called Mr Forbush and the Penguins. I don’t know whether it was the twilight zone that flicked a switch in my brain or whether the movie was really that compelling, but I began noticing penguins everywhere. Before I knew it, my house turned into a rookery. Of course, once friends noticed my obsession, they feed it for years. I was the easiest person for whom to buy a present. Truth be told, I have grown out of them, but they have become somewhat of a talisman, and I still keep ten or perhaps twenty on show.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little morbid, I try to imagine my nicknacks at an op-shop. It is a depressing thought. Instead of thrilled punters on the Antiques Roadshow, I imagine strangers picking up each of my possessions and wondering, ‘what was she thinking?’ This is exactly what I think when I see someone’s treasures randomly placed with mementos from another person’s life. The objects look lacklustre and dull as stripping them of their story has rendered them lifeless.

Yet, when I look at my nicknacks, I connect with them individually. Each one beckons me to remember a moment in my life: the time my grandmother gave me her wedding ring, the time a lover chanced upon a perfect gift or the time my daughter brought back a hand-painted tray from Myanmar. These objects become a container for a story.

Minimalism, on the other hand, is like a brand-new, expensive notebook. It may be beautiful to look at yet never used for fear of despoiling. It’s not for me. I like my dog-eared, ink-splotched notebooks, the ones that have stories inscribed in their very fabric. I consider every one of my objects to be imbued with a narrative gift, and I’m glad of it. It means I will never run out of stories to write.   

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