Birthdays are funny things as you get older, do you celebrate them or shyly raise a glass and try to loose count. As the years are increasing rather rapidly in my case I had planned not to make a song and dance about another year with yet another birthday party … ‘hooray aren’t I lucky to be old…. kind of thing’. But I pulled myself out of the self-pitying doldrums of mid -life crisis and as the time drew nearer I could’nt help myself but get excited and use it as an excuse to organise a quiet little lunch party with some  lovely ladies I have befriended over the last year in Oz.

As we are in a rented beach house and its freezing outside. I moved the large garden table inside and went about creating a suitable lunch table.  I decided on a shell, white and silver approach with the splash of colour coming from the flowers. I covered the table in a white sheet then over that I threw an opaque piece of Ikea silver voile…(last used at Christmas time to create a snow scene). For a bit of spring cheer in this Aussie winter I found  some beautiful forget me knots, mini daffs and lavender and put them into a mixture of jam jars and mini glass jars.

I also found $1 bags of shells from the discount store and scattered them around the flowers on the table along with the  silver candles and tea lights. On each place mat I used a different large shell on a folded linen white napkin. As the legs of the table were pretty ugly I tied strips of voile around each leg which made it look fluffy and girly and hid the green mouldy legs!

I decided at the last moment what to cook, really based on what the weather was doing and what I could find  in my local Harris Farm shop. Cold and wet was the forecast and our house is chilly to say the least.. so I thought at first comfort food.. my lovely fish pie recipe.. and crumble?  Then I changed my mind as I stood in the butchers shop and  remembered a dish I made recently on a shoot using lamb backstraps. This time I thought I would cover it with Moroccan rub, chargrill it and slice thickly and then scatter over mint leaves and lemon wedges and serve with a minty yogurt sauce (see below Vanessa Levis photographer, Bhavani Konings Stylist).  To go with the lamb I threw together a quinoa and roasted veg salad with pistachio, roasted almonds and a lemon, mint and coriander dressing, I also made  a  roasted beetroot, butternut squash, feta, dill, spinach and pea shoots salad.

For pudding I found tamarillos, which taste a little like blackberries. I also found guava in the discount basket and rhubarb. Then I found the most luxurious creme fraiche from Tasmania from Meander Valley, worth the extra few dollars. I poached the fruit individually… the rhubarb with orange juice and zest. The guava in a sugar syrup with vanilla and the tamarillos in just a sugar syrup as they are fairly strong in flavour. It’s always best to do poaching of fruit a couple of days ahead, as I don’t like to over cook them so they keep their shape, but the longer they are in the syrup the softer and more delicious they become.   And to soak up the juices I made my old favourite, Annabel’s Honey and Cinnamon Cake with Pistachio, Petals and Pomegranate icing…there was definitely a pomegranate theme going on!

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Another pretty find was a hibiscus flowers in each champagne glass as the friends arrived. We finished off the meal with mint tea and Maltesas in my new Jubilee tea cups!

ANNABEL’S HONEY AND CINNAMON CAKE

Every time I cook this it reminds me of my friend Annabels wedding, it was a pagan wedding and very beautiful, I decorated her cake with hawthorn which symbolises virility! The recipe started off as the Lavender and Honey cake from the fabulous Ottelenghi cookbook and I have adapted it over the years. It’s best to make it and serve it on the same day and I either ice it with my cream cheese cupcake icing or in this case I’ve continued the pomegranate theme of my lunch party and iced it with a crunchy lemon icing topped with pistachio, edible flower petals such as carnations or rose petals and pomegranate seeds. You get the best results when baking if all the ingredients are at room temperature. If the butter is chilled, just microwave for about 15 seconds to get it to the right temperature.

225g butter, at room temperature

115g caster sugar

115g honey

3 free range or organic eggs

245g self raising flour

1 1/2 tsp teaspoons baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1  1/2 tsp cinnamon

110ml sour cream, creme fraiche, pouring cream or milk

Pistachio, Petals and Pomegranate Icing

juice of 1 lemon

2 tsp honey

100 icing sugar or caster sugar

chopped pistachio nuts, carnation petals, pomegranate seeds to decorate

1 Preheat the oven to 170C/mark 3. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

2 In a food processor with whisk or beater attachment, beat the butter, sugar and honey together until pale and fluffy. Break the eggs in a cup, and beat them lightly with a fork and gradually add them to the creamed mixture, beating well, and scraping down the sides between each addition.

3 Sift in the flour with the baking powder, salt and cinnamon and add to the creamed mixture in three additions , gently alternating with the sour cream. The mixture needs to be fairly loose so add a little milk if it feels too stiff.

4 Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and make an indentation along the centre of the cake. Which ensures the cake rises evenly.

5 Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the sponge starts to crinkle away from the edges and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

6 Turn out onto a cooling rack, so the top is face upwards. To make the topping, mix the lemon juice with the honey together in a bowl and whisk in the icing or caster sugar to make a thick pourable coating. Whilst the cake is still warm, spoon the icing over the top and sprinkle the chopped pistachio nuts, carnation petals and pomegranates. Dust with a little cinnamon.

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