Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas, everybody

A short post to wish everyone who happens past a Happy Christmas. I hope you all have a lovely day.

If you have a minute or two, check out Stephanie Dowrick's 10 tips for Christmas calm here. Says it all, really, about what Christmas is about.

Here's to plenty of Christmas calm out there - catch you on the other side!

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Pretty exciting developments in the winemaking department - "proper" labels! We had the above label designed by a friend who is a graphic designer. The motif is homage to our dog, Dash, who of course had nothing whatsoever to do with the making of the wine, but he's pretty darn cute, so why not?

GSM is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mouvedre grapes - unfortunately the grapes are not our own. The 2010 season was rained out, as was the 2011 and it looks like, the 2012. At the stage of considering ripping out half our vines (we have about 100) but after eight years it's a bit of heart wrenching decision.

Fruit in general presents a bit of a challenge where we are: south of Sydney, near the coast. I guess you would call us maritime temperate - coolish winters, warm humid summers (except at the moment - cool and humid). It doesn't get cool enough for good stone fruit, apples and pears. It doesn't get warm enough for tropical fruit. Citrus does well enough, and figs and passionfruit. The rest we fight for. And of course, fruit fly loves our climate, so it's a constant battle with them too.

On the upside, we have good soil and rain, even when the rest of the country is in drought. So we keep going on, although treacherous thoughts of the ultimate prune do flash through my mind at times!

Monday, December 12, 2011

New season garlic

Whoops - that's another month gone without blogging. Where did that go?

Happy days a few weeks ago. Just as last year's garlic was starting to look really sad and sorry, the new season garlic was ready to pick.
Of all the things we grow here, if I was asked to pick just one crop to grow, it would be garlic. It goes without saying that the fresh stuff is better than the stuff we get from China, Spain or Peru. Did you know fresh garlic is juicy? It is! I don't think I every saw juice come out of any garlic clove I ever bought.
It's also incredibly easy and hassle free. Just stick your cloves in the ground pointy side up and wait. Really. That's all I ever did.
The garden is a bit of a mixed bag at the moment. After a few oppressively hot days in November, interspersed with cool, wet days, we've had a run of cold weather, the coldest start to summer in 51 years. I am sitting here in December in my trackies. Unheard of. Not being a particular lover of hot weather, I'm quite happy with this state of affairs except that the garden doesn't seem to know what to do. Growth and ripening is a bit slow. By now we are hitting the most productive time of year in the vegie patch here, but I can see peak vegie harvesting is going to be a bit late this year.
After eight years here I can say no two years are ever the same in the garden.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Appliance woes

Sigh. I really need to be in the kitchen at the moment, but I had to get away. The breadmaker is on its knead cycle and is emitting loud squeals with each turn of the paddle. The noise is enough to make my fillings vibrate. I fear this development does not bode well for its future. It's only 18 months old, heavens! OK it's probably done 5 loaves a week average since then, but I hoped it would last a bit longer.
Back in the kitchen I've had a run of appliance blowouts. My rice cooker (10 years old) blew up, so I got another. And now my much loved electric frypan (5 years old) has also gone the same way.
I should point out that I rely a lot on appliances, as I only have a two burner stove. I actually have three burners (Why only three? I don't know!I didn't build this kitchen), but the wok burner also blew up about two years ago, and the quote to fix it would buy me a new stovetop. But that would also mean a kitchen reno, which I am disinclined to do. So I muddle along in the kitchen with careful planning, bolstered by appliances. And you know, 99% of the time it's not a problem. Maybe we don't need the full palaver anyway.
What annoys me though, is not so much that these things break, but that it is almost impossible to have them repaired. The sheer, utter waste of it really gets my goat!
Meanwhile, next door in the laundry, my 10 year old Fisher and Paykel is churning out yet another load of washing. It hasn't missed a beat in all that time. I love my washing machine. (she writes with fingers crossed, not a bad achievement).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Friday night soup - Potage Bonne Femme

I've explained before that Friday night is soup night around here, served about 5.15pm just before we head out to swimming club night. AM and the kids swim, I take up my post in Lane 4 and timekeep.

Soup fills a hole, but not so much as to weigh the swimmers down.

This soup is described in one of my French cookbooks as Potage Bonne Femme - Good Woman Soup - which I rather like over the more prosaic Vegetable soup.

I use whatever's around and ready to eat in Potage Bonne Femme - this one had leeks, potatoes, celery, silverbeet and zucchini, all sweated off for 10 minutes slowly in a bit of olive oil, then water and salt, and 5 minutes at low pressure in my beloved pressure cooker. Then add lots of pepper.

Thanks for the comments on my last post on my recently discovered Vitamin D deficiency.
Achan, I've heard of a couple of people with the same thing since sharing this diagnosis. I've never heard of it as a problem here in Aus but obviously things are changing. As Belinda points out, it is now a screening test in pregnancy - I don't recall this when I was having my kids 13 and 11 years ago.
Africanaussie, I don't think I'm diabetic. The blood test was a comprehensive one and blood sugar was good.
Anyway, I am feeling much less tired, and I think that my summer activities will help top up my levels, so hopefully I will keep on top of it now.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vitamin D Deficient! Who knew?

I've been feeling rather less than perfect lately. Tired, so tired. The sort of tired that had me craving 10 hours sleep after a ten hour sleep.
At first I just ignored it. You know, I'm of a certain age, with kids, a job, a dog, 5 acres to look after, a (neglected) blog, parents and the whole palaver. Life's tiring, after all.
Well, I just got sick of it. I hauled myself to the doctor.
"So why are you here to day?" says my charming German lady doctor.
"Well, I've been feeling very tired lately.."
"You are of a certain age..."she says.
"But I can hardly haul myself out of bed in the morning".
Being charming, she agrees to do a blood test.
And I am Vitamin D deficient. Very much so. And tiredness is a symptom.
How can this be? I live in Australia after all. Everything's about staying out of the sun- melanoma, you know! I thought the only people who had Vitamin D deficiency in these partswere the very elderly frail folk, Goth emos who sleep during the day and Muslim ladies who wear hijab.
But no, it seems you can be of a certain age, walk your dog daily, work in the garden often and still have Vitamin D deficiency.
Admittedly, while I do these things I am obsessively covered up - long pants and sleeves, hat, sunblock. I don't want skin cancer (and ok, I am trying to avoid the wrinkles too).
So now I am on Vitamin D supplements, and have been ordered to get into the sun for ten minutes morning and afternoon without sunblock.
So I've been on 3000mg of Vitamin D a day, and have been out and about without sunscreen, which I don't enjoy frankly(the sans sunscreen thing- not the out and about. I swear I can feel myself cooking).
I feel better already.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Berry Garden Festival

Ok, so I've tried twice to upload a series of photos from today's visit to the Berry Garden Festival. I had a picture of the Taj Mahal of chook sheds, a vege patch to make you salivate, gorgeous garden borders, an enormous bougainvillea climbing up a tree, shady groves, a croquet lawn and a lily pond.

