Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Photo A Day July

My very talented photographer friend Briony of Brisbane-based Catch Photography has been hosting a mini Photo A Day group on her Facebook page. You'd have to have been living under a rock not to know about this fun, not-so-little daily photo challenge run by Fat Mum Slim. I couldn't get my act together to start in June, but after completing July's list, I'm hooked. I thought I'd post the lot in one go.

1. self portrait
2. busy   3. best part of your day
4. fun   5. on the floor

6. chair
7. garden   8. lunch
9. big   10. your favourite colour

11. letter
12. texture   13. open
14. building   15. finger

16. sign   17. your addiction
18. plate
19. animal/insect/pet   20. eyes

20. 9 o'clock
21. upside down   22. mirror
23. stranger   24. heart

26. sunshine  27. on the road
28. cup  29. last thing you bought
30. calm  31. toothbrush

Monday, July 30, 2012

Bits and Pieces

We had 10 house guests on Saturday night, a Christmas in July celebration with very good friends and beautiful kids. The weekend before, another lovely friend and her babe stayed a few nights. In the lead-up to that, a colleague was here in our house for six days in a row, training the GM and I on some new software for work. And prior to that, it was school holidays and all the fifth birthday celebrations. 

It's been a busy July.

As the calendar turns, I'm feeling a change in the wind and the call of quiet. We're over the hump of winter, our first since making the big country move. It's been cold, we've burnt a lot of wood, but we've been fine - far finer than I feared we'd be. And just around the corner is spring and all it promises in the garden. One of the reasons for this move was to have more space to grow food. It's time to talk seeds and mulch.

I'm starting August with a glorious gift to myself, a day learning about photography with Tim Coulson. I'm only just a tiny, weeny bit excited!!!

And then, brace yourselves...and pray for me if that's your thing...it's time to toilet-train. I've been putting it off till the weather warms up and the trainees are wearing fewer layers every day. And frankly, I've been struggling to find the energy or will. But they are ready, practically begging for it, and we have an overseas holiday at the end of the year, so it's time. If anyone has ever toilet-trained twins, your advice is completely welcome.

So, next month we'll be staying home, drawing our focus in, perhaps doing a bit of pre-spring spring cleaning, clearing out some clutter (yes, this book is speaking to me) and giving the washing machine and disinfectant bottle a workout. 

And knitting. Always knitting.

Friday, July 27, 2012

this moment

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.

Via Soulemama.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Redressing the Balance

Lately, there's been a lot of whining in this space about the two-year-old terrors. 

I feel a sudden need to balance the reporting.

Because I fear it may have become lost in transmission just how much I adore this pair.

And how beautiful they are.

And, oh, how gorgeous the relationship they share.

How lucky for me that I am theirs and they are mine.

(Might I add, avoiding another horror mealtime by giving them popcorn for dinner on a picnic rug in front of 'Giggle and Hoot' certainly helps...)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Serious/Not Serious

Some serious and some not so serious reading this week. After my plaintive cry for help a few weeks ago, a small book order was placed. I added Simplicity Parenting to the basket because it has been on my wishlist for a while and I thought it might supplement the toddler titles well. And the ideas within already make such sense to me - less stuff, less screen time, less rushing, less stress - so I'm keen to back up my own thoughts with somebody else's science and professional viewpoint. 

When the opportunity for a quick escape arose this afternoon, I popped the book into my bag with some knitting - another hat in green. But upon arriving at the cafe on the corner and ordering my soy latte, suddenly I didn't want to read about parenting, or childing, or mumming, or familying, or any other serious 'ing. And then the latest glorious Gourmet Traveller bounced into my hands...with its chocolate and banana French toast with salted caramel oozing off the cover, I mean, how could I resist...

Seriously good.

Yarn Along over here.

And when not knitting hats, I'm making merry progress on the pink queue-jumping jumper too...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bumpy with Swinging Pompom

Red hat.


With a swinging pompom.

Ravelled here. No pattern...yet.

Friday, July 20, 2012

this moment

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.

Via Soulemama.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Knitting/Reading for Five-Year-Olds

What's not in the picture:

- The knitting needles in the top of the unfinished hat.

- The other 14 books in the very-late-to-arrive birthday present.

- The hissy-fit she had while I tried to take the picture.

- The hissy-fit I had while I tried to take the picture.

- The unwell little sister, wailing, off to the right.

