Vampire skin and raspberry meringues

What to do in the school holidays on a day off from work? The 11-year-old son formerly known as Spider Boy was annoyed that he had to go to Vacation Care the next day, so I told him we could do whatever he wanted (within reason) today. He declined offers of ice-skating and movies; top of his list was to go to Lush, the bath products shop.

George’s love for Lush started one Sunday last year when we happened to be in the newish Monaro Mall beauty precinct at the Canberra Centre, and he spied Lush’s bright colours. “Oooh, let’s go in here!” We went in and he’s been hooked on the idea of bath bombs ever since.

That day we bought a bright blue, pink and gold dusted “galactic bath bomb” for $8.95. He enjoyed its fizz, bubbles and disintegration as it quickly coloured his bath water bright blue with little gold sparkles.

At $8.95 a pop on average, I suddenly became interested in seeing what we could make ourselves for less money. Lush’s selling point is that the bath products are fresh and handmade so surely I could whip up a few at home? And so our short-lived bath bomb making frenzy was born.

We watched You-tubers make bath bombs that looked like watermelon and Oreo cookies, stocked up on Citric acid and essential oils and food colouring and made bath bombs in ice-cube trays and plastic bauble toy containers from the supermarket. We came up with all kinds of names for our business, like “Bombs Away” and “Buttercream Bath”. But after about a month, our bath bomb business had become a bit of a fizzer quite frankly.

This holidays, George had fun choosing one out of 50 billion products there. He seemed disappointed that I wasn’t going to get anything for myself, but as his cost twice as much as I originally planned to spend, I thought I wouldn’t. But I did end up buying myself a soap.

We then popped into L’Occitane across the way. Our arms were a canvas for rose-scented hand cream and perfume testers.

“So many good smells here, so many good shops!” he said gleefully. I agreed, it was good for the senses and the soul.

Once back in the main thoroughfare of the beauty wing, we came across a makeup bar, specifically the section with body shimmer and other glittery products. This makeup was different to the heavy body glitters of the 90s that were part of my routine Saturday night look (Like hair gel for the skin). These body shimmers were so light and delicate they looked like they’d been harvested from fairies wings.

The friendly sales girl shrieked with excitement “They’re all testers!” as she invited us to dip our fingers into little delicate pots of rose gold and silver and shimmer up. Our inner arms smelled like roses and sparkled like a vampire’s skin in the late afternoon sunlight.

We capped off our shopping trip with some eye candy – by staring at the counter of Passiontree Velvet patisserie. It was the the hot pink cafe sign that caught my eye, followed by the delicate and beautiful cake art in the cabinet. The fluffy raspberry meringues looked like clouds at sunset. Actually, they didn’t look that different from what we’d just seen at Lush.

I had a realisation that buying bath and beauty products could be a very good substitute for the pleasure of buying cakes and chocolates. For me, part of the attraction of the cake shop is how the merchandise looks, the craftsmanship that goes into these sugary creations. It’s not JUST about the eating. I’ve realised delicious cosmetics and beauty products give me the same little burst of excitement and feeling of indulgence.

I thought of the time I walked past the old Jazz Apple cafe on Canberra’s City Walk when George was almost 2, he started pleading for an “ukcape, ukcape, ukcape”. Amazing, as I didn’t think he knew what a cupcake was.

We left the Monaro Mall beauty precinct talking about all the things we liked about it – George’s top thing was that it was uncrowded and no one seemed to know about it – well, it was 4pm on a weekday. The cashier at Passiontree Velvet said the same thing about the cake shop – not many people seem to go there while they’re beauty shopping. But to me it makes perfect sense to have the pretty soaps and the pretty cakes close by in one pretty sensory shopping destination.

Once we got home, George set up his own little mini-Lush bar in a corner of the bathroom.

David Jones, near the Monaro Mall beauty precinct, where the magic happens.


Autumn (?) flowers add to that fresh fragrant feeling.


A bath truly is one of life’s great pleasures.


The anticipation of a bath bomb hunt… like a jungle cat stalking it’s prey.

Like jewels on display…


A bizarre confectionery version of reef and beef? Surf and turf? I see starfish and shells and a rabbit.


Raspberry body butter bar from Lush, or meringue from Passiontree Velvet?


If it weren’t for the wrapping, you could mistake it for a Blue Hawaiian icecream bar. But no, it’s soap.


Mortifying muffins and eye-candy neighbours

The beauty of uncooked meringue

The beauty of uncooked meringue.

