Sunday, May 31, 2009

bean counting

This morning we're all dressed up with somewhere to go. It's the Darby Street Coffee and Chocolate Fair today - who can say no to that combo? We've got fingers and toes crossed that the rain will stay away for long enough for us to do a length of the fair.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Netball was cancelled today so our daughter had a friend over - and we cleaned like our lives depended upon it. From 10am till 6pm we had heads down, butts up and now our study, guest room, bedroom, living room and daughter's room are about twice their usual size and clutter-free. 

Our new bed linen is on the bed and looks divine. They'd sold out of the green linen we were after, but we fell even deeper in love with a cream cover blossoming with red and pink roses - delicious. I'll post some pics when I have the energy to pick up a camera...

My friend's arriving any moment now. I have beef bourginon bubbling in the oven, French cheeses coming to room temperature on the kitchen island and champagne and cassis chilling in the fridge. I think we'll all be having a well-deserved drink in a few moments. Enjoy your weekend. xx

Friday, May 29, 2009

frugal friday

This week my aim was conscious spending. It's easy to just hand over your credit card and not think about what you're paying for, but to consciously acknowledge every cent you spend means you've got to be accountable. So when I plotted my menu plan I also thought about what's seasonal and cheap - then I did a double check of the specials at my local supermarket. I'm always prepared to revise a meal choice if there's a special that'll dazzle.

So as I went around the aisles at the supermarket I took note of all the prices and kept a running total in my head - which was pretty spot-on when I got to the checkout. This week's menu managed to carve quite a few dollars off last week's - and we still ate tasty dishes every night.

Sometimes less is more. In last night's spanish chicken I'd usually use two chorizo and slice them into big chunks - cos we all adore chorizo. But as they come in packs of two - and I'd already used one sausage to make my gal's frittatas for school lunches - I made do with one, and sliced it quite finely. And you know what? It tasted just as good, cost less, and our arteries are probably just that little bit less clogged.

This week's spendthrift shocker? The$17 vanilla beans {for three remember} - a real 'what was I thinking moment'. But, for me, I need to learn from my mistakes. Slipping and tripping up every now and again helps me maintain my focus and resolve. So I'll just use those beans, enjoy them, and then buy up big on the bargain beans up the road at the organic shop. Sweet.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

le love

I adore my le crueset french oven. It was my first purchase when we started eating meat again. I'd wanted one for years, and while they're hellishly expensive, I'll be passing this one onto my great-grandkids they're so well made. It also helped that I waited for a 40 per cent off sale, and bought it with reward points from my credit card {ergo: it was basically free!}

The last two nights I've cooked two meals that have tasted better for being cooked in such pretty packaging. Last night I revisited an old childhood fave and made chilli con carne. Result? Better than remembered. Recipe? Follows:

600g lean beef mince
1 onion, finely diced
a couple of cloves of garlic, finely sliced
ground coriander
ground cumin
cayene pepper
400g tin of crushed tomates
2 cups of beef stock
1/2 cup red wine {I used one of my frozen 'ice blocks'}
400g tin of red kidney beans
4 squares of dark chocolate

Sweat the onions and garlic for around 10 minutes in a little olive oil, then remove and add beef to french oven. Brown and crumble the beef, toss the onions and garlic back in and add around 1/2 teaspoon each of the spices. Pour in the tomatoes, beef stock and red wine and stir. Bring to boil then simmer for around an hour. Add red kidney beans and chocolate, stir, simmer till it makes you salivate then serve topped with diced coriander on a bed of brown rice.

Spanish chicken and rice
8 chicken drumsticks
1/2 red capsicum, sliced 
1/2 spanish onion, sliced
1 chorizo, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 cups or so of chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 to 1 cup risotto rice
juice of 1/2 lemon

Saute onion, capsicum, garlic and chorizo in a little olive oil till soft and golden, then remove from pan. Add chicken drumsticks and brown in a little more olive oil, turning when they don't resist and are nice and golden. Remove. Add wine to deglaze the pan then throw all the browned ingredients back in. Toss some chicken stock and lemon juice over the top and throw in your rice {I had a little leftover in the freezer, add twice as much stock as rice}. Give it a stir, season, bring it to the boil then pop on a tight-fitting lid and throw it in a 180 degree oven for around 45 minutes. Then take off the lid for 5 - 10 minutes to let the chicken crisp up and serve.

I've been making spanish chicken for a while now and have always had too much juice going to waste - see, you need the juice to keep it moist. Throwing in the rice was the best result. It was a delish, rich risotto and the chicken was still ever-so-tender.

I needed a good risotto after watching the horror of a risotto served up on MasterChef last night - it looked wrong on soooooo many levels {big chunks of mushrooms, chunks of carrot - no GARLIC. C'mon people - if there's no garlic wipe risotto off the menu.}. Ooh, MasterChef time - till tomorrow xx

run like the wind

I'm supervising my daughter's athletics carnival today, so this week's shoe is a trainer! I need a new pair of running shoes, as my current pair have zero cushioning. But I'm a total fusspot when it comes to trainers - even worse than I am with my heels. I need comfort, support, prettiness and stability - and finding all of those ain't easy.

My current pair are Asics - dead-expensive, but worth it when you're 41 and still insist on playing netball regularly. It's essential with shoes to do the cost-per-wear-factor calculations. Worn three times a week for a year or so - that triple digit price tag starts to look decidedly reasonable...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

what a load of rubbish

I'm counting down the days to this weekend for two reasons. Firstly, my bestest buddy is coming up for a visit {hurrah!} and secondly because this weekend is the bi-annual council clean up. Now, I'll be frantically averting my eyes from any piles of junk on the kerb as we need NOTHING brought into our house. Nothing. However, we've got a ton of stuff to get rid of. 

As I look over my left shoulder I normally have a gorgeous view down the side return of my veranda to the old rocking chair in the corner with the frangipani peering around the edge. Pretty. But for the last few months I've been looking at our rusty old, beyond-repair bbq and a stack of other stuff that's been waiting to go sit at the kerb before finding a new home. So friday, when hubby gets home from work we'll change into our oldest clothes and start lugging stuff down the stairs and out the front. I've been loving how refreshed I feel after purging so much of our clutter on the inside - I can't wait to clean out stuff on the outside too.

