Sunday, 30 September 2007
It is lovely to be home in my own house, and back using my own kitchen. I have a chicken simmering on the stove with an onion, some ginger and garlic, and some black peppercorns. Later the chicken and stock will become chicken and noodle soup; perfect on such a bleak day. If only the rain that threatens would actually arrive. We have had well under an inch in September and the ground is awfully dry. How I wish we could have a few months of at least average rainfall!
Yesterday I told you about a not-so-good event on our holiday; today I would like to tell you about a highlight. The connection between both events is my sweet friend Phoebe; she gave me the hand-made bag, sewn by her mother, that sank in the lake. Phoebe has become very dear to me over the past couple of years, and it is she who has been teaching me to sew.
Visitors to her blog will be aware that Phoebe and her husband have recently decided to leave their life in Melbourne (sob, sob) and move to the Latrobe Valley, where they have bought a share in a cafe recently purchased by family members.
We visited the cafe yesterday, on our way home from Metung, and were thrilled to be served by Phoebe. It was marvellous to see her, and to see how happy she is in her new role. She was glowing, truly radiant. Her mind is filled to overflowing with ideas to transform the cafe into something truly unique, and I am sure she and her family will succeed, working together. Our cappucinos came with hazelnut and coffee biscotti baked by Phoebe, and the children's hot chocolate came with little star-shaped biscuits dusted with 100s and 1000s, also baked by her. She has just started making nori rolls for her customers, and she baked several of the cakes on display.
Saturday, 29 September 2007
Hello everybody, it's great to be back! Funnily enough, while I gave very little thought to blogging while I was away, I am excited to be home and look forward to reading the latest on all my favourite blogs.
We stayed at Metung, on the Gippsland Lakes here in Victoria, and had a marvellous trip -- apart from one unforgettable hitch -- filled with boating, tennis, swimming (in a pool, the water at the beach was far too cold), and going for invigorating walks. Metung is a tiny village of about 500 people at the end of a narrow peninsula, and is a spot populated with serious fisher-folk. We loved the uncrowdedness of the town but were assured that it is extremely busy over the summer months.
I would like to be able to show you my holiday pictures but sadly there are none. Not one. And that is a story all by itself.
Last Sunday, we hired a fishing boat and sailed for Ninety Mile Beach, a famous Victorian landmark and a breathtaking, seemingly endless, expanse of unpeopled sea and sand. We ate a picnic morning tea at the beach and returned to the boat for the trip home.
After a time my husband decided to drop anchor so that we could do some fishing, and as he crawled across the bow to reach it his foot must have hooked through the strap of my handbag, which was on the floor of the boat, and kicked it into the water. We did not realise what had happened for a few moments, until my daughter asked what that thing was in the water. The bag was steadily moving away with the current and, being fabric, was soaking up the water. Before we had time to even consider jumping in, or finding a way to reach for it, the bag sank, along with everything in it.
My husband and I stared at each other in horror and shock. We had lost our car and house keys, our camera, my phone, driver's licence, credit card, cash, makeup ... the list goes on. As we were staying in a tiny village we had no idea how we were going to get into our car, or what the cost would be to have the car towed to a bigger town to get new keys made. The journey back to the wharf was silent and seemed to last for an eternity.
As we gloomily related our story to the gentleman who rented us the boat, he told us that there may be a chance to recover our belongings. He had a friend who was a diver whom we might be able to employ to conduct a search, if we could recall where the bag was lost. Inside our flat, B and I prayed for guidance; the Gippsland Lakes are enormous and the current that day was strong. We reminded each other that we had only lost material things, that the children were all well and safe and we had somewhere to stay for another week if we were without the car.
Some hours later, the diver, accompanied by my husband and son, managed to retrieve the bag with the keys still inside. The remote car door opener was ruined, but the keys themselves were undamaged. We were so very thankful that our prayers were answered in this way. Everything else was lost but the most important item was recovered. It ended up being an extremely costly day.
We replaced my purse, phone and driver's licence in Bairnsdale on Monday, and cancelled our credit card, but decided not to buy a new camera for now.
Fortunately, the rest of the holiday was wonderfully uneventful and relaxing. I had time to hand-hem my napkins for Rhonda's napkin swap, do a little knitting, plenty of reading and lots of sleeping. And my bag, now washed, dried and good-as-new, has a story of its own.
Friday, 21 September 2007
What are you like the day before you go away? Today I have made my way through the most enormous to-do list today, and have achieved almost all of it apart from actually packing. For some reason I always feel the need to give the house a good clean before I go away. Sure, it's always lovely to return to a clean home, but part of it is that I think superstitiously that if there were to be a car crash, and my mother had to go through my things, at least she would not be able to complain about the dust!
