Monday, December 29, 2008

Hello again

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I have finally emerged from 4 days of celebrations with family and friends (probably a little heavier than 4 days ago!) and am about to embark on our New Years celebrations! It doesn't stop! But we have had a wonderful time in Melbourne catching up with everyone - I don't really want to go home at the end of the week. But all good things must come to an end as they say...

I am not able to upload any of my Christmas photos at the moment, so I will have to share them once I return to Sydney - but I can share one present I recieved this year

This came from my husband's brother and his wife and is very much appreciated! Now I just have to figure out how I am going to get it home along with all my other baggage!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I am currently in my hometown Melbourne about to head to the airport to pick up my sister and thinking about tomorrow - Christmas carols, morning tea with mince pies, roast lunch And(!) dinner and the prospect of a good bottle of red and some card games late into the evening... I can't wait for tomorrow to come!

Wishing you all a fabulous Christmas filled with love and laughter!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Last minute Christmas gifts - pistachio and cranberry chocolate bark

I am still frantically trying to finish off my Christmas gifts before we leave for Melbourne tomorrow (yay!), so I knew I wanted something quick and easy to make for my husbands and my work colleagues, but still nice enough to give away as a present.

This 'bark' definitely filled those criteria - it was extremely quick to make. I didn't use a recipe - so I can't give you exact measurements - but it won't matter because it is so simple!

Pistachio and Cranberry Chocolate Bark

1 pack of chocolate melts, or 1 block of chocolate - I used white chocolate because I thought it would be a nice contrast to the other colours - but you could use any chocolate you like, or even swirl together white and dark/milk chocolate too
a couple of handfuls of shelled, unsalted pistachios
a couple of handfuls of dried cranberries

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water or in the microwave. Allow to cool a little.

Meanwhile, place pistachios in a plastic bag and lightly crush with a rolling pin

Mix half the pistachios and half the cranberries into the white chocolate.

Spread the chocolate mixture on the baking tray. Then sprinkle with the remaining pistachios and cranberries. Using a spatulata, lightly press the nuts and fruit into the chocolate so that when it sets they won't fall off.

Place tray in the fridge and allow chocolate to set.

Break 'bark into pieces, wrap it up and present it to your friends (or eat it yourself!)

I also got another present finished last night - some recipe cards to go with another larger present for the kitchen!

Thankfully there's not many left to finish now as we leave very early tomorrow morning!
And - a big Hello to anyone who has made it here from Rachael's gorgeous blog "Four Wise Monkeys ". I hope you enjoy my blog.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas sewing...

There's only 2 days until we leave Sydney for our long awaited 2 week holiday in Melbourne with our family and friends. I can't wait, we have been looking forward to it for so long. The only tough thing about being away before Christmas is that all of our Christmas presents need to be organised before we go away - including all handmade presents. I finished a couple of presents today - only a couple more to go! Phew!

The first ones are for me! There is a free pattern here

Tiny embelished singlets for my newborn cousin - Belle.

Crayon rolls for my gorgeous cousins - Bonnie and Yasmeen

The mushroom print linen is a favourite of mine and I really like it alongside the polka dots
The first of the edible gifts are dressed, but there are still more to do!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Belated Birthday Mum!

This weekend was spent almost entirely struggling with the quilting of the quilt top I put together for my new baby cousin Belle. It seems that it could not be quilted parallel or perpendicular to the edges of the quilt but only diagonally. I tried machine quilting it with 3 different feet on my machine, with different thread tensions and stitch length, I pulled the 3 layers apart, pulled the pieces of the backing apart, re-cut them and then re-stitched it together, then re-basted the 3 layers and tried quilting it again… Nothing I did would help – the back kept bunching up underneath my quilting stitches. Boy was it annoying. There was a lot of swearing and stamping of feet that’s for sure. I have no idea why it wouldn’t quilt in straight lines – perhaps the fabric wasn’t 100% cotton and possibly had some polyester in it? Or maybe the fabric was placed on the bias? I have no idea. All I know is that I was mighty annoyed! It is quilted now, just not in the pattern I wanted. Oh well! Hopefully I will be able to bind it tonight and send it off before Christmas.

It was my Mum’s birthday last week – Happy belated Birthday Mum! I made her a journal cover, based on the patterns by Janelle Wind, but with some changes. The butterfly is placed on the cover with raw edge appliqué – which I think turned out pretty well. I like the way the edges frayed a little.

And of course, I had a little helper while I was taking my photos! It's a little dark, but he's there!
I hope everyone had a less frustrating weekend than I did with a bit more sewing!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Could I win?