- The big pile of hats being made inspired by that texture. Next week, I hope.

Joining in with the Yarn Along.

And now I have to go and work out how this hat ends...

Monday, July 16, 2012


Lemons plucked by little hands from the tree at the bottom of the garden, left abandoned.

Thrifted pillowcases destined for toddler fashions. 

And an unexpected delivery in the mail of the very best kind. 

A while I ago I pledged support for the Ton of Wool project. Basically, I handed over a small amount of cash in exchange for a skein of yarn. But not just any yarn. This is 100% pure Cormo wool that was grown and processed entirely in Australia, rather than being shipped to China as is usually the case with Aussie wool. My small pledge for the project was rewarded with 100 grams of the ton of wool that took the journey "from sheep to skein". The yarn is so soft and squishy - I've been sniffing and squeezing it all afternoon. And when faced with the colour options, I decided to go against my usual habits, ignoring the vibrant reds and moody greys, instead opting for something I would never normally buy - bright, lurid yellow.

The perfect match for this incredible sunny day.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Pearl pulled her cardboard crown down over her eyes, we spun her around a few times and then she picked a winner out of a hat* - Sascedar! Congrats. I hope there's a place for 'Naturally Fun Parties For Kids' on a shelf in your lovely new home.

*Actually, this photo is entirely unrelated and Pearl had nothing to do with the draw. I used the random number generator... 

Friday, July 13, 2012

this moment

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.

Via Soulemama.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stew for Dummies

Stew, casserole, braise - you name it, I love it. When it's cold out, miserable and wet, there's nothing that pleases me more than some meat and vegies simmering away on the stove or in the oven. My all-time favourite is osso bucco, followed closely by a boeuf bourguignon. I'm also partial to some lovely coq au vin, and while I've never tried a cassoulet, I know we'd hit it off instantly.

But no matter what fancy name you give it, most stews follow a set of simple principles and can be as easy or as frou-frou as you want to make it. Having given it some thought, I reckon you could write the recipe as follows.

Some meat
Some vegetables
Some grog
Some stock
Some herby tidbits
Some more vegetables

Brown meat. Saute vegetables in meaty pan juices. Add grog, then stock. Throw in some herby tidbits. Cook for about two hours over low heat, adding some more vegetables towards the end. Knit by the fire whilst listening to the rain falling outside, enjoying aromas coming from kitchen. Eat.

That's really all there is to it.

For my everyday, easy, budget-friendly, foolproof Stew for Dummies, I use:

1kg good quality chuck steak, or oyster blade, cut into large cubes, about 3cm
1 brown onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 tablespoon plain flour
1/2 bottle cheap red wine
A few stalks of thyme and rosemary and a couple of bay leaves, tied with kitchen string
500ml, or thereabouts, beef stock (chicken or veg stock would suffice)
Lots of button mushrooms, halved

In a large casserole dish or saucepan with a lid (I always use Old Blue, my trusty cast-iron pot) brown the meat very well in some olive oil. Do it in three or four batches, removing it to a bowl once it's done. Season well with salt and pepper.

Add a little more oil if necessary and saute the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Return the beef to the pot and add the flour, stirring to cook. Pour in wine and allow it to bubble up so the alcohol cooks off. Pour in enough stock to cover the lot. Tie the bundle of herbiness to the saucepan handle, ensuring the herbs are submerged in the liquid.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to simmer over low heat, with the lid on, for about two hours or until the meat is tender and falling apart. Alternatively, put it into a low oven, say, 160 degrees. Check occasionally to make sure it isn't drying out, and top up with extra stock or water if required. You can also pop a cartouche - a circle of baking paper - on top of the liquid to help keep the wonderfulness in. Add the mushrooms for the last 20 minutes of cooking time.

Discard the herby bundle and serve your stew with mashed potatoes and something green, on a cold rainy evening, preferably in July.

Those are the basics. The variations are endless.

- Add bacon or pancetta with the onion and put a slice of orange peel in with the herbs to make it a bit bourguignon-y.

- Use lamb shanks instead of beef and throw in a cup of half-cooked puy lentils.

- Add barley, beans or potatoes for extra heartiness.

- Use stout instead of wine.

- Throw in a tin of diced tomatoes to freshen things up.

- Pump up the vegetable volume by adding fennel, zucchini, sweet potato, pumpkin, silverbeet, green beans or whatever you have lying around.

