Friday, June 05, 2009

trash talking

Oh, opinion columnists, always aiming to stir up dissent. Are they really as opinionated and awful in real life? I was reading the new on-line mag - and my eye was drawn to 11 Ways to Spot A Food Tosser. Of course, as a self-proclaimed foodie - I had to check it out, to make sure I wasn't one. Now I wish I hadn't. See, the problem is that this bloke seems to have mixed up Foodies and Food Wankers.

I tick a few of those 11 boxes. I have an espresso machine taking up space on the bench top - but it's a cheaper Sunbeam number that replaced our expensive Saeco {makes better coffee too btw}. And there's nothing I love more than a Farmer's Market. I barely manage to make it there each week, but damn it - the Saltbush Lamb is better than the lamb from the butcher. And yes, I ask for the Bangalow Pork at my butcher because it DOES taste better than generic pork. I don't have a problem with supporting local farmers who are trying to create a top-notch product by researching and treating their stock well. Seriously, does this make me a food wanker?

I'll also put up my hand to buying French sparkling wine over the Aussie stuff - because it tastes better. Yes, there are Aussie winemakers who make a nice bottle, but if I'm comparing a $30 bottle of Chandon to an $11 bottle of Veuve Amiot, my budget's going to go for the French version. However, in Summer, when it comes to whites, I'm supporting my home-grown Hunter Semillion - it's divine.

I spend ages on food blogs, generally the tv is tuned to Lifestyle Food and have a snobbish aversion to the program 4 Ingredients that's never going to be quelled. And I'm not going to apologise for it. So yeah, I'm a foodie - and what's he going to do about it?

What irked me most about this guy is that he's a food and wine writer, and who do you reckon keep him in business by reading his columns? Yep, that'd be the foodies...

frugal friday

I do believe it's possible to be frugal and still entertain well. In winter, frugal dinner parties are even easier. Slow-cooked dishes and retro puddings are cheap and delight almost everyone's tastebuds. Combined with bargain bottles of good wine and champers, all you need to do is set the scene for a great night.

I always used to over-cater. If I was doing a cheese platter for nibblies it'd have four to five huge slabs of cheese, loads of pancetta, a massive dish of olives, quince paste, paté, a couple of different types of biscuit/bagel chips/grissini... But no more. Now, I'm aiming for an elegant sufficiency. 

I love to plan my menus as soon as my friend's have said 'yes' to my invitation. After asking about any allergies or dislikes I'll plot out my main and pudding - then think about a suitable nibbly to have with our pre-dinner cocktails/champagne. It might be fried slices of chorizo or haloumi, home-made marinated olives {simple: bowl, olives, garlic, chilli, lemon zest, herbs, olive oil}, maple-roasted mixed nuts or a simple dip and crackers. Then I usually choose a one-pot main with a potato side and a green and serve this with slices of baguette and butter. 

But now, I'm concentrating on portions. Most of us aren't used to eating more than one course, so realistically, each of those courses SHOULD be smaller than we're used to serving up. That's why I love individual puds in ramekins - perfect portions.

Pudding's whatever I feel balances out the main - or what I'm particularly craving lately... So long as the food comes out regularly, the wine's topped up, and there are bottles of water to balance the wine that's all a person can ask for.

Combined with a well-set table {I'll even bring out the iron and press my tablecloth and napkins to make it special} and attention to detail fun can be frugal.

Dinner party's aren't an opportunity to impress others with budget-busting complex dishes. I think they're a great chance to actually sit down and chat with people whose company you enjoy - while the kids eat and play together - and for me, it's a chance to cook dishes we wouldn't ordinarily have most nights of the week {pudding regularly would make me resemble a pudding dish!}.

easily pleased

The latest BlogThis challenge made me realise how little I need to make me happy. Starting off the day with a great cup of coffee, baking, entertaining or giggling at my gal all make me smile. Clean sheets {preferably lavender-scented}, a reason to get frocked up and made-up, when my hubby smiles and tells me he loves me, cooking a great meal that has my family or friends in raptures, following facebook status updates that give me a little insight into my friends' worlds, discovering new blogs and kindred spirits, immersing myself in a fabulous novel, pretty coloured toenails...