Then my home will be all fresh and ready for a girly weekend with cocktails, Sex and the City marathons, antique shopping, coffee and chocolate fairing and all things pink and pretty. Bliss.

inner slattern

I'm trying to be a cleaner person. Honestly. Some parts of my home are clean and shiny, while others, well, they could do with some attention. But generally speaking, there's nothing retch-worthy around my house... Every now and again I'll see something that really needs attention - like the little air vents near the bath in the bathroom. Well, see, the white ceramic bits were all nice and white, but I'd never paid too much attention to what made up the pale grey bits in the centre. Until one day I realised - that would be dust... Yep, a quick wipe over revealed the charcoal flywire underneath - that shall never be so coated with grey dust again. Hmmm.

It's those little things that are often the killers. I was watching Lush House the other night, which I adore because Shannon Lush knows how to clean EVERYTHING. She's the one who steered me away from bleach and back to bi-carb and vinegar and helped me discover the mould-killing properties of oil of cloves. Love her. 

Anywho. On the program the other night were this couple, who, really, I didn't think their place was that bad. Sure, they didn't wash up after dinner, but hey, I'll put my hand up for that sometimes too. But it was in the bathroom that was the killer. Lifting up the lid on the toilet, Shannon revealed a rather patchy toilet seat and for a moment, I thought the plastic had just crazed, or turned chalky {you know, how plastic outdoor furniture turns?}. But no, Shannon told the horrified householders it was SKIN. Yep, bad enough to make me want to cry, but even worse was the response... "Oh no, that was like that when we moved in".

Kill me now.

With new toilet seats starting at around $6 at Bunnings I know where I would have run as soon as I moved in. Eeeuuuuuuwwwwww. Luckily a quick spritz with the all-cleaning power of bi-carb and vinegar quickly cleaned it all off, and I quickly snuck into my toilet to check that an unnoticed colony of skin hadn't taken up residence on my seat {new when we moved in}. It hadn't - thank god. But I must say, daily toilet cleaning's now top of my to-do list...

in the genes

Thank goodness our gal has good taste. Even as a wee tot she enjoyed our music, requesting Ben Harper on long road trips and singing along to Jeff Buckley. And I must say, she's got an eye for a good film too. One of her faves {and mine} is The Aristocats. So. Damned. Cute. What's not to love about cute kitties who live in a divine home in the middle of Paris? And the soundtrack? Ooh la la.

When we went to Disneyland Paris, we were thrilled to find a pair of Marie's {the cute white kitten} fluffy ears on a headband - and a plush toy too. So we've got plenty of pics of our little Miss looking ever-too-cute wandering around Disneyland with little pink and white fluffy ears atop her head. Cuteness.

We love this film so much we've got it on video, and DVD, both much-loved and watched. I can feel a film festival coming on.

creme de la creme a la linda

Undoubtedly my fave mother's day pressie this year was my brulee torch {yep, I know you can do other things with it - but let's be honest, there's gonna be a lot of brulee torching in my kitchen}. Creme brulee is my fave dessert - and my hubby and gal's too. Whenever it's on a menu, we order it. But, that said, I'm a bit of a purist. I like my creme speckled with vanilla beans - and little else. Don't be throwing any white chocolate and passionfruit in there... but I'll forgive a few lavender flowers...

So on the menu for this weekened will be the brulee. Vanilla brulee. Hence, I needed to find me some vanilla beans. I haven't been happy with those on offer at the supermarket - wizened, lacking in any real flavour, difficult to split and scrape out the black gold in the centre - so I've had my eye out.

On Monday I had to head to the country {long story, had to collect tax stuff from an agent in Cessnock - a gazzilion miles from home - which is why I STILL haven't done my tax...} Anywho, I thought that as I had to drive for an hour, at least I'd get to check out country op-shops - normally shopping nirvana. Except for this week when they were shopping nada. Saddened, I called in at a patisserie called The Queen of Tarts for a spot of lunch and saw, on the counter, a glass vial with three plump vanilla beans. At $17 it was pricey - but you normally shell out around $5 per bean, so I thought it was value and snapped 'em up. {Don't worry, I'll be getting my money's worth out of them - sugar, vodka, there will be nothing left un-vanilla'd}.

So, there I was, happy with my purchase and then yesterday I called in at the organic fruit and veg a few doors from my home. I picked up a couple of carrots, parsnips and beetroot to roast and serve with my pork cutlets last night {yummy!} and spied, behind the counter, a big glass jar filled with vanilla beans. Plump, lush vanilla beans. With a sign advising: Vanilla Beans $2 each.


Often the best bargains are on your doorstep.

Guess we'll be eating a lot of creme brulee, panacotta, vanilla cakes and vanilla custards this winter...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

what's for dinner?

Despite my rows of cookbooks sitting atop kitchen shelves, a television that's either tuned to Lifestyle Food or MasterChef, and my avid attention to numerous foodie blogs - I'm feeling stumped about dinners this week.

I just don't know what I feel like. I think it's because the weather's so in-between {I'd like to blame my indecision on an external factor...} It's autumn, but there's still summer produce sitting around the shelves and nothing's screaming autumn harvest. 

Perhaps I need to get to the farmer's markets this weekend and immerse myself in goods fresh from the farm... Or I could visit my friendly butcher and ask him what's good - and devise a menu around that. I am determined to try something new. Perhaps with dinner tonight we could have caramelised roasted carrots and parsnips. Possibly with pork cutlets? And tomorrow night's netball training, which means slow-cooker - how's chilli con carne sound? Then Thursday, I could whip up some spanish chicken with chorizo and serve it with a mess of greens with plenty of garlic. Friday night...baked fish with tomatoes, garlic and olives - served with homemade lemon fries. We have friends coming for dinner Saturday night - so that's sorted {can't tell you because they read the blog and I love a surprise...} And Sunday night's always roast night - either beef or pork this week I believe.

There you go. Done. Thanks! I couldn't have done it without you. xxx

Monday, May 25, 2009

lightbulb moment

It's not often that I have an idea so brilliant that I dazzle myself. But this weekend I did. After four years of netball my gal's expressed an interest in, and talent at, shooting. Unfortunately, when we started the backyard I snapped her netball hoop's base right off so it was cactus... or so I thought...