- Get zingy and serve it with some gremolata - chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest - sprinkled on top.

- Add more stock or water and call it soup.

The extras are up to you - just make sure you cook enough so you can have leftovers for lunch the next day. Chances are it'll still be raining, and everyone knows stew tastes better after a quiet night's rest in the fridge.

Have you entered the giveaway yet?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Remembering in Green

Thank you for your comments on this post. They were so very appreciated, and I'm pleased to report a miniscule shift away from terrible and back towards delightful in the toddler stakes. Small steps.

As you can see, I'm currently indulging in another Alexander McCall Smith novel, the second in the Isabel Dalhousie series. How lovely it is to be wandering Edinburgh's streets again. I had a short stint living there in the late '90s and so loved it. I had better read fast, because a small book order has been placed following some recommendations on the toddler crisis, and I'm sure next week's Yarn Along will reveal some much more serious, creased-forehead-type reading.

I recently told a blog friend who reckons she's not much of a knitter and can only manage knit and purl (isn't it all just knit and purl?) that she could knit a hat like the one my girls have been flaunting this winter, and I've promised to write up the pattern. That green knitting in the photo above is me trying to remember it. Hopefully you'll see it here soon.

Yarn Along here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Book Review and a Giveaway

A little while ago, I was sent a gorgeous book to review here on the blog. It's called Naturally Fun Parties For Kids. Written by Anni Daulter, it's about "creating handmade, earth-friendly celebrations for all seasons and occasions."

As you know, we had a birthday in this house recently. Lola has enjoyed a party for each of her birthdays so I know how much work is involved - you can check out last year's spectacular rainbow pirate party here. I had every intention of dipping into this new book for ideas and recipes for her fifth birthday party, but in the end she elected to have a day in Sydney catching up with her old friends, enjoying yum cha and bouncing about in an indoor gym in lieu of a party here at home. We were allowed a birthday party every  second year as kids - my sensible mother of four knew how to set limits. Looks like the "every second year" policy might kick in here now too.

Anyway, all of that aside, how lovely to come across a book that moves away from the sort of parties we've become used to throwing and attending - hire-a-fairy, jumpy castles, McDonald's, bowling, lollies galore. I'm all for outsourcing, but it's the mass consumption of sugar and plastic that I find a bit depressing. While I'm not convinced every kid will go for some of the recipes and ideas in the book, I would be thrilled to serve up roasted corn on the cob, homemade donuts and ginger spiced cookies in lieu of chips and lollipops. At any rate I'd enjoy the leftovers!

The book is broken up into seasons with three party ideas for each. And even though it's targeted at the Northern Hemisphere, ie Easter in spring, Christmas in winter, there's still plenty of inspiration for us Southern folk.

Each theme is broken up into a list of projects and materials, as well as a timeline to help you get organised. This will be especially helpful for people like me who find themselves frantically baking cupcakes and making costumes at midnight the night before the big day. There are suggestions for everything from the invitations right through to the decorations, activities and food.

So if you fancy a summer beach party with grilled flatbread pizza and herbed chicken, and creating necklaces out of sea glass, or an upcycled art party with thyme potato chips and pumpkin bread, making recycled crayons and sewing pillows out of wool jumpers, it's all here. 

And better yet, many of the ideas and recipes would be equally great for a rainy day or lazy afternoon at home. I'm not going to wait for the next birthday party to try the egg dyeing or upcycled sweater aprons with my girls.

I've enjoyed Naturally Fun Parties For Kids thoroughly, and I'd love to pass it on to someone else. If you'd like a chance to win my copy, just leave me a comment and your email and I'll draw a winner randomly later in the week. (Australian and New Zealanders only, sorry. It would go against the eco ethos of the book to send it on a second long-haul flight...)

Sunday, July 8, 2012


This is my 400th post. I had plans for a celebration-type thing. Instead, I'm here with a plea. Those of you who have a two-year-old or have ever had a two-year-old - better yet, TWO two-year-olds - I need your advice.

My first child wasn't much of a tantrum-thrower and, being number one, she had no-one to fight with. The pair, however, love to chuck a good wobbly, and fight with each other and their big sister and their parents over pretty much anything. Colour of bowl. Method of getting into car seat. Order in which shoes go on. You get the picture.