Anyhow, I've still got laundry to fold, a few bills to pay, and packing to do, so I'd better go, but I'll be back and dying to start blogging again in about a week.
image from www.allposters.com
Thursday, 20 September 2007
This morning would have begun with a 6.30 am walk, except that it was raining so my walking partner (my friend from next-door) and I drove up to the shops for a coffee and a chat. Sure it was only drizzling, but the rain could have got harder ... right?
My four year old had his last kinder morning for third term today and it was a fancy dress morning, except that we forgot about the fancy dress. Bad mummy! Fortunately (in the sense that I was not the only negligent parent there), so did a number of other families, so the teacher raided her dress-ups box to provide costumes for the forgetful ones. My son ended up in a tiger costume which he was quite happy about, and which was, in fact, a better costume than any we have at home.
Tomorrow my middle two children break up for their Spring break, and on Saturday we will be heading away for a week in the Gippsland Lakes area here in Victoria. The Lakes are about three hours drive east of Melbourne. It will be too cold to swim, but my husband has plenty of boating, bushwalking and fishing plans, and I have plenty of reading and sleeping plans, so we should get along just fine.
Last night Laurie Anne tagged me for the middle name meme. I have to tell you my middle name, which is Alison, then tell you facts about myself starting with each letter.
So here goes:
A could be for aprons, which I desperately need because I am not capable of doing any creative activity tidily, and which I have been making lately. However, I have decided instead that A is for Amazing Grace, which is my favourite hymn and which unfailingly brings me to tears every time I hear it. Amazing Grace has the most beautiful pentatonic rhythm combined with some of the most powerful lyrics ever written. And I still haven't seen the film!
L is for lemons. I love my lemon tree but the poor darling has had a rough few years from gall wasp, drought and leaf miner. Lemons really are the most versatile fruit; delicious squeezed on fish, sublime in lemon butter, and sensational in lemon tarts and lemon meringue pie. Yum.
I is for ice cream, and none of that low fat, fake sugar, no eggs, stuff for me. In the desserts department I would rather have a small amount of something exquisite than a large bowl of something counterfeit. I have considered buying an ice cream maker but really don't need any more electrical appliances.
S is for sunshine. I love it, after a cold winter, but like most fair-skinned redheads I have an ambivalent relationship with the summer sun, and its associated risks of skin cancer. Where others darken to a golden glow, the only thing that darkens on me are my freckles. Not a good look. So, living in this glorious sunburnt land, I always greet the beach virtually in a burka, shrouded as I am in so many towels, wraps, wide-brimmed hats and robes to avoided the sun even breathing on my skin.
O is for origami, which comes and goes in phases around here. I have never been able to decipher the instructions but a couple of my kids are veritable wizards. It comes in useful when I need someone to fold napkins into pretty shapes for dinner guests.
N is for neighbours, and I truly appreciate mine. Not only is Mrs Next-Door my walking partner but she is a true friend. I am employing her daughter as a chook carer next week while we are away, and I don't leave my babies in just anyone's hands.
I am supposed to name three others to do this meme but I am posting later at night than usual and I am awfully tired, so please consider yourself chosen if you would like to do this meme.
Sweet dreams, everybody!
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
What I would like to know is what the centre part is used for. We inherited this item from a deceased family member, and I have been mystified about it ever since. I have no idea how old it is. Underneath it says that it is silver-plated.
The bowl part has this flat, round thing that rests on top. Would it have been used for cooking something? If so, what? Perhaps it held potpourri?
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
The day was warm and breezy, just calling for washing to be dried outside, so I caught up on some laundry. Just a few days ago I was hanging washing with fingers numb from the cold; today felt as if spring is truly here.
My second son was home from school sick today, and my eldest son is already enjoying his Spring break, so I had all three boys at home. I set the eldest and youngest to work helping me plant out vegetables in the garden. We made a trellis for climbing beans by stretching chicken wire between two stakes and planted out lots of little tomato seedlings.
My eldest son, who rarely shows any interest in the garden, was busy and happily involved in our activities. I gave him a scented tour of the garden, teaching him to rub various herbs and flowers between his fingers and discover what they smelt like. Some of the new scents he discovered were lavender, pineapple sage, lemon thyme and lemon balm. He said he hadn't realised how much work I had done to slowly transform the garden over the past few years.
The funny thing is that while I am concerned about the loss of practical skills in our society, I am sure that I have not done enough to impart such skills in my own children. I would like to change this, and I feel the first step is encouraging an interest so that they wish to learn. There is so much competition from technology and from the demands of schoolwork, sports and so forth. I could also do with learning to be a more patient teacher.