It's been lying in the side garden, just waiting for council clean-up, while I've been keeping my eye on hoops on sale. The freestanding numbers are pricey - around $100 - which isn't do-able when you're budgeting. I thought about attaching the hoop to the house, but that wouldn't work as we'd have mis-timed balls on the roof and in the gutters in no time. So yesterday I decided to put my thinking cap on... What if I had a big, long spike I could put the pole on? Then, I remembered the totem tennis game out the back. It's one of those games that seems like a good idea at the time, but hitting a ball round and round gets kinda boring, and the game's just left to rust. 
However... by taking the top half of the totem tennis game off, I was left with a one metre long spike, that the netball post slid right on over. Result? A sturdy three metre netball hoop that's readily relocatable, re-used two bits of metal that would've gone onto the council clean-up, and my gal can duck outside and shoot some goals whenever she fancies!

Oy, Jeeves

Every now and again I'm overcome with an urge for a butler. It's not that I'm into servants as such - I just want someone to bring me a good cup of tea. 

I've blogged before about my inability to make myself a decent cup of tea. My impatience always results in a week cuppa, with just the wrong amount of milk. That's why I probably only drink one cup of tea every two weeks. Coffee I'm good with. My machine helps me create the perfect double shot latte - no stress. I can't mess it up.

I reckon this butler here would bring me a damn fine cup of tea whenever I needed it - and hey, I've got the butler's pantry off my kitchen all ready for him. Jeeves?

welcome back

I stayed up waaaaaay past my usual nana-bedtime last night because - finally - channel 10 are screening the US-version of The Biggest Loser. Now, don't get me wrong, I love me a little Michelle and Shannan, but Jillian and Bob won my heart with the first series of the US progam, and first-love never dies.

I was very lucky in my previous job because I used to regularly write about The Biggest Loser so not only did I get to visit The White House {in Aus} I also got to interview the contestants and trainers. {I know!} I'll never forget the first interview I did with Jillian - who's exactly like she is on the show. We were discussing the first round of Aussie contestants, what surprised her about them... When she said, in her distinctive drawl.... "You know, you'll talk with them, and they'll tell you about how, this is it, they're really going to change, nothing's going to stop them, they're on their journey... Then, you give them the choice of going forward and eating a cupcake, and whadda they do? They eat the f***n cupcake!" It still rings in my ears - bless her.

So of course, I'm addicted to the show, and get more than a little bit excited every time Jillian comes on the screen - let's hope nobody reaches for a cupcake...

Still on reality, MasterChef is helping me realise how ridiculously fickle I am - and how loving can turn to meh in an instant. See, I started off sure than Sam and Kate were two of the front-runners. They seemed to know food and how to put it together. But now? Oh, honey, what's happened. Sam's once again in the bottom three and my love for Chris is reaching a new high. I've also realised that while I love, love, love to cook - there's no way in hell I'd survive an episode of that show - 30 minutes to prepare and cook a dish from mystery ingredients? Hell no, I'd still be slicing and sauteeing 29 minutes in.

So tonight - who's leaving? Surely not Tom after that fabulous snapper dish. And Trevor? I've got a bit of a soft spot for ol' Trev. Maybe Sam -  at least he can get started on that honeymoon.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

weekend - woo hoo

Who doesn't love a weekend, particularly one with NO engagements... Well, apart from the assignation I have with the backyard. Our daughter's just headed out for a playdate, so I'm off to scrub the waterline tiles in the pool, while hubby's laying down pavers in the courtyard for the pots to sit on. Then, we're going to summon superhuman strength and pot up the 45 litre magnolias into pots that come up to around my waist... Best go eat some spinach...

Friday, May 22, 2009

fiercely frugal friday

After my mis-step this week with the ATM fees my frugality really kicked in. I'm trying to work out ways to save money in every aspect of our life. One area where our hair-bear-bunch of a family can look to cutback is with hair care. Luckily, I spoke to a celebrity hairstylist earlier this year who gave me some top tips on washing your hair - that also help save money!

* Start by brushing your hair well to get rid of any surface dirt and excess hair product - doing this now will mean you don't have to shampoo twice!

* Then wet your hair well and pour a little shampoo into a bowl, and mix it with water to help it spread {I know what you're thinking, but considering the first ingredient in most shampoos is "Aqua" we're not ruining it - just making it go further}. Apply to the top of your hair and gently massage into your scalp, going down about halfway down the length of your hair. The ends of your hair are usually dry and the residual shampoo when you rinse it out will usually cleanse them enough.

* Rinse it really, really well, using your fingers to lift sections of your hair so that all your scalp is free from shampoo. Then rinse again.

Use conditioner from the ends of your hair and only work about halfway up the shaft - it'll only flatten your head if you apply it too close to your scalp. Comb through with a rubber paddle brush or a wide tooth comb, leave to soak in, then rinse. Gently squeeze the moisture from your hair with a towel, and before applying any product, rub it between your hands to allow it to head up and spread.

These days I tend to use a supermarket brand shampoo and conditioner and alternate every second wash with my expensive Joico leave-in conditioner {cos it gives me better curls}. I'm also using about half the amount of product I used to and am pretty chufffed that I'm still getting similar results. 

I'm also mixing my moisturiser with a little water in the palm of my hand before applying - it spreads a lot easier and moisturises just as effectively.

Food-wise, frugality still has a lot to do with creative uses of leftovers. I made a delish beef and guinness stew in the crockpot on wednesday, so tonight we're having beef and guinness pies with the leftovers. I'm going to pop the mix in a ramekin each, top them with puff pastry and bake them till hot and golden. Yummy.

I also picked up a fancy-schmancy cooking tip on Come Dine With Me last night. You know how, on cooking shows, they're always using funky little metal moulds to form interesting stacks of vegies, or meats? Well, I checked some out at The Essential Ingredient the other day, and realised I just couldn't justify the price. But, you know what this women on CDWM did? She went to the supermarket, bought tins of fruit that were just the right height and diameter and CUT THE TOPS AND BOTTOMS OFF. Brilliant! Combine that with Shannan Lush's hint for soaking labels off jars and tins {fill them with hot water, let them rest, and then they'll just peel off - with any residual stickiness easily banished with a wipe of lavender or eucalyptus oil. I always prefer to reuse rather than recycle, so that little tip has made my week!