But no, Google and my lazy satellite connection don't want to play that game. So in the end, I'm posting just one photo from my trawl around the gardens on show - this outdoor shower, with hot and cold running water. This really appeals to me. I could get AM to shower outside, instead of trailing bits of grass through the house after he's been in the garden. I'm imagining lovely cool showers outside on hot summer nights. One of my most vivid memories of a trip we did to Malaysia 20 years ago was taking outdoor showers at one of the cheap-and-cheerful places we stayed on Langkawi Island, just like this one. It was fantastic. where should it go?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New for me cooking - Quinoa pudding

Another new-for-me dish and ingredient, quinoa pudding with cranberry compote, which I ate for breakfast on the weekend.

Sweet, kind of like rice pudding, really. You could eat this for dessert. Rating: Three thumbs up, one down (son, an adventurous eater, but not into this). A nice introduction to quinoa.

Quinoa pudding

200g quinoa

2 cups milk

1 cinnamon quill

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbs maple syrup

1/2 cup raisins

Rinse quinoa and place in a saucepan with 500mL water. Bring to boil and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until or the water has evaporated.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for anout 20 minutes or so, until thick.

Serve with natural yogurt and cranberry compote (below):

Cranberry compote : Place dried cranberries, 1/4 cup caster sugar, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the liquid is thick and syrupy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

On my mind - decluttering

This is my first contribution to Rhonda's On My Mind series.
This corner of my study has been on my mind for a while. Its a disaster. It badly needs a decluttering. The filing cabinet is packed with old paper work that I really need to go through. The cupboard is full of old books and textbooks, wrapping paper, brown paper, bubble wrap etc etc - the sort of stuff that you keep because it "might come in handy one day" and "one day" rarely comes. That paperwork stacked on the computer desk is old school stuff - it too needs a purge. Propped up against the filing cabinet is a white board Action Man rescued from a renovation at work. It needs to find a home or its "out". There is a stack of files on the floor that belong to AM. On top of the cupboard are boxes for various bits of computer/camera equipment. On the computer desk is two old desktop computers and a defunct printer and busted shredder, as well as discs from the last eleventy years.
Sigh. There's a day's work there.
This corner of doom really sucks the energy out of this room (it is behind me as I write). Maybe that's why I don't blog as often as I should. That corner of doom is like a silent admonishment to me every time I sit at the computer!
Oh well, it looks like another rainy weekend. Maybe - this is the weekend to tackle it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Footy and Pizza night

We've had a long weekend here in NSW. We don't tend to go anywhere on long weekends. Our town is overrun with Sydneysiders, so the traffic is diabolical. Far better to stay here.
This weekend has also been quite wet, so I haven't done as much gardening as I had planned. Rather, I've started on a dress, and we've cooked.
Sunday night saw us watching the NRL Grand Final between Manly and the NZ Warriors. Being St George fans, naturally we went for the Warriors. If you're team is out of the comp, you go for whoever is playing Manly.
Sunday in front of the telly? Pizza night in order.

Here is what we had:
Margarita: tomato, bocconcini, basil
Vegie: Chargrilled eggplant, onion, mushroom, bocconcini
Salami: salami, grilled capsisum, bocconcini
Hawaiian: ham, pineapple and mozzarella (requested by kids)
Last of all was a new one for me, potato pizza - I know carb city! First of all I sauteed two sliced leeks in butter and oil for 10 minutes or so until very soft. Put this as a first layer on the pizza dough. Finely sliced two small potatoes in the food processor and put this on the pizza. Sea salt, finely chopped rosemary and a dousing of olive oil to finish. Took a little longer than the other pizzas to cook - about 20 minutes- but very nice. Pizzas do not have to be all about tomato and cheese.
All the pizza were devoured. Potato pizza got thumbs up from all. Unfortunately, though, Manly won.
Life is not always fair.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Positional problems

One of my goals in the garden this season is to grow a lot more of my veg from seed. So far, I've only done this with beans, lettuce and sometimes tomatoes.

So I planted my first lot of seeds - zucchini, watermelon (courtesy of Tracy) and various lettuces - into a seed tray about ten days ago.

First of all germination has been patchy. Out of six seeds, only one zucchini has germinated. Ditto watermelon. Lettuces about 50-50. Then the other day we had a very warm day (its been very cold, then very warm, then very cold again), and it fried some of the lettuces

I think the main problem is where to position the tray. Its under our verandah, which gets a bit of morning sun. Last Friday it would have been in direct sun (I was at work) for a few hours. With this cold weather, it's not getting sun, but it is well, cold!

Placing the seed tray is a bit of head scratcher - somewhere with even temperatures, close enough to the house for me to remember to tend it, out of the ways of chooks, dogs and bower birds.

Hmmm. Maybe direct sowing would be easier? Maybe I should just be patient and wait for it to warm up a bit? Any thoughts out there?

Meanwhile, flowering this week is the banksia rose all along our boundary fence, an example above. It's really magnificent, but unfortunately not in a position to be readily appreciated!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Little by little

Dash and half a bucket of bindies

Over the last month or two, Action Man and I have been busy in the garden, not just the vegie patch but the rest of the garden too. We've pruned and pruned our shrubs - long overdue. We've pulled out one of the beds and replanted. Most amazingly, I have been paying attention to the lawn around the house.Little by little I've been pulling out the bindies. I've killed off the weeds with a mixture of river sand and sulphate of ammonia.I've spent a few hours criss crossing the lawn with the garden fork to aerate the lawn. And today, it is looking like rain so I'll be out flinging blood and bone to encourage some growth. I'm even thinking that it could use a bit of top dressing.
This patch of lawn gets a lot of use, but precious little of my time, so I hope it appreciates the sudden burst of love!

Meanwhile in the orchard, I've stunned myself by getting on with putting the exclusion bags for fruit fly on the stone fruit exactly on time - when the petals drop. Little by little, I'm getting around to all the trees.

Fruit set this year has been impressive - too impressive. I'm doing the counter-intuitive things and knocking off some of the fruit, in order to encourage few, bigger fruits. Also, fewer fruit make it easier to fit the exclusion bags. With a little luck, I will have foiled the ***!!$$ fruit fly this year.

Let's hope so!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Carrot salad

OK, so I don't blame you if you're thinking "Gee, Paola can't be up to much if she is offering up posts on bowls of grated carrot".
Fair enough. It is a bowl of grated carrot, festooned with poorly chopped parsley (must have been in a hurry that day), and a couple of pine nuts. But I post this recipe simply because this simple salad has got me out of "I don't know what vegetable to serve this with" moments, and "I have hardly anything in the fridge or garden to prepare" moments and "I have no energy to think. let alone cook"moments. A faithful recipe that has never let me down. Plus, it never fails to enliven any plate it graces. Enjoy.

Carrot salad

4 (or so) carrots, grated
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (I just squeeze half a lemon)
1 crushed garlic clove
Sea Salt and pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons parsely or mint, chopped

Carrots in bowl. Oil, lemon juice, garlic, sea salt and pepper in jar - shake it up! Toast the pine nuts and add to carrot. When ready to serve drizzle the dressing give it a good stir and strew with chopped parsley.

I could eats plateloads of this.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


It's as perfect a day as you could wish for out there - sunny, gentle breeze. The garden is looking it's absolute best - a feast for the eyes, ears (with bees buzzing busily) and nose. This port wine magnolia is a case in point. It is a fairly modest looking flower but the smell of lollies out there is intoxicating!