Monday, 17 September 2007
If only I could remember when I plan things weeks in advance that too many activities on one day are not a good idea. I am so keen to say, "yes, I'll help out" or "yes, my place for coffee would be fine", only to realise later that I've over-committed. The trouble is that I love being involved in my family's lives, and I don't want to let anybody down.
Today began with visitors for morning tea, followed by helping out at Asia day at the primary school, followed by an afternoon of kindergarten duty.
At the kindergarten I was responsible for cutting egg cartons into halves and overseeing the children paint them green. On Thursday they will be further decorated and become caterpillars. I am so impressed with kinder teachers and their ability to stay clean. Every time I moved one of the children splashed me with green paint. I spent half the session sponging myself.
Part of the job involved marking the children's names on the class roll to confirm that they had, indeed, painted their caterpillar. The boys were easy to differentiate, but the girls were another matter entirely. All of the girls bar one had blond hair, blue eyes and wore pink. I am not kidding. I have never seen such a monochromatic group of children!
It was wonderful to arrive home and stroll around my garden in the Spring afternoon sun, feeling my stress levels dissipate. There are no roses in bloom yet, unfortunately, but the new Spring growth is nonetheless lovely.
While Autumn will always be my favourite season, Spring comes a close second. I am so glad to live in a part of Australia with four distinct seasons, where the new growth of Spring is a joy after bleak winter, and Autumn is a blessed reprieve after a long, hot summer.
Saturday, 15 September 2007
This aroma on the cool Spring breeze reminded me of my childhood, when, after a long afternoon playing outside, the mothers would call us in for tea; dinner was almost always called tea in Australia in the 1970s and early 80s. As my brother and I walked home we were accosted by the various smells of the meals being cooked in each house; a baked dinner in one perhaps; over-boiled cabbage or brussels sprouts in another.
This train of thought led me to consider the importance of the scent of home to each of us. We are perhaps unaware of how our own home smells, until we visit elsewhere and notice something different. The little girl next door often tells me how nice our house smells, if I have been baking, and I frequently notice the aroma of coffee when I walk in the door. My aunt's house smells reassuringly of old books, one of the world's most delightful scents.
Sometimes a fragrance can bring tears to the eyes, as it brings back memories of days gone by.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
I love my book group and the ladies in it. Some months we have long, heated discussions because we are divided over the book we have read; other months the book is almost glossed over as we move on to more important, personal topics.
The role of the host is to provide wine and champagne on arrival (well, Aussie bubbly, not true champagne), to provide nibblies for while we are discussing the book, and to provide dessert, tea and coffee afterwards.
The only exception was after my last little boy was born, when everyone came to my home for several months. Then, everyone else brought supper, and I only had to play host. How my children loved the mornings after those visits, when they could discover what the other mummies had brought and decide which particular treats they wanted in their lunchboxes!
I love the opportunity to bring out some of my old, inherited china. These pretty, rosy cups, saucers and plates came from my husband's family. My guests often comment about how special they feel to eat from such lovely china, and I feel honoured to possess it. I made proper leaf tea in my old silver teapot, and good coffee. Because I only need host these evenings about once a year the task is a pleasure and worth a special effort.
Here is our menu from last night:
home-made banana cake with cream cheese icing
tea and coffee
Oh, and the book we discussed was Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I recommend highly.
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
Here is a picture of me 'Simpsonized', in my usual habitat, the kitchen.
This program is a great little time-waster, and lots of fun, even if you're not a Simpsons' fan. It also provides a great blog-posting option on an extremely busy day!
What do you look like Simpsonized?
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
Another family tradition is that he can choose anything he likes for dinner tonight, so long as it is home-made. Master 9 has selected macaroni cheese and chocolate mud cake.
Unfortunately, the Gryffindor scarf I have been knitting for him is not yet finished. The past few days have been extremely busy and there has been little time to sit down and knit. Other gifts he received from friends and family include a remote-controlled helicopter that his Dad likes playing with even more than he does, a kit to make a manually-powered torch that works by turning a handle, a Lego's Bionicle, some science books and a subscription to an internet game he enjoys.
Harry Potter fans out there will know that Mrs Weasley always gives knitted items (usually jumpers) and fudge for gifts. As well as the Gryffindor scarf my son requested home-made fudge. I made some but it was not very successful. If any of you have successful fudge recipes or tips could you pass them on to me, please?
Our little hen Honey is laying nearly every day now, and we are so proud of her. Our other hen has not begun laying yet.
