If laughter is the best therapy, then the Ladies Day Out events organised by the Department of Primary Industries and Local Land Services to give women a break from drought were the perfect tonic. I was invited by to be part of events held at Scone, Murrurundi, and Merriwa, in the Upper Hunter of NSW, with more planned in the New Year.
During the introductions the reality of the drought was brought home as women described reducing their herds to 50, 30 and even 10 per cent of usual numbers. Now in their third year of drought, many have destocked because feed is too expensive or hard to source, and water is scarce or non-existent. Depending on the workshop DPI's Karen Souter led the women in craft activities including making clay plant markers and tea cup succulent gardens, or making ginger bread houses closer to Christmas. My role was to lead sessions on writing a gratitude journal, and photography to help women express the good things in their life and capture beauty despite the desperate conditions.
Throughout the days the highlight was seeing the women relax, talk with each other over lunch, and provide support through friendship. One group of women talked about forming a walking group. A common theme was their appreciation for their families and the opportunity to escape reality for a short time.
For the Murrurundi Ladies Day Out I made Black Forest Brownie Cake to demonstrate how I style and photograph an image to share on our shop social media. It is a delicious cake and I had to laugh when our 10-year-old said it was his favourite cake because he preferred dense chocolate cake to airy chocolate cake. I then made it a second time in the one week to share with our daughter visiting from Sydney. She didn't want to miss out. The recipe could come in handy during the summer months when we're all called on to "bring a plate" from time to time. Your friends will love you for bringing this along.
Black Forest Brownie Cake
(Source: The Australian Women's Weekly Christmas 2017, Michele Cranston)
I cannot throw out Christmas issues of magazines because they are too good to refer to for Christmas recipes and craft. This recipe isn't particularly Christmasy, but it is festive and the cherries make it seasonal. I have made it with and without cherries, depending on the time of year. It is just as lovely either way. An added bonus is it requires dirtying one saucepan - always a plus. It is also easy to transport, which we have done for a picnic birthday party.
Serves 10-12. Prep and cooking time 45 minutes (+ cooling time).
Ingredients: 250g butter, chopped coarsely, 350g dark chocolate, chopped coarsely, 1 cup (220g) caster sugar, 4 eggs, beaten lightly, 2 cups (300g) plain flour, 1/2 cup (75g) self-raising flour, 250g fresh cherries, halved seeded, cocoa powder to dust, 100g fresh cherries to decorate, extra.
Method: Preheat oven to 170C (150C fan-forced). Grease a 26cm round springform pan, lining base and sides with baking paper. Stir butter and half of the chocolate in a large saucepan over very low heat (I use a double boiler with about 1cm of water in the base saucepan) until almost smooth. Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes. Stir sugar and eggs into the chocolate mixture, then add the combined sifted flours, remaining chocolate and cherries. Spread mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake brownie for about 40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool in the pan before removing. Just before serving, dust the brownie with sifted cocoa, and top or serve with extra cherries.
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