I'm a reader, so hit me with great parenting books you've come across, or links to websites, or just your own pearls of wisdom. They don't have to be twin-specific, though that would be helpful. And nothing too scientific, please. Just good commonsense advice, tools and techniques to help me get through the day with less screaming and crying and flailing of limbs and tearing out of hair (and that's just me).

I've googled a few titles that I think will help, but 'Parenting Through the OCD Years' and  'Knit Your Way to Sanity' haven't been written yet. I need something that sheds light on what's so bloody important about the purple spoon or the pink stockings (but not the pink stripey stockings, the ones with the flowers, unless they're in the wash, in which case the spotty ones...)

You can see the glint in her eye, can't you? And she's just half of the problem. A large half, admittedly...

Friday, July 6, 2012

this moment

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.

Via Soulemama.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Shortcrust Pastry

I can say with some conviction that I'm not a tart. Some people may beg to differ. Let's ignore them.

I can also say, with perhaps even more conviction, that I love a good tart. Sweet or savoury, lunch, dinner or in between, home-made or bought from a fine patisserie.

The quantities for this pastry come via Damien Pignolet's 'French'. Stephanie Alexander's recipe has the exact same quantities...and she pays tribute to Damien Pignolet for them. Go figure. Where these two masters and yours truly part ways is on the method. They go for adept fingers and flour-covered benchtops and the delicate sprinkling of chilled water over lovingly hand-caressed butter-flour crumbs.

I go for the Magimix.

If I was a more useful blogger, I would have made both versions and compared the results, then given you a blow-by-blow description of why one is better than the other.

But all of that is just academic when you have a $600 piece of equipment in the kitchen capable of doing the job in a quarter the time with an eighth the effort, and still produces a delectable result.

So here is how I make my shortcrust pastry.

You need:

240g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
180g unsalted butter, diced
3-4 tablespoons cold water
1 food processor

Put the butter, flour and salt into your food processor and blitz till it looks like breadcrumbs.

Add the water gradually, say, starting with two tablespoons. Blitz between additions until you have a wettish-dryish crumbly mixture that comes together when pressed between your thumb and finger. I think this is the trickiest bit. I've seen pastry made on TV where they add liquid and process it till it comes together into a smooth ball. I always stop at the press-togetherable-but-still-crumbly point and always end up with flaky pastry. I think the 'science' is the more water and the smoother the dough, the less 'short' your pastry will be. And you want it short. Yes, smooth dough is easier to work with, to roll, to handle. But it won't be as short. And you want it short.

That said, I almost always need the full 4 tablespoons of water, and sometimes a few drops more.

Tip it out onto the benchtop and bring it together into a flat disc. You can knead it to make it smoother at this point. Don't go overboard. Short, remember.

Wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. You can see from the photo above that my mix is still quite crumbly. I like to live life on the edge.

Now it's time to roll.

 See how you can see the little bits of butter in the pastry? This is a good thing.

Using only enough flour to prevent it sticking, roll out your pastry to about 3-5mm thick. You will find, as I often do, that it will split on the edges. Feel free to patch it up. Once it is the right size and thickness, roll it back onto your pin then unfurl it gracefully over the top of the tin. Ease the pastry down into the tin, pressing gently against the sides, working all the way around. Cut or press off the excess. Admire your work. Then line the whole thing with foil and whack it into the freezer for 20 minutes while you preheat your oven.

This recipe is enough to line two 20cm tins, so I often leave one in the freezer for another day. Just wrap it in plastic as well as the foil. (20cm is quite dainty, however, so you'll have plenty for a larger tin here too).

It's time to blind-bake. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Take the foil-lined tin from the freezer and fill it with pastry weights, beans or lentils. My 'baking' lentils have been going strong for about five years now. 

Place the tin on a baking sheet and put it into the oven for about 15 minutes, then pull the foil back to see how it's going. If the pastry still looks quite raw, give it another five minutes. If it's 'setting' and looking firm, pull out the tin, remove the lentils and foil, then return it to the oven to brown. You want a lovely tan colour and delicate crispiness. It'll need at least another five minutes, but watch it closely.

This particular day, my pastry shrunk quite a bit, which wasn't a problem. To avoid it, I've seen some cooks leave the pastry a few centimetres higher than the tin, then cut off the excess with a bread knife once it has been baked.

It's amazing what you can achieve with some butter and flour, a pinch of salt and a few splashes of water. 

Now go and make this tart.


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