I haven't begun Spring planting of the vegie patch yet. We still have plenty of chard, rocket, green onions, leeks and herbs, and some lettuces are coming up from seeds planted in the Autumn.
For some things, such as tomatoes and peppers, it is still too early to plant. I am also worried about our lack of rain. If low Spring and Summer rainfall is predicted I think I would rather use what water we have on perennial plants and on the fruiting trees and bushes rather than on vegetables. If we do get some good rainfall over the next few weeks I'll plant some peas and other goodies.
Over the past few years I have planted a number of fruit trees and bushes in our garden. After I had begun along this path I discovered Jackie French's book, Backyard Self-Sufficiency, which inspired me to plant even more. Most of my fruiting plants are still small but I am looking forward to the day when we are more self-sufficient, even on our little block of land. My husband thinks I am providing the best food in town for the local possums.
Here are the fruiting plants I am growing, with varying degrees of success:
1 apple tree (two varieties on one rootstock)
2 plum trees
1 apricot tree (Moorpark)
1 peach tree
1 lemon tree (came with the house)
3 orange trees (Washington navel, Valencia, Blood Orange)
1 mandarin tree
1 lime tree
red and blackcurrant bushes
Monday, 10 September 2007
However... if you would like to see a photo of me in my late teens have a look at Megan's blog. I'll give you a clue; I'm the girl with the bright red hair.
I didn't know that that photo existed until this morning.
Stoned Stephen and the Martyrs ... now that's a trip down memory lane!
Sunday, 9 September 2007
However, the 5 boys who came were a delightful group overall, pleasant and well-behaved. Sure, they often forgot their indoor voices (tsk, tsk), and several seemed to need to kick or hit anything vaguely round; but that's just what young boys do, I guess.
My son chose a fairly classic Australian birthday party menu for dinner:
cocktail frankfurts (all with tomato sauce)
In order to balance the total unhealthiness of this menu I added a fruit platter and a platter of carrot and capsicum sticks with hommus. They went largely untouched, but I felt the gesture was important, don't you?
One young lad said that this was the best meal he had ever eaten. I wonder what his parents would say about that?
Dessert was a homemade Harry Potter ice cream cake. I bought the edible decal on top at Spotlight.
Chocolate Ice Cream Cake
Line a cake tin or a large jelly mold with plastic wrap. Chop up chocolate bars and biscuits (cookies) of your choice. We used a Crunchy (honeycomb) bar and half a packet of Tim Tams. Mix chopped biscuits and chocolate bar with two litres of ice cream (we used chocolate). Press into prepared tin and freeze.
The next day whip 300 ml cream with 2 heaped tablespoons icing sugar and 1 heaped tablespoon cocoa. Turn frozen cake out onto a serving plate. Spread or pipe cream mixture over cake and decorate with lollies of your choice. Freeze again. Serve and enjoy!
The children really seemed to enjoy the party games we organised for them. So many kids' parties are now held outside of the home that simple games are a wonderful novelty. I don't believe that modern children are as cynical as they are often portrayed in the media. On the contrary, they love to participate actively in the world around them, to touch and feel and create, and to work as a team with others.
Here are some of the games we played, and how to play them.
The Mummy Game
Divide kids into teams. One child in each team is the mummy. The others have to wrap him with toilet paper and the winning team is the one that creates the best 'mummy' in 5-10 minutes; you set a timer and go.
The easiest way to do this is to hide wrapped lollies (we used Freddo Frogs) around the garden and make the children look for them. I was impressed that after our treasure hunt this morning the children pooled their Freddos and divided them up evenly.
The Chocolate Game
Get the children to sit in a circle with a large block of plain chocolate, a knife and fork, and a die. Whoever rolls a six gets to eat the chocolate, square by square, using the knife and fork (no fingers), until someone else rolls a six. The game continues until all the chocolate is eaten.
The Balloon Game
Tie a balloon to everyone's ankle with a piece of string. The kids have to try and pop each other's balloons without allowing their own to be popped. The winner is the last one with an unpopped balloon. We have found that girls don't like this game much but young boys love it.
Friday, 7 September 2007
This is the first week in September. Christmas is nearly four months away. Why would David Jones do this, unless to further stress out people who are still recovering from last Christmas? Is consumerism really getting this over-wrought?
Perhaps I need to get out more. Maybe they have had decorations up in September for years. I only discovered a couple of months ago that we have late night shopping on Thursday nights here in Melbourne; I went to pick up my daughter from a ten pin bowling party at a major shopping centre and couldn't work out why the carpark was so crowded!
Don't get me wrong; I adore Christmas, but only from about the start of December. I can't think who would buy decorations in September. Nothing is on sale, and David Jones' prices are typically high for this sort of thing.