The wisteria is suddenly in flower, which heralds the beginning of spending the next few months keeping it on its trellis and not taking over the garden.

The maybush looks magnificent. It's a pretty dowdy looking plant for most of the year, but in these few weeks it definitely pays it keep.

I like this weigela with its two tone leaves. Unfortunately it's in an out-of-the-way part of the garden. Need to strike some cuttings and address this.

The last of the stone fruit - this one a white peach to flower. Which makes me think of fruit fly, my nemesis. Off now to order some exclusion bags - I will eat stone fruit this year!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More lambs

Well, the sheep population of this place has increased by 66% over the last few weeks with the birth of three more lambs.
This picture was taken a few minutes after this little girl was born. For the first time, I happened to be present at the birth, although I didn't realise the sheep was in labour until just before this lamb appeared. I'd just arrived home on Sunday two weeks ago, and went out the back to talk to Action Man who was pruning buddleia. We were talking about this and that, when AM pointed out Ruth - "I think she's in labour". She was doing some unsheeplike things - pacing up and down, lying down and getting up, and acting in a distracted manner. A minute or so of this then I said "Are those feet I can see?" (we were probably 20 metres away). As AM said "I think they are!", plop! out came the lamb. Amazing. I raced up to the house for the camera, and here she is still covered in birth mucus.

A week later, these two girls arrived to Susy. They are a few hours old here - you can still see the umbilical chords. We thought (hoped) Susy was carrying twins, she was so big, and sure enough here they are.

Meanwhile, our male lamb from my post a few weeks ago is a bit of a boombah.

The best part - all arehealthy and thriving. Last year we lost two lambs, but this year it looks like they will all last the distance.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chorizo pilaf

Saturday night, 7pm. We arrive home from a swimming carnival. We are starving. Lack of forethought means nothing is in fridge. Had pasta for lunch - won't do that again. Eggs needed for Father's Day breakfast. Too much to do - three loads of washing to sort, dog to walk. Tired. All the omens point to a rare take away pizza.

Ring pizza shop to place order. One hour's wait for a pizza! Forget it!

Fortunately, I remembered I had three chorizo sausages in the freezer. Five minutes in the microwave to defrost. Half an hour later we were eating this chorizo pilaf.

Chorizo Pilaf

Put the oven on to 180 degrees.

2 red onions

2 carrots

2/3 chorizo sausages

Slice these up and soften in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for 5 minutes or so over medium heat in an ovenproof casserole dish.

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

Add these and soften for a minute or so.

1 1/2 cups basmati rice

Add this and stir so the rice is covered with oil.

3 cups boiling stock or water)

1/2 cup frozen peas

Add these. Bring to boil (this shouldn't take long). Cover with lid and put in oven for 30 minutes or so.

Crisis averted.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New lamb

Here is the Houdini of sheep, Woolly Jumper (the main culprit of the great vegetable patch sheep rampage of the previous post) and her brand-new lamb born last Monday. He's a beauty, nice and strong and putting on weight at a great rate. This photo was taken on Wednesday, and his body has filled out a lot in three days. He is also much too fast to catch and cuddle. Sigh. They grow up too quickly.
It's lovely when we start the new lambs are born. This year, though, it is bittersweet. This year's batch of lambs will be the last sired by our ram-of-long-standing, Rambo. We had him for seven years and he was pretty old then. So it wasn't too surprising when about 6 weeks ago, without any warning, we found him in the paddock. Very sad - Rambo was our friendliest sheep, and he always came up to say hello when you went out. More likely, he was checking out whether you had anything to eat. Never mind, we miss him.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Getting ready for spring

Don't blink or you'll miss it - our vegie patch looking tidy!

I call myself a slapdash gardener mainly because although I enjoy gardening, I'm not very consistent. I tend to have massive days in the vegie patch working like a maniac, interspersed with utter neglect except for picking. Our vegies have to be tough, because once they are in, it's every vegie for itself. Even with such shocking neglect, though, we manage to harvest quite a bit.

Here is how it looked yesterday after one of those massive days on Sunday. I should have taken a "before" photo. Picture these beds covered with weeds and the fence posts askew, spent eggplant, tomato and capsicum bushes (I wanted to see how long they would last before they threw in the towel - mid July is the answer), with lettuces struggling to maintain their foothold, after being shorn by the sheep who got in a few weeks ago and being smothered by weeds. Not a good look.

So I got the 13 year old to start hammering in those fence posts straight again, and fixing the holes in the fence. Meanwhile I weeded. And weeded. And weeded. Heartening to see the garden full of earthworms, so while it doesn't look like much, good stuff is happening where it counts. Then I sent the 13 year old to pick up buckets of sheep poo (I bribed him with his favourite Caramel Banana pudding for dessert that night- using my very last pre Cyclone Yasi frozen banana.) and flung that on the weeded soil. Meanwhile I was harvesting chicken poo (the glamour doesn't stop here) and flung that dung as well. Took the weeds up to the compost heap, brought back compost and stuck that on too. By now I was coming over all Peter Cundall-like. "Look at that!" I said to Action Man. "That's beautiful stuff that is!" And it was.

Lastly I mulched everything, because even though weeds grow through the mulch, it does slow their growth - somewhat.

Now I am thinking about what to plant in a few weeks time when it starts to warm up. This year I'd like to really get into growing more plants from seed. So far I've only really grown dwarf beans, lettuce and tomatoes from seed. The rest of the time I cheat with seedlings I buy at the local market.

In light of that, it was a very timely surprise to receive a gift of seeds - watermelon and yin yang beans - from Tracy at Sunny Corner Farm, along with a dishcloth too nice to use. Looking forward to trying out this seed growing caper, especially with watermelon which we have never grown before. Thank you, Tracy!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Preserved lemons

Yoo-hoo! Netball has been cancelled today due to very nasty weather so I've been given back a day I wasn't counting on. Every day seems to be spoken for lately, so this is a priceless gift!
I'm planning to nick into town to return some (very) late library books, pick up some zips and thread for some projects I'm planning and buy the 13 year old some clothes. He has grown at least 6 inches in the last few months - he looks me square in the eye, and I am 5'9" - and nothing fits him. When he spent his school holidays wearing his school trackpants - because they are the only ones that fit - it's time to do something, Mum.
I'll probably then make a start on preserving some of the citrus we have out there. You'll hear me whingeing about our lack of success with stone fruit (fruit fly), but citrus - we can do that without too much angst.
I'll get the kids to squeeze lots of lemons for freezing. I'll cut up some limes, lemons and oranges and soak them for marmalade. Then I think I'll make another batch of Moroccan preserved lemons, based on this recipe:

1kg lemons
Sea salt
Bay leaves
Lemon juice

Wash the lemons, dry and cut into quarters.
Spoon 1 tablespoon of sea salt into a sterilised preserving jar.
Dip the lemons into salt and pack them into the jar. Tuck a few bay leaves in as you go.
Pour in enough lemon juice (from about 8 lemons) to cover the lemons.
Seal, and leave for 6-8 weeks before using in tagines, chicken dishes and salad.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Podcasts to prune by

We have over 100 grape vines, all that need to be pruned around this time of year. Painstaking stuff. Guess who got that job?
Actually, it's not too bad. I pick my days - nice sunny ones, preferably. There's something kind of soothing about doing the same thing over and over, and you can look back along your row to see how much you've done. Still - it takes me hours -something like 8.
This is where I thank my lucky stars I've come into this job in the age of podcasts. Here are a few of my favourite podcasts to prune by:

This American Life - each week this show presents 3-4 stories on a theme, mostly centred around stories of "normal" Americans (ie. not movie stars, shock jocks and Barack Obama - not that they are abnormal, necessarily). You don't need to be American to be rivetted.