How's your week going?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

so sweet

Nearly forgot! But here's my shoe of the week, by Dolce & Gabbana. A t-bar, two-toned Mary Jane? Magnifico...

snack attack

I am a food fascist, I'm happy to admit it. Why serve something out of a packet when it's just as easy, and about a gazzilion times more tasty, to make it from scratch? I saw an ad for two-minute noodles today, touting them as the perfect after-school snack... but I reckon this little plateful here is perfect for apres-school munchies. {And two minutes, ha! Boil them, microwave them, stir them, rest them... adds up to more than two minutes in my book}

I always keep a pack of wholemeal muffins in the fridge, with a pack on standby in the freezer. Sitting alongside them is the shredded cheese, frozen and always ready for action. In the fridge is the tomato sauce and sliced ham.

Making mini pizzas is as simple as splitting the muffins and toasting the underside. While they're browing, slicing up the ham, then take them out, spreading them with sauce on the soft inside, layering on shards of ham and topping with the cheese. Back under the grill for a tick to brown, and hello, a yummy snack rich with protein, wholegrain, calcium and vitamins and minerals - in around two minutes. Yes, you could pop vegies on them, but ham and cheese have won my gal's heart.

Noodles, schmoodles...

bed head

My ancient Laura Ashley bed linen is looking more shabby than chic and I've yet to find anything to replace it - until now... Eau de nil, roses and polka dots, a few of my favourite things combined into one perfect package. Best of all, it'd give me the perfect excuse to paint my bedroom walls lilac {cos while I love their current eau de nil shade, even I admit there's such a thing as too much green...}

up the garden path

Our next big task is completing our side garden. When it was an overgrown jungle it looked like your typical side yard, but now it's cleared, we realise what a massive space we have to work with. From the side of the house to the fence is around three metres wide, and from the pavillion down to the current box hedge garden is probably around 8 metres. Hugeness.

We're planning on a wee garden shed and vegie gardens with old brick paths edged with lavender leading their way through. Somewhere we'll be using the massive convict sandstone blocks that formed the previous retaining walls - possibly as drystone retaining walls or to raise my vegie gardens. We'll see... Pretty gardens like these serve me with endless inspiration - as do the blogs that house them! I can't wait to get my fingers dirty...

eyes of a stranger

Sometimes I think it's important to step back and look at your home through the eyes of a stranger. When you live somewhere it's easy to miss finer details that mar its beauty.

This weekend we've got a huge working bee planned. We're going to get stuck into the backyard, give the pool a good clean, plant the new magnolias in their pots, fertilise all the plants, and just generally clean up. So I'm going to start the to-do list by standing here, in front of my fence, and seeing what stands out as needing to be done. 

There'll be weeding, scrubbing of the front steps, and probably deadheading those roses - as the blooms have now metamorphosed into rose hips. Coming home every day I'm immune to those little things, but I want to step back and see the little tweaks I can make to allow my home to shine inside and out.

paper chase

The one thing that causes me most grief, in the never-ending quest for a tidy home is paper. Piles and piles of the stuff. From bills, cards, school paraphenalia, magazines with articles I want to refer back to... it's easy to feel overwhelmed. I've been trying to deal with it as it comes, but I've still fallen back on my old, 'make a series of small piles, sort them, alternate them, move them...' mistakes.

But my in-laws, just back from the UK, told me a tale about my brother-in-law, Philip. As soon as he walks in the door, he sits down with the mail, a diary and the recycling bin. He opens the mail, notes anything of interest {such as bills to be paid} in his diary and then immediately throws the paper in the bin. If there's a magazine, he'll take it, read it after dinner, then, again, it's in the bin.

I'm inspired. So yesterday started my new habit of "deal with it, then ditch it". I have an exercise book where I write all my bills, including their statement numbers, due date and amount due, then I'll also put the date due on the calender. After reading through any statements and ensuring they're correct I can then shred them, and toss them straight in the recyling - saving any envelopes for notetaking.

With magazines, I'll give myself a week to read it, and if not - how important can it be? I now have a box in the study where magazines will go to be taken to the Salvos, and this, along with the clothing bag in the bedroom {for ditching clothes I don't wear, or that don't make me feel fabulous} will help streamline my home - and help the Salvos raise funds.

Baby steps - but I'm getting there...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

fluffy love

My gal and Mulberry sure do share a special bond. Every moment we're blessed with our pets is precious, and as a dear friend had to say farewell to one of her closest feline friends today - I thought I'd best give the boofy boy some extra special love.

my favourite obsession

Allow me to introduce the coffee I made at lunch - a macchiato for my hubby and a frothy latte for moi. Double shots - naturally.

Damn, they were fine.

lavender love

Here's the little glass jug filled with my lavender, freshly picked from the garden. My desk is now beautifully pristine, and I even dusted the skirting boards and doors in the study - blissful. A couple of hours work in here and the room will be a zen-like oasis...

All I need on my desk now is a big glass of water on my pretty vintage rose coaster {one of a set of six that I bought for a few dollars from the Salvos a few years back}.

Now I just need to wait for the rain to abate, before picking up my gal and her bestie from school. We were meant to have netball training today, but the rain's rained on that little parade. I'll feed 'em up, set them in front of the wii - and will hopefully get a couple of hours work in before I need to boil up some potatoes to mash and serve with my beef and guinness stew that's been bubbling in the slow cooker since 11am.

desperately seeking inspiration

Oh my. It's yet another grey ol' day here and with the sun has gone my inspiration. I could barely drag myself from bed this morning, and if the threat of my daughter being late to school wasn't there - I'd still be snuggled in my sheets. I've tried all my usual tricks to bust the blues: my hair's freshly washed, I've read many a blog, rooms are tidied, dinner's bubbling in the slow cooker...

I need to bring some sunshine back into my day and banish my seasonally-affected blues.

I think I'll start by clearing my desk, wiping it down with some rose oil, picking a posy of lavender and placing it just so in a teeny little vase and making myself a cup of violet tea in my very best tea cup. Maybe painting my nails with my mother's day red Chanel nailpolish could do it... 