I doubt it - there are 48 (yep, 48!) amazing looking chocolate cakes in Not Quite Nigella's Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge! Make sure you have a look through them all (and vote for me if you like my cake!) - although, I will warn you - you will definitely need some chocolate afterwards! They all look scrumptious!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

7 things...

Recently, my sister Annie, tagged me for a Kreativ Blogger award! Isn't she lovely?

This award came with some lists that each required 7 answers, so without any further ado - here are some strange things about me!

Seven things I say most often
1) Be careful (to my husband as he leaves on his bike)
2) I’m hungry
3) Sampson, please be good, just for a change
4) Ow (after being clumsy!)
5) Hey Monkey (to Sampson)
6) this house is a mess
7) I hate Sydney weather (too muggy for a Melbourne girl like me)

Seven things I did before
1) completed a PhD
2) lost 20kg (and next week I will have kept it off for 5 years!)
3) climbed Mt Kinabalu in Sabah
4) flipped burgers at McDonalds and worked the checkout at Coles while at school and uni
5) lived in Melbourne
6) trekked in Northern Thailand
7) flew business class to Malaysia (a special upgrade on our honeymoon!)

Seven things I do now
1) sew too slowly to be able to tackle all the projects I want to
2) kiss my cat many many times each day
3) work in medical research
4) not eat enough meat
5) constantly think I don’t have enough clothes
6) get frustrated while watching the evening news
7) never miss an episode of Project Runway!

Seven things I want to do
1) Have children (no Mum and Annie – not soon!)
2) travel through areas of Asia that I haven’t yet visited – Vietnam, Cambodia and India in particular
3) more volunteer work
4) visit my brother in Perth
5) learn to sew clothes
6) more exercise
7) walk to Machu Picchu

Seven favourite foods (in no particular order!)
1) chocolate ice cream
2) hot chips
3) lasagne
4) red wine
5) coffee
6) Chicken with moughrabia, made by my Aunt
7) wonton noodle soup

Of course participation in this is completely up to you, but here are 7 blogs that I think are deserving of this award.

Seven people I am tagging
1) Rachel at Four Wise Monkeys
2) Nicky at The Little Needle Case
3) Sheryl at My Upstairs Sewing Room
4) Sarah at Sarah's Prim Treasures
5) Sarah at If only I had Chocolate
6) Stephanie at A Whisk and a Spoon
7) Kel at Sweet Treats

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas stockings

Seeing as though I love Christmas (I think I've said that a few times here before!), it made sense that one of my first sewing projects was Christmas stockings for my husband and I. These stockings were made completely by hand (I didn't have a sewing machine at that point in time) from a pattern by Suzanne Gray of Hooley Dooley Artworks.

No fireplace to hang them on in our house, so the TV cabinet has to do!

Up close they are a little rough around the edges - a couple of stitches showning where they shouldn't be and the binding is completely wrong (I think I made it up as I went as I didn't understand the instructions!) - but I love getting them out each year and putting them up.

Along with the stockings, we also put up our Christmas tree on the weekend. Sampson loves Christmas too, although he likes to pull the Christmas decorations down rather than putting them up! Here he is, all tuckered out after 'helping' us put up the Christmas tree.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Goodbye Spring - Hello Summer!

We have had some great weather this week in Sydney confirming that the beginning of summer is most definitely upon us! Although the start of the warmer weather also means that we have to say goodbye to the wonderful produce of spring - including my favourites, fresh peas and broad beans. Now I am probably a bit late in posting this - broad beans are much better at the beginning of spring and more readily available, but perhaps it can be a recipe to put aside for next year?!

We saw Jamie Oliver make this on his TV show "Jamie at Home" and knew we would have to give it a try as it has too many of my favourite things in it. As a kid I could not understand how my Dad could love broad beans so much, but now I completely understand his fascination with them. They are so sweet (the small early season ones anyway - the large ones are a bit floury!) and definitely moreish.

We ate this many times over spring - everytime we saw some nice looking broad beans at the market. Teamed with an icy cold beer, it makes a wonderful weekend lunch.

Jamie's Incredible smashed peas and broad beans on toast
Serves 4
around 500g fresh peas (about 150g shelled weight)
around 700g fresh broad beans (about 250g shelled weight)
small bunch of fresh mint leaves
extra virgin olive oil
around 50g grated parmigiano reggiano
juice of one lemon
4 slices of bread of your choice (I have used herbed bread and a sourdough and both were great)
1 clove of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half
cheese of choice (buffalo mozzarella, bocconcini or ricotta)
sea salt and black pepper

Pod the peas and double shell the broad beans.