Planet Money - another podcast from US Public Radio. Complex and wide-ranging enough to appeal to my inner economics geek, but engaging enough I believe for anyone with the slightest interest in the way the world works. Great stuff.

The Life with Roy and HG - and for something completely different. I spent many Sundays afternoons listening to Roy and HG burble on about sport on JJJ-FM whilst writing university essays. That was a long time ago, ahem. They were funny then, they are funny now. It helps, though, to have a working knowledge of rugby league, which I suppose limits their audiences to those in NSW, Queensland and maybe, maybe New Zealand. Princes of the leg-pull.

Life Matters - If I am at home at 9am on a weekday, I'll put this on ABC Radio National. Now I am working 4 days a week, I don't get to listen, but hooray, can podcast. All sorts of discussions on all sorts of life matters. And you can choose the segments you listen to.

There are others but that enough for now. I've linked to each website, but you can download all of these as I do on iTunes.

Any other must-listen podcasts out there? I'm always on the hunt for new ones.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blustery day

Heavens above! Is a blowing a gale out there!
Yesterday afternoon I drove home from town after dodging half a dozen fallen trees and branches on the road. When I got home, I found our silky chickens out and about - their chook house had blown over. Fortunately, they didn't seem too shocked by the experience.
I rang Action Man, telling him to be careful on the way home - he used it as an excuse to knock off early. He didn't want to be stuck in Wollongong.
When he got home around 5pm I said, "Next the electricity will go". It always does when we have a bit of "weather". The electricity gods heard, because not 10 seconds later - bingo.
So we got out the candles and torches. I cooked on our gas stove and on the wood stove. Here is the dinner table set, under flickering candlelight. AM said I wouldn't get a decent photo without a tripod. Well, I would use a tripod, if I could find it in the dark.
I washed dishes by candlelight, then we sat and listened to the quiz on the ABC. I did a sudoku, then we finally went to bed around 8.30pm.
The electricity came back on about 11pm - thank you electricity guys out there in this wind. It's still blowing quite a bit, but it looks like I'll post this before the electricity goes off again!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

If you want something done, do it yourself

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post berating myself for having volunteered to become the umpire convenor for our local netball club.
The problem was (is) we had few umpires to convene, which meant I was wasting precious hours phoning around other clubs to borrow their umpires. The first couple of weeks of the season were very stressful as I was on this roundabout of phone calls (I'm not a big phone talker either). I was counting down the weeks until I hung up the convenor badge.
Then, one day - no umpires were to be had. Minor crisis, as games don't go ahead without two umpires.
It was then I decided to become an umpire myself, on the basis that if you want something done, do it yourself.
So for the last few rounds, I've been running around with a whistle, sometimes for three games every Saturday.
And get this: far from resenting it, I'm enjoying myself!
Blowing a whistle on misdemeanours and handing out the punishment is strangely satisfying. If only life were so simple!
I get plenty of exercise, running up and down the sidelines eleventy squillion times a game. Zumba - who needs it!
I have my weeknights to myself again, as I roster myself where we have umpiring holes. No more humiliating appeals to the niceness of others!
I've met plenty of nice people along the way.
In fact, I've enjoyed it so much that I've decided to coach next year as well.

I played netball from 7 until I was 17, and haven't touched it since. I'm not a typical netball, or sporty, type. I like to keep fit, but sporting competition isn't something I've been involved in for a very long time.
If you had said to me at the start of the year that by the end of June I would be umpiring and committing to coaching netball I would have said , "you're nuts". But there you go, there was a need in the community and somehow I'm there to fill it, and enjoying it.
Funny how life works out sometimes, doesn't it?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gardening mistakes No. 2 - not enough garlic

I was in the vegie patch yesterday, doing a spot of weeding when my eye drifted across the garlic planting.
It seemed a bit sparse. I started counting. Sixty plants. Not enough! eek!
I do love my home grown garlic. Even six months after harvesting, our garlic beats most garlic you can buy hands down.
Quick maths - I average about 2 heads of garlic a week - I'm w-a-a-y-y short of garlic self-sufficiency.
I quickly hightailed down to the pantry and brought back with me three heads of garlic, and planted them there and then.
No preparation, nothing. In they went, pointy end up. I'm probably way too late, so there is not a moment to spare!
We'll seee how this late garlic fares. My books say warm temperate planting season for garlic is April to June, but it's been a particularly cold June here so I do not have high hopes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday night soup - Pea and Ham

Nigella Lawson writes in How to be a Domestic Goddess that winter has its compensations, most of them culinary.
You have it in one Nigella.
The stuff I most like to cook and most like to eat is stuff that is winter fare : soups, stews, roasts and pudding.
Although it's winter, we still plough on with swimming club on Friday nights- yes, I know, nuts.
Friday nights is therefore designated soup night around here, the reason being it's warm and filling without weighing down the swimmers.

This is Pea and Ham soup made in 15 minutes in my trusty pressure cooker. It is improved from your normal run-of-the-mill by the inclusion of garlic, ginger, chili and lemon juice. Come to think of it, for me there is not a legume soup that doesn't benefit from the judicious squeeze of a lemon.

Here's the recipe:

Pea and Ham soup

500g split yellow peas
1 ham hock
2 garlic cloves finely minced
a knob of ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chili flakes
lemon juice

1. Gently sweat ginger and garlic over medium heat for a few minutes. Add the chili flakes
2. Tip in split peas and ham hock. Cover with water.
3. Bring to low pressure over medium heat. Cook for 15 minutes, then take off the heat to release pressure.
4. Open the cooker. Remove the hock and take meat from the bones, and finely chop. Return to the soup. Add a bit more water if needed. Bring back up to heat over medium heat.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the juice of half a lemon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do you KIP?*

Do you KIP - knit in public?
I was thinking about this recently. You don't seem to see as many kippers as you used to.
When I was a kid, you always saw women with their knitting out. I remember mums knitting as they waited to pick up kids at school. Kippers would be on the sidelines when I played netball. If you got on a train, the carriage would have at least one kipper. Every winter we had knitting crazes at school, as we all worked on our wonky knitted scarves at school lunchtimes.
Now - not so much it seems.
I have two kids that swim - that means lots of waiting around for training sessions, and lots of long waits at carnivals.
Recently I took my son to the NSW All Schools Carnival at Homebush and I took my knitting. He had one event at about 9.30am and one event a 1.30pm. A long time to wait sitting around - perfect opportunity to knit. ( I go quite a bit done too - uninterrupted time, bliss!) There would have been hundreds of people at that carnival doing what I was doing - waiting. Some were playing with their phones/iPods/iPads, the modern form of distraction/entertainment. A few were reading. From what I could see, though, I was the only kipper.
Recently, World Wide Knit in Public Day was celebrated. Do you KIP? Are we about to see the resurrection of kipping?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A different paradigm