Oh yes, the list can go on and on {and make me realise that I'm kinda cheating - the challenge was meant to be a visual one... Oh well, I'm sure it's also meant to make you grateful}. Today I'm blissfully happy that the sky is blue. I have one set of sheets already on the line and another in the machine ready to hang. Next I'm going to take my time and make myself a lovely cup of tea - I've finally acknowledged that no butler is going to come along and make one for me!

For my break today I'm going to duck out into the sunshine and pull a few weeds. After all that rain they're bound to come out with no effort at all - leaving me proud of my work with very little strain.

it's the little things: blog this challenge

Thursday, June 04, 2009

what's for dinner?

Menu planning has made my life sooooooo much easier. After taking my daughter for an x-ray this afternoon I was able to call in at the butcher for tonight's lamb backstraps {served with braised french lentils and pumpkin mash} and also buy some mince for tomorrow night's spaghetti and meatballs {think I'll do them in the slow cooker - how nice will my house smell tomorrow night!}

Honestly, I swear that the thing I loathe most about cooking regular meals is thinking about what to cook, so having a menu plan, shopping once at the supermarket for the essentials and buying fresh meat and some veg from my locals butcher and fruit and veg store is utterly blissful. And I'm sure I'm saving a bucketload by not calling in for one or two items at Coles and walking out $60 poorer!

new scentsations

To me, there is no point in a bunch of sweet peas, hyacinths, freesias or roses unless they have an intoxicating scent. Yes, they are pretty just to look at, but when I bury my nose in expectation in a bouquet and come up wanting I feel utterly cheated. 

I called at my local florist the other day and was disappointed by bunch after bunch of these blooms, all promising, and yet not delivering. I felt sorry for the poor florist, surrounded by petals but bereft of any perfume. The worst was when I spied two pretty little nosegays of violets. I flung my face into them only to feel smacked in return when absolutely nothing filled my nostrils.

Same with food. When I bite into a strawberry I want it to smell and taste like a strawberry - rich and luscious. Bringing a hunk of cheese to my lips I need to smell it even before it hits my tastebuds. Surely it's wrong to deny any of the senses. And I reckon that some of them work in tandem. For me, if I can't become excited by the exquisite aroma of a food before I take my first bite, chances are I'm not going to end up satisfied.

That's why I can't wait to grow my own vegies. Pulling real onions from the soil, plucking a rich, red tomato from the vine and harvesting exquisite explosions of real strawberry flavour will make me very happy indeed.

fade the grey

Okay, it's winter, I'll run with that. But seriously, does it have to be so grey, miserable and drizzly? I'm in Australia by jingo - what is Australia if not a blue-sky wonderland? So to banish my seasonally-affected blues I've gone for a true colour pop for this week's Shoe Of The Week. A little Magenta is always a good thing {side story: when I used to go to the weekly midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show I always went as Magenta. A couple of packs of burgundy semi-permanent, a brush of my curly hair to make it wild and frizzy, and a slash of scarlet lipstick and I was ready to find my Doctor Frank N Furter...} Ooh, now these shoes have got me all hot and flustered...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

many staggering works of heartwarming genius

An imagination is never as fired as one fed on Dr Seuss. I immersed myself in his books as a child and I'm sure it's shaped the person I am today. After having our daughter, I scoured op-shops and second-hand bookstores to find original hardcovers of Dr Seuss works. Sadly, all mine had been lost in one of my father's many moves.

Miss A now has quite a collection, and even now, at nine and a half, will often be read to sleep by one of his fanciful tales. She'll read herself for 15 minutes {Inkheart is the current enormous tome she's reading} and then hubby or I will read a quick story to send her off to sleep. It's a tradition started in utero when one of my friends {hey, Bella Mumma!} gave me a Dr Seuss book for babies in utero - Oh Baby the places you'll go.

The rhymes, the illustrations, the magnificence of the stories - often with a motto so subtle, yet strong, it could make you weep - are classic works of brilliance that deserve a place on every child's bookshelf. 