I'll let you know how I get on.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

lazy dollars

It's not difficult to be thrify - but it can be too easy to be a spendthrift. Take me, thirty minutes ago for example. I was doing well, I'd waited an extra day to go shopping {with the aim to increase it by one day each week, multiplying the savings over weeks!} and had my list with everything on it in hand. I decided to call in at the Bottle Shop to buy my can of guinness for my guinness and beef casserole, when I noticed that the Australian-brand dark ale was half the price. Bargain. So I picked it up, headed to the counter, and realised I only had 35 cents in my wallet - $2.15 short. Damn.

Red-faced I muttered my "I'll be back{s}" and shuffled out to go to Coles. Now, as I had minimal money in my savings account I was planning on shopping with my credit card - so I couldn't withdraw money at the checkout for free - so I dashed to the ATM. As it wasn't my bank's ATM I knew I'd be hit with a $2 fee, but justified it as I was in a hurry, and it was raining so I didn't wash to dash outside the confines of the shopping centre. Hurridly punching in the numbers a notice popped up telling me I'd be charged $2 for using the ATM, which I quickly agreed to - and then realised that THEY were charging me $2, and then my own bank will charge me again, which means I just paid $4 for that $20 withdrawal.

Lessons: I could've bought the Guinness and paid an extra $2. I should've read the statement in full before blindly agreeing. And I would've walked outside in the rain to save $4. That's the price you pay for learning from your mistakes...

I'd best do something pretty dramatic for frugal friday now...

i think i love you

My loathing for blandness and cookie-cutter-sameness probably explains my love for Helena Bonham-Carter. Generally, when it comes to the Best and Worst Dressed lists, I'll tend to err on the side of the eccentrics {but never the scantily-clad attention seekers}. I'm also rather fond of Bill Nighy - I'm loving the cut of this coat - and those shades accentuate his glorious jawline magnificently... But back to Helena. She looks happy and content in her skin - and what she's clothed it in - and I adore it whenever I see a pic of her with Tim Burton, proof that soulmates can come together. 

Managing to look comfortably fabulous, when you've obviously made a helluv-an-effort, is a skill. Imagine how long it's taken to button, lace and layer that outfit. 

I reckon that this photo has made my day - and has inspired me to frock up for my trip to the supermarket. Now, where's my crinoline...

lest we forget

Some things stay imprinted on my memory forever - particularly when a visual sensation is accompanied by a tickling of my tastebuds. My first-ever ladurée macaron is the perfect example. Gazing in wonder at the divine array of pretty little morsels in the cabinet of the pretty store, it was tough to choose my premiere bite. Until I saw the word 'violette' - that sold it. 

One weekend, when I have plenty of time, I'm determined to master macarons. Surely it's a sin not to...

I think my memory needs a double whammy for it to work. I'm trying to improve it, but sometimes, no matter how much I say "Oh, I'll remember this" I just don't. Blogs are the perfect example. I'll stumble upon one, or a friend will send me a link {thanks Nikki} and I'll love on it, visit it for a while, then completely forget its name. I think it's made worse because my Mac will remember things for me. I only need type in a letter or two, and my most-visited sites will pop up. But sometimes, I think my Mac takes it upon itself to edit my sites - and forgets. 

That's why I've finally popped a few more links on the side. Not many, I was exhausted just typing in those few - and I'm determined to actually start work by 10am. But it's a start. Maybe I need to accompany my blog viewing with a few mouthfuls of delicious - or a spritz of my favourite scent {obviously I'm hankering for Chanel number 5 at the moment, and luckily, I have a bottle on my dresser...}

numero cinque

Oh my. I've just viewed the new 'film' for Chanel number 5, starring Audrey Tatou and, whew, one steamy French boy. Please check it out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

bare necessities

There are some foodstuffs I can't imagine being without. I can't conceive of a dish without some type of allium - whether it's onions, shallots, leeks or garlic. As soon as I slice, dice or grate these little beauties and set them to sauté in a pan of butter or oil I know that dinner's begun. And the scent... mmmmm... that's what cooking's all about.

I'm also partial to a wee sprinkle of salt - the pink flakes from Murray River are currently sitting in an antique glass pickle jar next to my stove, and I can't imagine enlivening a dish without crushing the flakes between my fingertips and allowing their bittersweet tang to coerce any recalcitrant flavours from a meal. Similarly with peppercorns - a find grind is the punctuation point that concludes my preparations.

Lately I've been using nuts, just a few, in salads and on veg - I love their yielding crunch. Whether raw, dry roasted or baked with herbs and spices, nuts add vitamins, minerals and that certain something to a dish.

When it comes to citrus I just can't get enough. Grating zest or finely slicing slivers, squeezing the juice - that bittersweet tang works well with any meat - or veg for that matter. 

I get itchy and twitchy if I don't have the essentials on hand - lots of 'em. Flours, vinegars, oils, mustards, sugars, syrups, spices, herbs... No wonder I have more shelving space in my pantry than in my entire kitchen... Ah variety, you spice up my life.

whistling while you work

We had a superb weekend, with lots of cooking and family entertaining. It was my mother-in-law's 70th birthday on Saturday, so we had them over for a big bowl of split pea and bacon hock soup followed by a birthday rhubarb and yoghurt cake. Just right.

Then, on Sunday, it was a family bbq at my sister-in-law's home, so I made a roasted vegie and couscous salad and gratin dauphinoise {much posher-sounding than potato bake}. With garlic-infused cream layering thinly sliced potatoes this was a decadent side-dish just perfect for a family gathering. To top the roasted pumpkin, sweet potato, zucchini and spanish onions on the couscous I poured a little more oil into the harrisa-infused pan I'd roasted the vegies in and quickly crisped up some pistachios and cashews. Then I dressed the couscous with lemon zest, lemon juice, coriander, mint, chilli and some top shelf olive oil. It was devoured.

But all that cooking and family-bonding meant that today, my house looked neglected and untidy. There were a few soaking pots and dishes that needed to be handwashed, a grotty kitchen and living room floor and a living room that needed a good tidy. So I leapt in at 11am and washed up, quickly tidied, vacuumed all the floors and then filled a bucket with hot water and lavender oil and mopped all the floors. Because I concentrated my tidying on the living room and kitchen, all this was achieved in an hour. Bliss. Now I have a tidy house, love in my heart from such a lovely weekend - and am ready to settle down to earn some money!

soooooo sleepy

Another grey old monday made sleeping in seem ever-so-attractive. But instead, I climbed on out, had breakfast, dropped the gal at school - and came home to make her lunch to drop off before 11am {whoopsies = no food in house!}

So now, chorizo and potato frittatas are bubbling away in the oven and I'm preparing to write up my menu plan and shop for the week. Any ideas...