Today's post on Rhonda's blog Down to Earth has got me thinking.
She was writing about an article that said compared to UK immigrants, Greek and Italian immigrants to Australia after the war paid off their houses faster, even though both migrants worked equally hard. This was due to the fact that Greeks and Italians grew and cooked most of their own food, and made savings by preserving, recycling etc.
My first observation is that this isn't surprising. A lot of Greek and Italian migrants came from rural backgrounds so were well versed in growing and raising food. For them, if you didn't grow it, you didn't eat. Whereas it seems most UK migrants would have come from cities and towns and had already lost that connection with the earth.
As the granddaughter and daughter of migrants from Italy, I can say categorically that to them growing and cooking your own food is like breathing. It wouldn't have occurred to my grandmother to do anything but grow her food. Her backyard in Moss Vale was hardworking - chooks, fruit trees, vege patch. She had it all. She chopped her wood. She made her own bread from scratch every day in the wood stove. She baked. In her down time she sewed, crocheted and knitted. She was always productively busy, right into her mid-eighties. Man, what a woman!
My parents aren't as hardcore as my grandparents. They don't have a wood stove and don't bake their own bread. They live in Sydney, but on their block have chooks and vegies. Mum always, always cooks from scratch, and always has the wherewithal to make meals for numbers of people at the drop of a hat (with 5 kids, daughters and son-in-law and 9 grandchildren, she always cooks in numbers). And she is as talented a sewer and knitter as my Nonna.
Even though I knew money was tight for my parents as I was growing up, we always ate well, and were well dressed. Most importantly, every night we ate together as a family, and those bonds forged with my parents and siblings around the dinner table are bonds that I treasure today.
I grew up I took all this for granted. In fact, although I felt all the benefits of being cared for, I pretty much disdained the "domestic arts" being a bit of an academic girl and convinced I would never have to cook for myself! I'm not sure who I thought would be doing this stuff.
But now I look at my life and it is very different to what I envisaged. I am trying to recreate for my family what I grew up with. Home cooked meals, gardens and keeping chooks are only part of the picture. Behind these are values of simplicity, productive work and firm family bonds that drive what I do here. But most of all, I felt loved and cared for in this work, and am looking to do the same for my kids.

Rhonda's article mentions paying off mortgages quickly. My grandparents borrowed some money to buy their block of land. Then my grandfather built a two room dwelling (later the garage/garden shed), where a family of six lived while he built the main house by himself - after working as a builder all day on other houses - from scratch. He even made his own bricks. He only called in a plumber and electricity. I never met him - he died 5 years before I was born - but I am in awe of this achievement. What a bloke!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Strawberry guava jelly - the update

I can't make up my mind whether I am happy or annoyed with myself that the post that elicits the most hits on this blog by far is one that I did over two years ago on making Strawberry Guava Jelly.

At the time, I wrote that I hadn't taken a photo of how I set up the guavas to drain through a muslin cloth. Two years later, I get around to it.

This weekend, I dragged out a couple of bags of strawberry guavas from the freezer to make jelly. They've been in there since March, when I wasn't in the mood to do anything much.

We had a long weekend here, windy, wet and cold, so it was a good opportunity to catch up on some preserving. I used the same method as in the original post, and gained a couple of jars of guava jelly, much to the delight of Action Man who grew up on the stuff in rural Queensland. all those visitors who find their way here through Google. Stay a while, check out the blog.. leave a comment. Let me know how your guava jelly goes!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The last of the Autumn leaves - and coffee bean brittle

....which looks a bit like Autumn leaves.

Bridget asked me how to make coffee bean brittle, mentioned in the previous post.
Coffee bean brittle works really well with the mocha cake, but also over ice cream. It's not too difficult to make, but you need to be careful. Hot sugar - ouch. I have a scar on my right hand to prove it.
Here's how you make it:

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon coffee beans

Crush the coffee beans in a mortar and pestle. You don't have to be too assiduous - just a coarse crush will do.
Dissolve the sugar into the water in a small saucepan, over a medium-high heat. Use a pastry brush to brush sugar crystal from the sides of the pan as it comes to the boil.
One the sugar is dissolved, and the mixture is at a boil, keep an eye on it. It will take a while, but the liquid will become thicker.
Once it changes colour to a pale yellow, tip in the coffee beans and give it a swirl around. Then watch it carefully - as soon as it turns amber, pour the mixture onto a baking tray lined with baking paper or foil. (I use an oven glove to protect my hands at this point).
Leave to cool, then break into shards.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mmm...Mocha cake

Action Man and I have birthdays within a fortnight of each other, so it's been a chocolate cake-fest around here lately.
This Mocha cake was made for AM's *cough*cough* birthday on Tuesday. It is based on Belinda Jeffrey's recipe in her book Mix and Bake. (NB. I notice this book is out now in paperback. If you are a baker, I can recommend this book. ) One of the best things about this recipe is that it is a melt-and-mix cake, so everything is mixed in one saucepan. Too easy. And it tastes good too.
My cake was decorated with cream and coffee bean brittle. The coffee bean brittle got the thumbs down from the kids, so AM's cake is iced with chocolate ganache. Not a bad alternative.

Mocha cake

40g cocoa
80g unsalted butter
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup strong black coffee
100g dark chocolate
250g castor sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup sour cream

Heat oven to 150 degrees.
Grease and line a 24cm springform tin.
Put cocoa, oil , coffee and butter into a large saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once smooth, take off heat and let cool.
Once cool add sugar and egg. Mix.
Sift in plain flour and baking powder. Mix in and then add sour cream.
Mix until smooth, transfer to tin and bake for 50 minutes or so.

Chocolate ganache: Melt 200g dark chocolate and 100g unsalted butter with a little water in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Mix until smooth and let cool slightlly before covering the cake.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gardening Mistakes No.1 - Galangal

Here is a picture of our galangal patch, taken a few months ago now.
It is now bigger, (at least as tall as me at 175cms) and threatening to take over the vegie patch.
We were given a few tubers by one of Action Man's workmates. His wife is Thai, and he had to rip up a patch of galangal in his backyard. Now I know why.
This is major machete stuff, and I have a feeling that this is the sort of plant if you leave the merest skerrick of a tuber, you'll continue to beat it back with sticks for years to come.
And I rarely use the stuff.
Take it from me - don't plant galangal unless you have a major Thai cooking fetish.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Out of the blogging habit

It's been a while, and I have completely got out of the blogging habit.
First I had a case of the blahs.
Then the computer hard disk was full, and I couldn't download photos until I dealt with that.
Then I got frustrated with my satellite internet connection, which doesn't appreciate doing stuff like..uploading photos to Blogger (like today...grrrr).
Then I couldn't take photos, because the batteries always seemed to be flat at the moment of inspiration.
Then I got out of the habit of taking photos.
Then I thought - no photos- no blog entry.
Then I stopped thinking about what I would blog about next.
Then I was out of the habit.

Yep, excuses. I'm full of 'em!