Maybe when a day is miserable and gloomy we could all ask ourselves - "What would Dr Seuss do?"

home library

Books have been my passion ever since I was a wee lass. I adore reading and can re-read old favourites over and over. One of the many things that attracted me to our house was the separate study which had plenty of wall space - enough to live out my long-held dream of floor to ceiling bookcases with a ladder.

And my hubby's found this one, and I think I'm a little bit in love. Finally my red leather bound Russian novels will have a home. I can arrange my books in perfect order, rather than having them in haphazard piles or stuffed into bookcases all over the house. Oh, bliss...

home work

Because I work from home full-time I'm determined to make my home office as pretty as possible. So, in time, I'd like to replace my functional, yet unnattractive, desk {your basic pale veneer, from OfficeWorks number} with something pretty like this. It's from a new company we've found and their gorgeous french furniture is made from real timber - not that fake stuff. 

I think I'd work much better on this desk - don't you?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

full flavoured

We had mexican for dinner last night {one of my easy family faves} and in a bid to eat more healthily and slash surplus kilos, my hubby bought an extra, extra light sour cream. Eeeuw. So not worth it. I'd prefer to eat a little of something fabulous than load up on that heavily-processed 'lite' stuff. 

Every few months or so I get all worked up and order my coffee with skim milk - then taste it and quickly vow to go back to regular milk. Skim milk gives the coffee a totally different flavour - and as I have a super-sensitive sense of smell I know what I'm getting as soon as I raise that cup to my lips. Nope, I'd prefer to drink espressos than have a skim cap.

When it comes to chicken I prefer thigh meat over breast, and roast pork ain't pork without a serve of crackling. 

I recently read that Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen's {spelling probably all wrong, but you know, the designer from Britain - Changing Rooms and all that} wife recently shed a bucketload of kilos - with a controversial diet that effectively swaps all meals for shakes and bars. Now, shakes and bars just get my goat up. I remember when I was in high school, dieting to get my perfectly thin and healthy size 10 body down to an 8, and I bought some Limmits meal replacement biscuits. Gross. I ate them, looked for my cup of tea, and then promptly ate a meal afterwards. A biscuit is never a meal...

And while I've had the odd smoothie for breakfast I don't consider a shake an appropriate meal either. Sorry to come over all judgemental, but I love food, love cooking and love feeling healthy and reckon that it's possible to combine all three. 

I'd rather eat a little of what I fancy, drink plenty of water and walk every day to stay healthy. When it comes to food, I like to keep it real. Sure, it'll take me longer to get to a goal weight - but when I'm there, I reckon I'll find it easier to stay there. 

winter wonderland

Seriously? It's the second day of winter? And it's June? Now I don't know about you, but this year is flying by. I'm pretty happy with most of what I've accomplished, but, um, there's a lot more I'd like to do.

We've got a long weekend coming up, with no netball on Saturday morning so that'll make three days to get plenty done. We still need to pot up the trees in the pots in the courtyard and now the verandas are clean of all the stuff we've tossed out the front for council clean-up it'd be nice to sweep and tidy them.

At least I'm going into the second half of the year relatively clutter-free. A trip to the salvos yesterday saw a boot-load and backseat full of stuff donated, and now I just have a couple of boxes of kid's books to drop down and that should be it. If I combine this with a serious lack of purchasing I should be living in blissful cleanliness for the rest of the year.

Monday, June 01, 2009

snuggle time

After all the cleansing and tidying of our house on the weekend it was time to take stock. Hubby and I had a good look around the study and worked out where we wanted the wall of bookshelves and where I could fit a nice, squishy sofa. Then I let him in on my secret fear...

See, our house had been renovated by someone else. Before they did some pretty amazing things, the house only had one teeny porch on the front - and no return veranda. Now, this return veranda runs up to the study - with a door leading off. And here's where my fear kicked in. I started to wonder if half the study was an extension, and if so, I was guessing that it didn't have the lovely wide floorboards present in the rest of the house - floorboards I ache to paint white. 

So we tentatively eased up a corner of the ugly carpet to reveal. Masonite. Yep, fears realised. Surprisingly I didn't cry. Hubby's told me we can look for pretty carpet to replace the ugly beige berber {maybe even lavender or a colour that will cheer me up}. Maybe I'll just have to paint the boards in our bedrooms...

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...