Friday, May 15, 2009

musical magnifico

I'm a sucker for a good musical, so I have just avidly viewed the trailer for Nine and am in raptures. I can even forgive the presence of Nicole Kidman's frozen face as the worst of it seems to be covered by a long, thick fringe... But as for the rest of the stars - bella, bella, bella... Dame Judi, Sophia, Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz looking divine and, of course Marion Cotillard - my all-time favourite. It looks sexy, hot and utterly delicious - the perfect way to round off a good film year. With Coco avant Chanel, Harry Potter and now Nine, I could break my usual non-filmgoing record and attend more than one film this year. In two weeks there's a French Film Festival weekend - so I could possibly even reach double figures. Oh my!

neat, sweet, petite

Excuse me, but how precious are these French Endearment pendants? Le swoon...  You can find them on-line at

frugal friday is having a fashion moment

Why yes, it is somewhat odd to have images of Chanel's Autumn collection to illustrate my frugal friday post, but hear me out. I honestly think it's possible to look fashion forward merely by accessorising and choosing your colours wisely. For example, I've got plenty of black classics in my winter wardrobe, so unlike last winter when I jazzed the outfits up with accents of red, I'll use pale pink, pond green and cream. Layering will also serve double the purpose by keeping me warm, and looking like Karl's muse.

Keeping an eye on the beauty trends also helps keep your look fresh. Now, it's important not to take them too literally {such as  the Amanda de Lepore lips seen on modules at Alexander McQueen...} it's more a matter of assuming the essence. For my Chanel face I'd go for a pale face, pale eyeshadow {rose or cream} and lashings of black mascara and black eyeliner. As for the messy hair that's highly favoured on so many catwalks - easy peasy - I've already got that!

All I have to do now is weed through my wardrobe and work out how a visit to a haberdashery store might help me update some knitwear - and get ready to pile on my beads. Oh, and what I'd give for a funky bit of knitwear to perch upon my barnet - how cute are those hats!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

penny pinching for paris

I must return to Paris - within the next three years. It's essential - so here's what I'm going to do:

Bust a move on my budget: I'm going to keep track of all my spending for the next two weeks, and ask hubby to do the same. Then we'll sit down together go through all the essentials {mortgage, utility bills, up-coming birthdays/holidays, events} and then work out where we can painlessly shave a little off each. I'd like to keep the phone bill down by using email as much as humanly possible. If I can interview subjects for my features by email or skype - rather than conducting costly mobile phone interviews, I'll save a bundle. 

Home-made with love: Every Sunday night I whip up a batch of chorizo and potato frittata's for my gal's school lunch. Single-serve frittatas made in a muffin tin are just the right size for a nine-year-old's appetite - I usually give her three per day, for the first few days of the week. From now on I'm also going to whip up a batch of muffins - oat and honey would be her faves - to round out the lunchbox - rather than filling her up with bought crackers. Of course, the rest of the space is already filled with carrot sticks and fruit - so I can't make that any cheaper or more nutritious. Luckily my hubby's also into eating fresh, so we're snacking on seasonal fruit - rather than his old fave of expensive muesli bars.

Frugal food: We rarely eat out, but sometimes I really can't even bear to think about what to cook - let alone do the actual cooking. Luckily the weekly menu planning is helping enormously with that. My next plan is to clean out some space in the freezer so I can freeze a couple of meals, ready to defrost in the afternoon and serve up for dinner that night. If we do eat out, we'll make it a good one - using Entertainment Book 'buy one main meal, get one free' vouchers and choosing a meal that'd be costly, or time-consuming to make at home.

Eco-economy: I'm already a fanatic about turning out lights when they're not in use, and all appliances not in use are turned off and un-plugged - but there's got to be more I can do. I'll get busy with the broom again, rather than using the vacuum and only use the drier in an absolute emergency - there are only three of us in the house - we really don't have that much laundry! And I'm going to pretend I don't have a car. Apart from the weekly grocery shop and the trips to netball, I'll be on foot - or on my bike - all I need is a fancy parisian basket to fill with baguettes.

kiss me kate

Oh Mrs Spade, you do fill me with joy. Look at these shoes - an interesting heel, a lowline, sexy curvaceous side, and bows - BOWS! I love the way the shoe curves around the heel too. A gal can never have too many pairs of black satin shoes...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

persistence pays

Hey, guess what was delivered to my door this morning? A new crockpot inset for my slowcooker. A sad, yet firm email to customer service payed off and even though I was 12 months out of warranty, they agreed with me and sent me a free bowl free of charge. See, that's what customer service is all about. Yay Breville! Now, I'm onto Testra about the $200 they owe me!!

wacky wednesday

Okay, seriously, what is going on with time? It's zooming on by. I can't believe it's nearly lunchtime on a wednesday already! I guess that's because of my 4am start to drive to Sydney to pick up my in-laws from the airport yesterday. I now feel like I've got the jetlag - but without any of the joys of travel {apart from seeing their smiles and hearing their tales!} Oh, I have the travel bug something fierce at the moment. Driving down a street lined with plane trees made me crave Paris with an urgency usually reserved for champagne-o'clock on a Friday afternoon...

So here's what I'm going to do - secretly {well, not totally, as I've just put it on my blog...} I'm going to plan for our next OS trip. I'll be working my butt off {not totally, I'll still need some padding when I'm sitting in front of my computer} and saving with serious intent. Frugal Friday will now become Fiercely Frugal Friday - that's how hard I'll be saving! I'll set a date in my head to have paid off the backyard renovation and then I'll save enough to enjoy a good six to eight weeks OS. It won't be for a couple of years - but by then I'll be totally fluent in French, will have an itinerary planned and will be raring to go. 

Next step: find two more sources of income. I'm giving myself a week to work on this, so by next Wednesday I'll have pitches ready, contacts sourced and a kick-butt attitude. Woo hoo.