I've realised I miss blogging - so here's hoping I can get back in the habit.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What I'm knitting now

After last year's success with my first ever attempt at knitting a jumper, I was keen to get cracking on another knitted item this year.
This is the back of a waistcoat I am knitting in Sirdar Indie (Arizona) colour. I love the colours this yarn comes in. Its a very thick yarn as well, so it knits up quickly, although I still make a meal of it. I'm half way through the left front, so I have high hopes I'll be wearing this waistcoat this winter.

On other matters...
Ever volunteer for something on the spur of the moment and come to regret it? I have.
In February this year I went to register my daughter for netball.
I was ambushed.
"We need an umpires convenor. Would you like to do it?" she said innocently.
I should have said "Absolutely not" straight away. Instead, my civic mindedness caused me to say,
"What's an umpires convenor?"
She then went to explain that it was the person who organised the umpires every Saturday. "It's just a few phone calls, it's really easy!"
My scepticism should have kicked in at this point but it failed me. I should have said, "So why hasn't someone volunteered yet?"
Instead , I heard myself say, "OK I'll give it a try!"
D'oh and double d'oh.
Far from easy, it's extremely frustrating as there are fewer umpires than there are games and necessitates more time on the phone every week than it takes to umpire the games themselves.
Note to self:
DO NOT volunteer for any job without a thorough understanding of what that job entails. If a job is left vacant after the AGM, it's normally for a reason!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I'm back

Looking over the last few months, I've been rather discombobulated. Without going into details, it seems that every aspect of life has gone through some change over the last few months. That earthquake/tsunami/nuclear accident in Japan really affected me in a way that I'm not sure it would have if things here had been going on as normal.
At the time of writing my last post, I feared I was on the brink of a bout of depression. Things that I enjoyed doing - like blogging - all seemed too much effort. I had prolonged post-natal depression after my daughter was born, and immediately recognised that feeling of hopelessness, the "black cloud" that seems to follow you around.

This time, though, I was able to recognise that feeling for what it was. I muttered my motto - "this too shall pass" - to myself a lot. I let my family know how I was feeling. I made sure I got enough rest, and got myself outdoors exercising every day. Having a dog that needs to be walked twice a day certainly helped. I made myself do stuff and talk to people, even though a lot of the time that is the last thing I wanted to do.

And so, it has passed. And I'm back.

A few posts ago, I wrote about our disappointing grape situation, and wrote that this year we would not be making wine. I should have known that would never happen, not when Action Man has his winery set up just so.

On Easter Saturday we went up to my uncle's property just west of Berrima and picked a couple of hundred kilos of merlot grapes. On Easter Sunday, we crushed them. Today I am babysitting the ferment, punching down the skins in the fermenting tank every couple of hours.

The Chief Winemaker is not hopeful. The grapes weren't great - it really hasn't been a warm enough summer for the sugars to get to where they need to be. On Sunday afternoon I went on an emergency mission to buy 10 kilos of white sugar to get the sugar levels up (yes, professionals do this too). Other tests run by the Chief Winemaker don't bode well either, but he has a few more tricks up his sleeve, so here's hoping for the best.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thoughts on Japan

I've been meaning to post for a few days now, posts on my usual fare - cooking, preserving, family stuff and my new knitting project. Each time I've started I've been stopped by the overwhelming thought of how inconsequential and trivial this all is when compared to the disaster that is engulfing north west Japan. I've gone around all week with a knot in my stomach, contemplating the nightmare of the tsunami and earthquake and the unfolding catastrophe of the nuclear electricity plants.
I've been close to tears all week, and I'm sure this is why.
I've had to put myself on a media diet. Normally if I'm home, ABC Local Radio is on, with half hourly news reports, AM, The World Today, PM and stuff in between. This week it's all too overwhelming. I've flicked over to ABC Classic, trying to get some beautiful music to soothe my soul. Then I listen to 2 news reports in the morning and evening and that's it. That's enough to have me thinking about the dead, bereaved, the displaced and the long term damage that is likely occurring right now.

I feel I need to do something,yet I feel so impotent. What though, here in my safe corner of Australia?
Does anyone else feel this?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dog days

After lobbying consistently for at least a year, our daughter Amelia finally achieved her heart's desire when we acquired our new family member, Dash the daschund, in time for her birthday yesterday.
Pardon if the blogging has been a bit sporadic lately. Settling into a routine with our new pup has taken me straight back to the days when our children were babies. Same issues: sleep, feeding, toilet, discipline. After a few nights broken sleep, we've all been a bit tired, but Dash is settling down nicely.
The arrival of the dog has highlighted a difference in dog philosophy between me and Action Man. You see, he had a daschund too as a kid, who basically went wherever he wanted inside and out. On the other hand, I grew up with dogs too, who were strictly outside dogs. So part of the adjustment has been deciding on the rules for Dash that we can both live with. So far, he can come inside when we are here, but not on furniture. At night to sleep, though, he is outside. Early days yet, but I want to set the ground rules early.
The arrival of the dog has also given us a ticket to the dog owners club, it seems. We've been taking Dash for twice daily short walks. A neighbour up the street who owns three border collies, and has barely acknowledged our presence in eight years stopped to talk at length to Action Man today, purely because he had Dash with him. Who knew?
Our newly friendly neighbour told us that new residents set to move into their new house across the road shortly used to breed Daschunds. Can't wait to meet them, to talk daschund talk.

So, dog people, especially those who've had puppies. What's the advice? This is the first dog I've ever been responsible for and I'm sure you have some.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Grapes - a sad story

Long time readers of this blog will know that we have a small vineyard, in which we have about 100 shiraz and about 20 chambourcin vines. We use our grapes to make our own wine. Well, that's the theory.
2010 was a blowout because we had extremely heavy rains in February, which caused the grapes to split, and thus ruined the crop. No winegrapes to make wine then, but Action Man was not deterred. He ended up buying boxes of shiraz, mouvedre and grenache and used them to make 2010's wine. Not bottled yet, but tasting very nice so far!
2011 unfortunately has also ended up being a washout as far as grapes are concerned. This time, the heavy rains in December meant that our grapes succumbed to mildew, because the constant rain meant that we could spray effectively. Action Man didn't even bother netting the shiraz this year.
The chambourcin, though, is more naturally mildew and fungus resistant so he netted those(we should have planted more of this variety), and it is these grapes that you see above. Don't they look gorgeous? And let me tell you, they taste gorgeous too.
We don't have enough grapes though to warrant a wine making session. Never mind, given our barrel is still full of last year's wine, and that we are busy as all get out, and that we are both getting over a weird virusy cold, we aren't too despondent.
Sometimes, you just have to rest on your laurels.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Almond Butter

Well, I suppose it doesn't look very inspiring, but I had this home made almond butter with banana and honey on toast this morning and it was dee-licious.
Being partial to nuts, I've been wanting to try making almond butter for a while now. It couldn't be easier. All you need is a fairly robust food processor. You just grind a couple of handfuls of nuts (the above example was made out of 1/2 cup roasted almonds), for some minutes (maybe 4-5? I wasn't timing myself) until it starts to come together in a ball. It does this quite suddenly, so don't despair if your batch stays in crumbs for what seems forever. I possibly could have kept the processor on for a bit longer until a bit more oil was released to make a smoother paste, but this was ok.
BTW, I saw a small jar of almond butter in Coles for over $6, so this is another thing that is definitely cost effective to make yourself.
This batch is gone now. Action Man ate most of it, as is with a spoon, as he normally does with peanut butter.
I buy my nuts in bulk from a supplier in Sydney - Nut Roasters in Chapel Street Lakemba. This is my favourite food shop in the world. They roast their nuts on site and the smell of the place is incredible. They also have super-fresh pulses grains , dried fruit and what seems 20 types of olives too. I also buy my flour for breadmaking in bulk here (10kg for $11 or so). The company is run by a Lebanese family, and a lot of the clientele is Lebanese and Greek, people who appreciate a good nut. The turnover is high, so everything is top quality, and compared to supermarkets and health food shops, cheap. I get up there a couple of times a year and stock up.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Blogging synchronicity