I love baked goods. I own a lot of cookbooks. I look at baking blogs. I like to try to make something from the pages/posts of these books/blogs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

A recent baking effort fell into the latter camp. I was determined to make a zucchini loaf and a batch of spinach and ricotta muffins to give my cousin whose husband was recuperating at home from a cycling accident.
After school drop-off I tried to scurry away quickly so I could do my important job-hunting/work-sourcing baking work. I said “no” to a P&C morning tea and “yes” to my own baking extravaganza.
I am not going to bore you with the details of how and why both these recipes went wrong, as I would be guessing anyway. But the outcome was that both the loaf and the muffins just refused to cook on the inside, yet insisted on going dark brown on the outside. My oven, the tanning salon.
“Oh, you can’t give her that,” Mum said helpfully as she peered at the zucchini loaf. Just for fun, I pinged one of the muffins at the kitchen bench and it actually made a pinging sound. I could get away with eating a muffin myself, but I couldn’t actually offer them to anyone else as I’m afraid they fell into my “mild disaster” category of cooking. The zucchini loaf was categorised “major disaster” so, although in conflict over the waste of ingredients, I binned it, because no one was going to want to eat that.
I forced myself to eat a muffin though, just so I could feel the ingredients/time wasn’t totally wasted. I had it with salad for dinner that night. It wasn’t bad, as it wasn’t actually charcoal and at least I could taste the feta and parmesan in it.
I had three egg whites left over from my yolk-filled baked goods. They were sitting in the fridge just waiting to turn into meringues. My grandmother had made them often. They were always a lovely pale milk-coffee colour, crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Even though I had eaten them often as a child, I still didn’t know exactly how she did it.  To make meringues, I still had to consult my Commonsense Cookery Book (Metric edition – originally compiled in 1970 by the NSW Public School Cookery Teachers’ Association). I have the 1981 edition – it was my high-school cooking class bible.

Simple but effective.

Simple but effective. Dog-eared and reliable.

I enjoyed beating the egg-whites with mum’s 70s egg-beater. It’s quite the workout. A pinch of salt, more beating, then I poured sugar on to those stiff white peaks and beat again, until I had snow-covered mountains of meringue. After folding in more sugar, I spooned the confection into a piping bag and piped out coils, building up the outer ring to make little meringue nests. They looked like the effort of a beginner potter, Dali-esque clocks melting in the late afternoon sun streaming in my kitchen window. I popped them in the oven for a slow, low suntan.

The fragility of uncooked meringue

The fragility of uncooked meringue “coils”.

Later, when Spider-boy and I got home from school pick-up, mum announced “Ooooh, you should see the eye-candy that’s moved in next door”.
“What? Who? Tell me EVERYTHING!” I demanded.
So turns out the eye-candy that Mum was referring to was one bloke who’s paying rent and another who’s “just visiting” (or so he said). Then the next day we saw two women coming out of the flat, dressed as if they were going to a nightclub, but they each wheeled a pram and accompanying baby. And they have all been there every day for the past week, obviously living in our real neighbour’s two-bedroom flat that she is sub-letting to the two eye-candy families. Cosy.
They have nothing to do with this story, except to say that no way was I popping round next door Desperate Housewives-style with a basket of my mortifying muffins to welcome them to the neighbourhood. Nor would I be delivering them to my cousin. If my street were Wisteria Lane, then my mortifying muffins would be considered a weapon of mass obstruction (to being a good neighbour/to cousin’s husband’s recuperation).
But my meringues were a different story. I tasted one that night, and they weren’t bad. The palest shade of milk-coffee, crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle. Worked a treat with a bit of vanilla ice-cream and blueberries. I had wanted to redeem myself with the meringues. It was a bizarre self-imposed My Kitchen Rules-style showdown where I was the only competitor and there were no attractive celebrity-chef judges. Maybe I could’ve knocked on the eye-candy neighbours door after all and asked them to join me for a bake-off. So all right, maybe I can bake a little, but it is a bit unpredictable. All I will say is that the zuchinni Loaf and the muffin recipes did not come from my Commonsense Cookery Book.

Redemption by meringue. I don't mind the crack - the beauty's in the flaws right?

Redemption by meringue. I don’t mind the cracks – the beauty’s in the flaws, right?

 And my cousin’s husband? He got a box of Lindt chocolates. My baking may be hit and miss, but I am very good at buying chocolate.