Monday, May 11, 2009

win win win

There's no point in cleaning out your clutter, if it's left in boxes and bags waiting for the right time to drop it off at a donation location. For the past few weeks I've had six boxes of magazines, a couple of bags of toys, and a bag of CDs that I meant to sell, all cluttering up my study. So today, when my hubby came home for lunch, we lugged all the boxes and bags down and filled the boot of my car. I then leapt straight in my car and drove to the salvos where a passing good samaritan helped me unload - making it only four trips each, rather than what would have been more like a dozen for me.

And wow, do I feel good. My study floor is now freshly vacuumed, and it feels like I have twice the space. I know that the Salvos will have no trouble selling the recent mags {plenty of House and Garden mags} and the CDs will make some indie retro teen very happy indeed {who needs CDs when you've got them on iTunes and your iPod. So it's a three-way win situation - and you've gotta be happy with that.

I'm still slowly working my way through the decluttering. I've now got to go through five years worth of my daughter's school books - the school sends them all home at the end of the year - and work out what to keep, and what to {sob} pitch. Next weekend's the Council Clean-up, so I'm determined to have all my clutter totally cleansed by then, surrounding myself only with beautiful or really useful stuff. Bliss.

frugal friday {on a monday...}

Whew, I'm over the bugs and banes of last week, and thanks to three double shots of caffeine before 10am am ready to blog for my life. I spent all of Friday in bed, hence my lack of post, however, I was still thinking frugal. Here's how.

I used the first of my frozen wine iceblocks in a minestrone soup - and it worked superbly. Homemade soup must be one of the most satisfying and frugal meals around. I threw in some basic veg {onion, garlic, celery, carrots}, diced up around 200g of speck {bacon on steroids, mmmmm}, threw in a handful of lentils du puy, a tin of tomatoes and some chicken stock and simmered for a couple of hours with nothing but a few bay leaves and sprigs of thyme adding flavour. Nearing the end of cooking I tossed in a cup of risoni and simmered for 10 minutes before serving. This fed four of us that night, and me for lunch on Saturday and Sunday - cost per serve - around $1. Nutritional value - enormous!

Making your own ingredients is the best way to jazz up a meal for little cost. I have a few different oil bottles so now have regular olive oil, garlic oil and lemon oil on the go. The garlic oil is simply a couple of cloves sliced up and infused in the olive oil, while the lemon is just a few slices of lemon rind {no erky white bits - just the vibrant yellow skin} in olive oil. It costs next to nothing, but adds a bit of an edge when drizzled over any food.

Letting nothing go to waste is the best mode of frugality. Leftover stale bread can be grated and frozen in small portions in a ziplock bag - or, if you're short of time,  just throw the pieces in the freezer and grate when you need them - frozen bread is a lot easier to grate by hand than fresh bread. If you have any leftover herbs, why not finely dice them up with some leftover breadcrumbs and a little garlic and lemon zest and freeze to have the tastiest crumbing mixture for pork cutlets or salmon cakes ever. 

This week my aim is zero food waste. If it's in my fridge it's going to be eaten - even if I have to think outside the square. So before making up my menu for this week, I'm going to see what's in the fridge, freezer and pantry - I reckon I'll have the basis for a couple of meals hanging around in there - saving me a motza at the supermarket.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

happy mother's day

This was the delicious mother's day breakfast that was presented to me this morning {I had to crop myself out - seriously, first-thing-in-the-morning photos, not attractive - particularly after a few days of feeling distinctly poorly!}

My hubby was inspired by the thick batons of 'eggy bread' they made on MasterChef this week, and oh-my-lord, they were delish. One-inch-thick, a couple of inches long, perfectly soaked in an egg, sugar, milk and lemon zest batter and caramelised to crispy perfection on the outside, soft and melding on the inside. Yumarama.

I was also spoiled with many pressies - including a fabbo pizza cooking stone and mega spatula for pizzas on the bbq, a little blowtorch for the perfect creme brulee, Chanel nailpolish, two beautiful french cheese knives, and other foodie-related goodies. All wrapped up with home-made cards from my gal. Sweet.

We're headed out for afternoon tea now. A baguette with butter and smoked ham barely dented my appetite at the moment {three days of chicken soup will fuel a voracious hunger!} then I think it's quattro formaggio and pancetta and egg pizza for dinner. With a glass or two of wine...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

it's shoe time

This week's shoe is brought to you by Maison Martin Margiela. They have a pale blue lining and stitching which is the perfect foil for that shocking shade of patent. I also like that bit of quirk, turn this way, they're a cute little bootie, about face, they're sweet sandals. Just what I needed today.

After sending my daughter off to school I crawled back into bed, wrapping the bedding up around my very sore throat. It worked. After waking at 11.30 my throat feels like it's in the recovery position. Handy. I feel like I've been consistently ill with silly little niggles for weeks now - probably because I have. 

Oh well, I'm making up a big pot of minestrone today - with bucketloads of garlic, made on chicken stock - surely that will totally revive me!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

when i'm feeling bleu

I'd quite like to hide away from the world cocooned in these dreamy colours. I think I need my very own copy of Marie Antoinette - just to bring a little beauty into every corner of my life...

that's better

I've been feeling a bit blah today. No real reason. I've had a niggly sore throat for a few weeks, off and on, and other annoying, yet trifling, niggles that are just irksome. But these flamingos cheered me up! How can a person be glum when flamingos exist?

My autumn cleaning's also coming along nicely. I've blitzed all the annoying bits and pieces that have cluttered up my home for ages and now I'm ready to do the actual clean. Surely I'll feel healthier when that's complete.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

fabulously frugal

For tonight's dinner I'm jazzing up the leftover risotto from last night's meal. I've oiled a mini muffin tin and scooped in a little of the saffron risotto - just enough to cover the bottom. Then, I've popped a teeny square of mozarella in the centre, covered it all up to fill the muffin tin and I'm baking them in a hot oven for around 15 minutes. I'm hoping they're brown and crispy on the top, but moist inside.

I'm serving them with chicken kebabs, sliced rounds of sweet potato 'chips' {baking on a tray, drizzled with garlic-infused olive oil}, broccolini {boiled for 10 mins in salted water, then tossed in salted, peppered olive oil to serve} and a green salad.  

I love leftovers...

tutu cute

Oh Karl... These limited edition shoes have a removable tutu - a novelty I'm finding darned endearing. And isn't crisp black on white such a classic? So Chanel...