Well, like Tracy at Sunny Corner Farm I've been out for the count over the last few days. Starting with sore throat and ears, and violent sneezing on Friday, by Saturday I was welded to the couch. Sunday I stirred to do the grocery shopping but only because the food situation was getting serious. Yesterday I should have been doing some housework, but instead spent a lot of time wasting time. Today I'm up and about, but still not tip-top. I have seedlings to plant but bending down sends me dizzy, so they'll have to survive in their punnets another few days. There is something about summer colds that is very "wrong". When you have a cold you just want to retreat into a shell. Easy to do in winter, with doonas and pillows. With high humidity and temperatures, cocooning in a doona it impossible and the comfort offered by a sheet is cold comfort indeed.
Last week I wrote that I'd been making tomato relish. Here's the photo that I tried (and tried and tried) to publish last week. In another case of blogging synchronicity, Sonia at Lighter Shade of Green posted about the tomato relish she'd made. Like me, she'd used the recipe in Sally Wise's book A Year in a Bottle (I think). The results are very similar aren't they?
Making relishes and chutneys I find a lot easier and more forgiving than making jams, which require more vigilance and good timing to get the setting point right.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Unsung heroes - the worms

This morning I took some scraps up to the worm farm, and it occurred to me that I'd never posted about my worms. Quite an oversight, as I depend on these little blighters a lot, and probably don't appreciate them as much as I should.
They sit in the worm farm (one we bought from the local hardware store) up behind the compost bins. They mind their own business, get about their business, and all that's required from us is that we throw them some scraps occasionally. In return we get fabulous worm castings, and worm tea, which I use with abandon on the vegie patch. The cost to benefit ratio is heavily in favour of us in this relationship.
Every home should have a worm farm.
Blog housekeeping...
Congratulations to Bridget at Cabbage Patch Farm and Cathy at still waters, for winning the books in my blog giveaway. Hope you enjoy the books!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A week of preserves - no pictures

Sheesh. I've tried on three separate occasions on three days to upload photos to Blogger and still haven't managed to. I don't know what the problem is, although I suspect it has something to do with my sleepy satellite broadband connection. (How sleepy is my connection? Put it this way, I always have reading matter next to the computer, so I can spend the time it takes to upload and download things profitably. Sleepy internet connections is one of the drawbacks of living in rural Australia. Roll on, National Broadband Network. I know my life will change when we finally get it, although I won't get through as many books).
Much as I prefer to post photos as well as text, until I sort this issue out, it will be photo-less posts.
This week has seen the start of the preserving season. We've picked buckets of tomatoes and figs, which I have turned into tomato relish, fig jam and jars of figs in grappa. Still managing to eat plenty of figs au naturel though.
We've also been picking peaches and grapes.
Seems strange to be posting about preserving and not have any photos to illustrate. I'll leave it there then.
BTW, if you are interested in either of the two books from the previous post, drop me a comment before Tuesday.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I mentioned in my last post that I had decluttered my books. Most I am donating to
a local charity book sale. However, I thought readers of this blog might be interested in the two books above. They are "Vasili's Garden" by Vasili Kanidiadis and "How to Store your Garden Produce" by Piers Warren. Both are pretty good books, but their subject matter doubles up with other books I they should go to a home that might appreciate them better.
If you would like either one or both of the books, pop a comment by next Tuesday 22nd Feb. If necessary, I'll run a draw..

Monday, February 14, 2011

My recipe book collection

I'm not a much of a collector. To me, if something hasn't been used in the last 12 months, I'm quite happy to pass it on or charity bin it.
The closest thing I have a collection is my recipe books. I've just had a declutter here too, so the books above are those that I actually use.
I love my recipe books. If I'm stuck for something to read, I'll read one of my books. They are a constant source of inspiration.
I've collected these books over the past 20 years. The first book I bought was Delia Smith's Complete Illustrated Cookery Course, which is the spineless book on the top shelf. This book really taught me to cook, and though the recipes are a bit dated now, I still refer to it.
The latest addition to the collection was Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals. I haven't used this yet at all, but that will change. OK, but not a must have.
I think I have enough books now, so I try to be discriminating when I buy any new additions. I don't have much truck with books that aren't practical in my situation, so I don't have any "celebrity chef" books, as I think they are more about being a chef, not a cook. These days, I look for books that are both practical and cover new ground in my collection. It also helps if I think the recipes will appeal to the family.
I use all my books, but my Top 3 (at the moment, because this constantly changes) would be:
Complete Perfect Recipes, by David Herbert. I think this has been reprinted recently, and is certainly worth seeking out for its comprehensive collection of simple recipes. Anything you might want to cook is here. Great for beginner cooks too, with clear instructions.
Mix and Bake by Belinda Jeffery. A great book for enthusiastic bakers like me. Every recipe I've tried out of this has been a winner.
The Pressure Cooker Recipe Book, by Suzanne Gibbs. Started my love affair with my pressure cooker nearly two years ago, and still in constant use.

The least useful? How to Eat by Nigella Lawson. I haven't cooked one recipe out of this tome, but it earns its place simply for the fabulous writing about cooking and eating. Nigella's prose always puts a smile on my face. I love anyone who loves her food as much as I do!
Do you have a favourite cookbook? What is it, and why?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hot weather cooking: Potato and Leek Soup

We're still having that revolting weather - 38'C (pushing 100'F, I guess) and very high humidity -I moaned about two posts ago. At 7am I ventured out for an early morning trundle and returned 45 minutes drenched in sweat. Sorry, can't think of a more delicate way to put it. Meanwhile, Action Man was doing his chores around the place, and came inside similarly moist. He was in Darwin in October during the notorious buildup to the Wet season and he reckons today was worse than the weather he experiencexd up there.
So we've had this stuff for a week, no respite. Unsurprisingly, I'm craving cold food, especially cold soup.
Cold soup doesn't sound very appetising does it? Just as hot soup warms your innards in cold weather though, cold soup is like a liquid ice pack for your insides, and cools you down better than anything else, I reckon.
I made some leek and potato, or vichysoisse, soup in the pressure cooker last night and cooled it in the fridge for lunch today. I love my pressure cooker, and in this weather it shows how useful it is yet again. I cooked this over lowest heat for 5 minutes, so I wasn't heating up the kitchen.
I followed the recipe for vichysoisse in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et al. It's the very first recipe in the book and super-easy, and come to think of it, low-fat. Here's my version:
Potato and Leek Soup
6 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 leeks,green part removed,sliced and washed
1.5litres water
Simply bring all the ingredients to the boil, and simmer for 45 minutes. Or if cooking in a pressure cooker, bring to low pressure and cook for 5 minutes. Liquidise in a blender or with a stick blender or mouli. Cool, and eat with yogurt, if desired.
Just as nice served hot, for you in the northern hemisphere!
An aside:
So I've changed my photo to one a bit-less-old. This was taken six months ago, as I was getting ready to go to fancy dinner - hence neat hair and make up, a bit unusual for me.
This photo brings home to me how much I am changing to resemble my maternal grandmother as I age - that nose and chin are hers! All good - Nonna, who died 11 years ago - was a great person.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Day of firsts