So, tell me, when is the earliest you have seen Christmas decorations in the shops (excluding January sales, of course)? Am I the only one who finds this disorienting and slightly disturbing?
image is from www.allposters.com
Thursday, 6 September 2007
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
Yesterday I attended my two primary school-aged children's athletics carnival. It was lovely to be able to cheer them on although the wind was particularly cold and biting. I took along the shawl I am knitting but didn't do much as my fingers were numb from the cold.
Afterwards I went to the craft shop to buy yarn to knit my second son a Gryffindor scarf for his birthday; he turns nine next week. For those who are unacquainted with the Harry Potter books, Gryffindor is Harry Potter's school house. The Gryffindor colours are dark red and yellow. As you can see, I have only just started knitting, so I have a few busy evenings ahead of me.
After some previous posts where I have talked about my love of coffee, a couple of readers have asked how I make my coffee, and whether I have a coffee machine. My husband and I have toyed with buying a coffee machine for years as we love good coffee, but we always baulk at the expense.
Here is a way to make a beautiful cappuccino or any other kind of frothy espresso coffee at home. It takes a few minutes of time but the resulting drink is worth it, and it is much less costly than buying coffee out. It is very important to keep any coffee-making equipment clean as rancid remnants will make your next cup bitter.
First, we grind the coffee beans in a little electric coffee grinder (not shown). You could also use ground coffee (not instant) if you don't have a grinder.
We make the coffee in a stove top espresso pot. These can be bought cheaply; mine cost a couple of dollars in an op-shop. These espresso pots make small amounts of strong espresso that can be drunk as espresso shots, or milk can be added.
Next, I fill my glass milk foamer up to the black line you can see on the side. After microwaving the glass foamer for about 1 minute 45 seconds, I insert the black lid and pump up and down until a thick foam develops. You can see how far up the side the foam rises.
Lastly, I pour the shot of coffee into a cup and spoon the thick, dense foam on top. My husband prefers less foam and more of the warm milk. We don't sprinkle anything on top as a rule but you could top the coffee with drinking chocolate, cinnamon sugar or chocolate shavings.
Monday, 3 September 2007
I decorated the mantelpiece with flowers from the garden. Now, I am not much of a flower arranger, as you can no doubt tell. However I do like the look of lots of little vases filled with masses of home-grown blooms. Their imperfection is a large part of their charm -- for me anyway:-)
These orange and lemon segments are soaking for two days in anticipation of some marmalade-making. Jam-making is one of my favourite ways to spend a day.
On Sunday afternoon I got the sewing machine out and made two aprons for myself. Fun and colourful. I'm looking forward to making some kid-sized ones soon.
I also enjoyed doing some knitting. I am making a shawl using the pattern at Jewels' blog, Eyes of Wonder. It is very similar to the dishcloth pattern I use so I'm finding it easy to make. The yarn is Patons' Jet, a wool and alpaca blend, and it is in the autumny colours that I adore.
On Saturday the male members of the family spent some time together making aeroplanes out of balsa, tissue paper, thread and elastic bands. What a great way to spend an afternoon! They will be refining their techniques again next weekend.
Sunday, 2 September 2007
Saturday, 1 September 2007
However, I think Wattle Day is a great excuse for a celebration.
So many religious and other festivals that we may be involved with have seasonal links that apply to the northern hemisphere, not to Australia. For example, Halloween pumpkins, wintry Christmas foods and Spring lamb at Easter (which is our Autumn). Wattle Day is the only event I can think of that specifically recognises one of our seasons.
So how could we celebrate?
Here are a few ideas I have come up with:
- plant a wattle tree in your garden. They are a legume and good for the soil
- cut sprigs of wattle and decorate your house with them (not if they make you sneeze;-))
- wear yellow today
- bake cupcakes and ice them yellow; a plate of these could look like wattle flowers
- bake a wattleseed cheesecake. A recipe can be found here.
- drink some caffeine free wattleseed 'coffee'. You can buy roasted, gound wattleseeds here. Aboriginal Australians have long eaten wattle seeds and they are highly nutritious.
You can find out more about the history of Wattle Day at this website.
Happy Wattle Day, everybody!
The Wattle Tree
Winter is not yet gone - but now
The birds are carolling from the bough.
And the mist has rolled away
Leaving more beautiful the day.
The sun is out - O come with me
To look upon the wattle tree!
Let misers hoard and hide their gold;
Here there is treasure-trove untold,
In yellow blossom, mass on mass
Spread out for wayfarers who pass
With hearts to feel, and eyes to see
How lovely is the wattle tree.