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!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge

Last month Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella announced her Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge! I entered her Banana Bread Bake-off earlier this year (see my entry here), so I thought I'd better put an entry in for this one too. Plus it was a chocolate challenge - how could I resist?

Chocolate cake is not something I make often. I feel it is more of a dessert than a morning or afternoon tea snack, and with only the two of us, we would be eating chocolate cake for dessert for a week! I have chosen this recipe as my entry for multiple reasons:

1) It is one of the easiest cake recipes I know. There is no creaming of butter, and there is only 2 steps - firstly, whisking together all the ingredients except the chocolate chips and secondly, folding through the chocolate - too too easy!

2) It is not so fudgey that it must be eaten with a spoon - making it more of a traditional cake than a dessert


3) It tastes great! A chocolate cake, with the addition of shredded coconut and studded with dark chocolate chunks - what more could a girl want? (ok, maybe a glass of red wine on a Friday night!)

Chocolate Coconut Cake

250g butter, melted
3/4 cup good quality cocoa, sifted
1 1/3 cups caster sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
100 - 150g dark chocolate (I like Lindt 70%), broken into chunks OR 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan forced). Grease and line a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl (except chocolate chunks/chips) and whisk until smooth. Fold through the chocolate. Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for 50mins. Cool in tin for 1omins then turn onto a wire rack.

This cake tastes great both warm or cold and I think it is fantastic with double cream and mixed berries.


No not here! But over here at Thats Graphic - Annette has a great bundle of stuff to giveaway, including some charm squares from the Chez Moi fabric range and some pretty Christmas decorations.

Photo is from Annettes blogLink

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christmas is coming!

I love Christmas and everything about it - yep even the carols that play continuously in the super market! Christmas to me, is about spending time with my family and friends, appreciating all the good things we have in our lives and about reflecting on the past year. Of course, food always plays a big part in our family Christmas celebrations. Over the years we have had every kind of Christmas meal possible - from the traditional English roast turkey and ham, to the more Australian Christmas of roast lamb and prawns to a Lebanese mezze and kebabs! But one thing I always love to eat at Christmas is fruit cake, Christmas pudding and fruit mince pies. I just can't go without them. Often we also fill the freezer with mince pies prior to Christmas so that we can eat them well into the new year too.

mmmm...Christmas cake!!!

For a number of years now, I have toyed with the idea of making a Christmas cake, although every year I have ended up leaving it a little late. This year I finally decided to give it a go. I only made this over the past weekend, however we won't be cutting into it untill January when we return to Sydney after spending a few weeks with our families and friends, so it will have a bit of time to mature. I can't wait until we finally get to try it - I can't believe I have to wait almost 6 weeks to taste it!

Classic Rich Christmas Cake

375g raisins, chopped
375g sultanas
375g currants
430g pitted prunes, chopped
100g mixed glace cherries, chopped
1 cup brandy
melted butter for greasing
250g unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
1/2 cup plum jam
finely grated rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup self raising flour
2 teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
extra 2 tablespoons brandy

Combine raisins, currants, sultanas, prunes and cherries with brandy in a large container - leave soak for at least 2 hours (I left it for 10 days).

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan forced). Grease a 20cm deep round cake tin with melted butter and line with 2 layers of baking paper on sides and base. Allow the paper on the sides to come up above the top edge of the cake tin.

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until mixture is light and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add jam and rind and beat until combined.

The butter and fruit mixture

Add the butter mixture to fruit mix and, using a large metal spoon, stir until well combined. Sift the flour and spices over butter/fruit mix and fold in. Add the orange juice and fold until well combined.

Almost ready to go in the oven

Spoon the mixture into prepared tin. Sprinkle the top with a little water and smooth top with the back of a spoon. Tap the cake pan gently on bench to settle the mixture.

Wrap a double thickness of brown paper around the tin and secure it with kitchen string. Bake the cake for 3 to 3 1/2 hours or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre. Remove the brown paper and pour the extra 2 tablespoons of brandy over the top of the cake.

Just out of the oven - the smell was divine!

Wrap cake (still in tin), in a clean thick towel and leave overnight to cool

The cake in it's pyjamas!

Remove the cake from the tin and wrap in several layers of cling wrap. The cake can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 months.

Boy did I want to cut into it at this point! But I stayed strong! Do you have a favourite food or treat that you eat at Christmas time?

Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, December 2008 (pg 56)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

bonus sewing time

An unexpected day at home on Sunday meant I could spend lots of time sewing! I had seen many versions of the disappearing 9 patch block around and decided to have a go at it. There is a tutorial here.

This is what I was hoping it would end up like, with 2 orange squares in the centre, but with only 4 colours to work with, one of which being a directional print, it was a little tough to get everything to look balanced. This is what I ended up with instead. I like it! I am going to bind it with the printed material to add a bit more colour around the edges.

I also made up this cute little fabric basket using this wonderful tutorial. It is a great little project that takes almost no time at all. I think it would be great as a little Easter basket, ready for an egg hunt - or made in Christmas fabrics and filled with Christmas treats.

I decided I would buy some of the Red Riding Hood ribbon for this months pin cushion. Now THIS will be my last fabric purchase for the year! (I almost wrote it would be my last craft purchase, but I still have an idea for a Christmas present that I need to buy something for - lucky I caught myself!) If anyone else is looking for some of the red riding hood ribbon, I found some here and here.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

an angel and some mail

After I finished my 12 red robins stitchery so quickly by tackling it on the train each day to and from work, I decided to start taking my angel blocks from my An Angels Story quilt. I signed up for this BOM in 2005 (I think!) and I am soooo far from finishing it!! After seeing lots of pictures of completed Angels by the members of Stina's Angel Story Challenge group, I have become motivated to get moving on them again. This girl and her pets were finished on Friday

I also recieved some mail from Sarah - my third pincushion kit. I am a little dissapointed that it didn't come with the gorgeous Red Riding hood tape for the handles that Melly used in her original design, but I am sure it will still look gorgeous with the blue satin ribbon... Or perhaps I will try to find some of the tape myself...

And I also got this pack of gorgeous fabric which I ordered from Retro Mummy. Some of this fabric will be used in Christmas presents for my little cousins.

I think that had better be my last fabric purcase before Christmas! Hopefully in my next post I will actually have some sewing to show you and not just what I have bought recently!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From my personal collection - beans and rice

I recently read this article on favourite meals that you don’t serve to guests. We often have pasta for dinner with a sauce made with any vegetable in the fridge that is on its last legs – usually involving onions, garlic, tomatoes, chilli, capsicum, zucchini, carrot, celery, silverbeet…the list goes on! I don’t like wasting food, plus it always makes a quick, yummy meal on a Friday night. Often we have this pasta sauce by choice too and not just to use up the last of the week's vegies! However, while I love my crazy pasta sauce, it’s not something I would serve to guests – I guess it feels a bit “thrown together”.

So here’s another recipe from my ‘private’ collection! If I told you where I got this recipe from, you would probably laugh and close down the page before reading it, so I won’t (not until later anyway!). This is a dish that I find very comforting – a relatively healthy, quick, weeknight meal for my husband and I – often with leftovers which are good for lunch the next day. And no, I wouldn’t serve it to guests – but that’s just me!

This is the basic recipe I follow - although when I made it last night I also added celery in with the onion and green beans with the capsicum and a big handful of spinach for the last minute or so too.

150-200g chicken breast or thigh, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 jar of hot tomato salsa
3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 green capsicum, chopped
1/2 red capsicum, chopped
large pinch of dried thyme
250g red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
200g basmati rice (or any white rice is fine)
2 cups water
tabasco sauce to taste

Heat a medium pan over medium heat. Cook chicken pieces in a small amount of olive oil until cooked through and golden. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the pan and cook onion and garlic - cook for a few minutes or until onion is translucent. Stir in salsa, tomato, capsicum, thyme, kidney beans and rice - cook, stirring for 30 seconds.

Add water to pan and stir. Cover pan and simmer gently for 10 mins - adding more water if necessary. Stir in cooked chicken pieces and tabasco sauce and simmer for another 5 mins or until rice is cooked

Serve topped with chopped parsley if you like.
Serves 3 people

It’s the addition of the salsa that I was worried about when I first made it – but now I love it!

Recipe adapted from: Weight Watchers Single Servings Cookbook (Did you laugh? So I’m not always the foodie I pretend to be (!), but I think it is the best cookbook published by WW in Australia – lots of family friendly food and the servings are easily multiplied for more than one serving).