Normally I wouldn't publish a photo on my blog so badly out of focus, but today I make an exception.
Today I had my first ever blogger meet up with Libby, whose blog Life is a Journey not a Destination
I have followed for some time. We had a lovely morning chatting over a tea in the Berry Tea Shop, followed by a browse in Sew and Tell.
It was great to meet up with Libby. The internet is a marvellous thing, isn't it?
The other first is that this is the first time I have published a photo of myself (if out-of-focus) on this blog, apart from the tiny thumbnail in the side column. It made me realise how old that photo is (at least 18 months). Better get on to that. Maybe.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It's hot, hot, hot

Ugh. The weather has been revolting and strange lately. The heat settling down on you like a doona you can't kick off. Hardly a breath of wind. This morning we are having rain, but the heat is still there. I've thrown open all the doors and windows to try and cool the house down, but the heat is still radiating from the walls and the floors.
I've always maintained that we should skip from Christmas straight to mid-March, so we can avoid this stuff.
I've been wanting to do some sewing, but trying to fit something when I'm a ball of sweat - erk. I've been wanting to make some plum jam and preserve some tomatoes but I don't want to switch on an oven or a stove. Our kitchen is the hottest room in the house, thanks to windows in the ceiling. Great in winter, stupidly hot in summer. No, we didn't put them there. That's one thing I'd like to change about this house.
Gardening...mmm, no thanks, although the weeds are running amok. It's enough to pick the last of the white peaches. Note...peaches unaffected by my nemesis, the dreaded fruit fly.
So, overall, a good day.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The myth of family-friendly workplaces

While I was on my blog hiatus, I gave a lot of thought to what I would do with it. I considered - briefly - stopping altogether, but realise I enjoy being a part of the blogging community too much. Still, I knew I wanted to shake things up a bit, so I've decided I will wander off topic of spades and spoons if I feel moved to, to write about stuff that is on my mind. Today..the myth that is the family friendly workplace.

Action Man works in Corporate Australia. You know, the type of company in the Top 10 market capitalisation in the ASX200. The type of company whose main ethos is "make a lot of money, and then some". The type of company that likes to position itself about how cutting edge it is when it comes to dealing with its employees (because they are so valuable). The type of company that introduces "family friendly workplace" policies to this end and trumpets them in annual reports.

Action Man's company has a policy in place where you can apply for 8 weeks' leave a year, 4 unpaid. Sounds great, doesn't it? If you can manage on 4 weeks' less pay a year, but get extra time with the kids, the aged parents etc, who wouldn't go for it? What they neglect to say, though, is that this policy is window dressing only. It is merely there to give the illusion that they care about their employees, their families and their communities. Because if you have the temerity to actually apply for such, be prepared for disappointment.

This is what Action Man found when he mentioned to his boss that he planned to apply for the "8 weeks' leave a year" under the scheme. The reply? Don't even bother, you won't get it. Further, the mere fact of applying would count as a "black mark" in the inevitable yearly performance reckoning.

Meanwhile AM's colleague works full-time and is the mother of a chronically sick child who is on a constant schedule of medical appointments. The scheme sounds perfect for her, right? A no-brainer, surely, on compassionate grounds if nothing else. Wrong. She was accepted into the scheme, but only after fierce lobbying on her part, the sort of lobbying that doesn't win you friends and allies.

If someone like her has to fight so hard to take advantage of a scheme that is ostensibly available to anyone for the asking, and if someone is advised not to apply for the scheme if they don't want their performance rating to be negatively affected, who the heck is it for?

The promise of family friendly workplaces has been around for yonks - since the early 1990s at least in the days when I worked in Personnel. And yet, while major companies seem to have made leaps in writing policies that gain them kudos from the Office for the Status of Women and others, family friendly workplaces seem to remain straw men, especially in the biggest companies.

The attitude of those who run these companies seems to be that employees are there to work all the hours that are available - there's always another billion to be made after all. As for all that touchy-feely family stuff, that's only so they can run smiley pictures of employees in the annual report with a straight face. (As for their own families, well, I guess they make enough to palm everything onto the nanny).

I'd like to be wrong on this. Am I too cynical? I'd like to find out that AM finds himself in a dimly lit corner of corporate world, and that in fact family friendly workplaces exist.

Anyone out there know of a company that is truly family friendly? That has policies and has been known to have employees take advantage of them without having to go to war for the right? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Back blogging

Well, in my last post I wrote that I would get back to blogging when school resumed...and here I am.
Looking back at the last few posts brings back all the grumpiness I was feeling toward the end of last year. Happy to say that with having a break from everything - the day to day routine mainly, not blogging necessarily- the grumpiness has evaporated. Even better, my back is back up to scratch, which does a lot for my general frame of mind.

So January flew past. A few things I got up to:
  • Went for our annual Christmas camping trip to Jervis Bay with friends.
  • Suffered at the first day of the Fifth Test between Australia and England at the SCG, as a guest of my good friend Therese. Fortunately, there were lots of rain breaks, which meant we had plenty of opportunity to socialise with other friends who were also there. The cricket though...painful.
  • Went to Sydney Aquatic Centre to cheer on our son at the State Age Swimming Championships.
  • Travelled down to Merimbula with Action Man on one of his work trips. I've never been there before. It's a great part of Australia - I will be back.
  • Caught up with work in our sadly neglected garden.
  • Moved our 18 ducks to my parents' place just outside Sydney - 18 ducks was getting TOO much for our facilities here. I think the chooks are happy to get their run back to themselves.
  • Stayed with my parents while Action Man went to Queensland to help his mother move into new accommodation.
  • Worried about family members whose home was inundated in Yeronga, Brisbane. All fine ,except for a brother in law, who developed blood poisoning when he cut himself helping clean up the subsequent mess. He spent a week in hospital).
  • Sewed one skirt, one t-shirt and one top. Cut out a dress. Not as much sewing as I'd hoped.
  • Minimal housework.
  • Lots of exercise - swimming and walking in the early mornings, plus lots of yoga stretches for the back.
  • Cheered on Action Man at the Nowra Triathlon.
  • One weeks' family holiday in the Central part of the North Island in NZ - Rotorua, Taupo and Tongariro. The picture above is from a visit to the Waimangu Thermal area near Rotorua, taken last Monday, a very wet day. On Thursday,the boys did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a tough 20kms walking across a volcanic area. The girls meanwhile had High Tea. Overall, New Zealand is a great place to visit as a family - lots to keep everyone interested.

Today life returns to a new normal with the Son starting High School today. Meanwhile, I have some thinking to do about my work situation this year which has been on my mind for a while.

Still all is well. I'm happy to be back blogging.