I, of course, would have to have the black heels - but I'm finding the cuteness of the flats damned enchanting. 

oh coco

There is a rumour {yes, you're right, I'm spreading it...} that Coco avant Chanel opens June 25 in Australia. Oh, please, please, please let it be true...

And, um, hello, the prettiness of these pics? From French Elle, naturellement...

finishing touches

Surprising little bits and pieces are what completes a home. I'd love to pop a dovecote in the box-hedge bordered garden. On one side we have the bird bath with its little stone birdy, in the centre is a gorgeous blossom tree {we didn't plant it and I'm still trying to identify it!} so I think a pretty painted dovecote could look just gorgeous before we start the vegie and herb gardens.

I'm trying to keep stock of what I use the most of when I'm cooking and am now positive I need thyme, garlic, french shallots, Italian parsley, rosemary, basil, many types of lettuce, some spinach, teeny tomatoes, tarragon, a bay tree, lemon or lime {ooooh, I'd love both!} as just the bare essentials. I'm really keen to plant things I'll use on a near-to-daily basis. If we can espalier the lemon and limes against the fence then I'll have even more room for other bits and pieces. 

It's a grey, drizzly day here today. I'm attempting some work and am soon to resume scrubbing the pot that cooked the osso buco - which was, delish! Then at 1pm I'm hitting a restaurant with a friend for lunch. We've got a 'buy one get one free' voucher so although it seems an extravagance, really, it's verging on a bargain. Now... what to wear...

Monday, May 04, 2009

birthday boy

It's my hubby's birthday today so we started off with a breakfast omelette {his new fave} and he's having the day off to 
1. Improve his golf game on the Wii
2. Go for a run and time himself with his new sports watch.

Tonight, for dinner, he's requested Osso buco Milanese, so I'm off to the butcher soon to buy some veal shanks, canaroli rice and saffron for the risotto. 

Birthday's are bliss.

Osso Buco Milanese *
serves 6

6 3cm-thick centre-cut milk-fed veal shin
plain flour, seasoned to taste
60ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
20gm butter
2 sticks of celery, finely diced
1 onion, finely chopped
250ml (1 cup) dry white wine
500ml (2 cups) beef stock
3 fresh bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
2 pieces of lemon rind
1 cup firmly packed flat-leaf parsley
Rind of 1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic
Milanese risotto
50gm butter
100gm beef marrow
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups canaroli rice
1 pinch saffron
1 litre (four cups) chicken stock
40gm grana Padano, finely grated

1. Dust the veal shin with flour, removing excess. Heat half the olive oil in a large casserole, and cook veal in batches over medium heat until browned. Remove from pan. Add remaining olive oil and butter to same pan. When butter has melted, add celery and onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add wine, stock, bay leaves, thyme and lemon rind. Bring to boil and simmer for five minutes. Return osso buco to pan. Cover and cook at 180 degrees celcius for 90 minutes, or until tender.
2. For gremolata, place all ingredients on a chopping board and finely chop. Place in a bowl and season to taste, then cover and refrigerate until required.
3. For risotto, heat half the butter in a heavy based pan, add marrow and cook for five minutes or until browned and almost dissolved. Add onion and garlic and cook for five minutes or until softened but not coloured. Stir in rice and cook for another two minutes, then add saffron and 1/2 cup of stock at a time, stirring until stock is absorbed before adding more. Stir through remaining buttr and grana Padano and season to taste. Divide risotto among bowls, top with osso buco and pan juices and serve with gremolata on the side.
* recipe from Gourmet Traveller 

Sunday, May 03, 2009

seasonal cleaning

Well, it's not Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, but we're getting into the spirit with Simple Mom's Spring {Autumn} Cleaning Party. My husband's getting stuck into the guest room, I worked on the pantry today and cleaned a particularly pesky corner, and from next week I'm going through room-by-room. Bliss.

kid stuff

We had the most delicious breakfast this morning - prepared by two nine-year-olds! Our daughter had a friend for a sleepover, and upon awakening, they googled for breakfast inspiration and decided upon omelettes. After taking our orders they proceeded to whip up very tasty omelettes indeed. For each person they separated yolks and whites from two eggs and whipped up the whites till fluffy. They they folded in the yolks and two tablespoons of water. Throwing in some salt and pepper I heated the pan and let some butter brown. Then, I poured in the eggs and each girl took turns bringing the filling to the middle and pouring the top bits to the side. When it was nearly set they popped on the fillings (ranging from grilled, diced bacon, ham, cheese, olives and tomatoes) and pulled one side onto the other. I helped them remove it from the pan and then we ate the best omelettes ever.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

the garden at grey gardens

I've just been on The New York Times website checking out some before and after shots of Grey Gardens. I utterly adore what they've done here. Absolute bliss.

Friday, May 01, 2009

frugal friday

Here's a weekly post for you - premiering today. Ta da, it's Frugal Friday. Each week I'll be trying something new to save money - and letting you in on the secret. Today, it's cunning ways with leftovers...

Because there are only three of us in our household {the cat doesn't really count in this instance} I tend to have leftovers from most meals. Often, because my hubby works nearby, he'll come home and we'll have a hot lunch together. But I'd like to jazz things up a little, so today we're having leftover coq au vin - soup! Because I cooked the dish in the slow cooker all the meat fell into tender shreds, and it was much more liquid than if I'd cooked it in the oven, so what I'm planning on doing is adding some extra chicken stock {in fridge!} seasoning it with more salt and pepper and simmering it for 30 minutes before serving.

Another frugal tip is with leftover wine {shut up, sometimes I have some... well, cooking wine anyway...} If it's left in the bottle it oxidises and is only suitable to make salad dressing {use it in place of vinegar}. Of course, it's an option to decant it into a smaller bottle, but who has those? The best option is to freeze it in portions, well I don't know about you, but my ice cube tray is always filled with ice cubes for spontaneous vodka tonic moments - I don't have any spares for wine. But what I do have is frozen ice block makers - you know, to make ice blocks (or ice lollies) for kids. A six pack of those is just the right size for three quarters of a bottle of red, and once it's frozen, I'll slide them out and store them in a zip lock bag so I'll have 1/2 cup red wine frozen and ready to go... Just label them so your child doesn't think you've whipped up some apple and blackcurrent ice blocks!