In a large mortar and pestle or do it in batches in a small one), bash up half the mint with the peas and a pinch of salt. Add the broad beans, a couple at a time and crush to a thick green paste.

Mash in a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, then stir in most of the parmigiano. If the mixture is a bit thick, add a little more oil. Add about 1/2 to 3/4 of the lemon juice. At this point, taste the mixture and adjust it to your taste using the remainder of the ingredients. Add some pepper here too if you wish.

Toast the bread (I like to do it on a griddle pan to give it a smokey flavour), and then rub the cut side of the garlic once or twice over each slice.

If you are using mozzarella or bocconcini, thickly spread the bean and pea mixture over the toast and top with torn pieces of cheese. Otherwise, spread the toast with ricotta and then add a generous amount of the pea/bean mix. Drizzle with olive oil if desired and serve.
With bocconcini on sourdough

or ricotta on fresh herb bread

Now, bring on summer and the beautiful tomatoes!
Recipe from Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver. Page 156

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A show and a Kitty Kris Kringle

My husband and I went out last night to see Tim Freedman play a solo show in Newtown. We realised that it was the 4th time we have seen him play since we moved to Sydney almost 18 months ago - but I won't ever get sick of hearing him sing his beautiful songs. There's a video here of Tim and his band, The Whitlams, playing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra last year. It was probably my favourite of all their concerts.

Needless to say, I am a little tired this morning after getting home a bit late last night!

Over the weekend I worked on a present for a Kris Kringle I am part of. It is through a Cat forum that I have been a member of for almost 4 years now (yep - I admit it, crazy cat lady here!), and while last year I was lucky enough to have met my 'victim' in person, this year I do not know much at all about the lady I am buying for. So I decided a homemade gift would be the best way to go.

I put together this journal cover with some funny cat material that I have had in my stash for a long time.
And I found these great kitty stockings in a local shop, so I embroidered the name of her cats on each.
Fingers crossed she likes them!

And I finished another angel on Friday on the train - I think that brings me to the halfway mark! I will get there...!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Fruit Mincemeat

I continued my Christmas cooking over the weekend with inspiration from Michaela of The Stash Basket. Michaela made some yummy looking mincemeat recently which definitely caught my eye! While I stayed close to Michaela’s recipe, I did have to change a couple of things: I wasn’t able to get my hands on any fresh or frozen cranberries, so I used dried cranberries as an alternative. I also substituted butter for the suet, as I could only find suet mix (~50% suet and 50% wheat flour) and my husband vetoed my idea of being traditional and using beef suet!

Christmas Mincemeat

170g bag of dried cranberries
2 large Granny Smith apples (no need to peel – core both, then I grated one and finely chopped the other)
1kg mixed dried fruit
350g soft dark brown sugar
zest and juice of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
50g flaked almonds
2 ½ heaped teaspoons mixed spice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
125g butter
6 tablespoons of good brandy

Put dried cranberries in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak for approximately 30 mins or until cranberries have become plump and juicy. Drain and rinse in cold water.

Cranberries after soaking

Mix cranberries, dried fruit, apples, brown sugar, zest and juice of oranges and lemons, almonds and spices together in a large container and cover. Refrigerate overnight to allow fruit to start absorbing the juices and to allow flavours to mingle. At this stage, pop your butter into the freezer so it is super cold tomorrow for the next step.

Ready for the fridge

The next day, preheat the oven to 120C (or 100C fan forced). Grate the frozen block of butter using the large holes on your grater, then mix well through the fruit/juice/sugar/spice mix.

Grated butter - it got a bit messy!

Place mixture into an oven proof dish and cover with foil. Place in the oven and cook for 3 hours (I took it out after an hour and a half to gave it a good stir and then returned it to the oven).

About to go in the oven

Allow fruit mince to cool for 15 mins, then stir in 6 tablespoons of brandy. Meanwhile, sterilise jars for storing the mincemeat – place clean jars and lids upside down on a baking sheet, and bake at 180C for 10-15mins. Transfer jars (still upside down) to a clean tea towel to cool slightly. Transfer mincemeat to jars while both are still warm and cover.

After 3 hours of cooking - the smell was heavenly!

Due to the butter being used in place of suet – Margaret Fulton (via her book Margaret Fulton's Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery) tells me that the mincemeat needs to be stored in the fridge.

And because I didn’t have enough jars for all the mincemeat I made – we had mince pies for dessert last night!