Friday, 30 November 2007

Cupcakes for a Birthday Girl

Tomorrow my daughter is celebrating her 11th birthday with a pool party at our red house. She has invited 5 of her best friends to celebrate with her.

Her real birthday is mid-December but we usually have her party a few weeks early so that we can keep it separate from the Christmas rush. We will decorate the house and put the Christmas tree up on Sunday.

I am so glad that, along with my three sons, I have a daughter to lavish with home-baked, baby pink cupcakes and other oh-so-pretty delights!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Vintage Cough Remedies

Because there are a number of sore throat and laryngitis infections circulating around here, and because I know many of you are heading into winter, this week's Kitchen Tip Tuesday tip is a list of vintage cough remedies.

This list comes from The New Hard Times Handbook, by Keith and Irene Smith, which is unfortunately out of print.

Please note that I cannot guarantee the effectiveness of any of these recipes!
  1. 1 T olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, 1T honey, white of 1 egg. Mix. Dose: 1 tsp every 2 hours.
  2. 1 medium onion chopped very finely, sprinkled heavily with brown sugar. Let sit for 3 hours. Give to patient (including children) to eat as much as they feel like.
  3. 50g garlic (approx. 2 large cloves). Boil garlic in 3 cups water until 1 1/2 cups remain. Strain, add 1 cup honey, 1 cup vinegar, let simmer for 5 minutes. Bottle.
  4. 1 tsp glycerine, 1 T pale brandy, 3 T boiling water. Mix. Will relieve ticklish cough when taken in teaspoons at 1/2 hour intervals.

My husband swears by hot tea with honey when he has a sore throat, while I like boiling water with honey and lemon. I have never tried any mixtures using garlic or onions.

Do you have any tried-and-true cough or cold remedies that you'd like to share?

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

What Kind of Coffee Girl Are You?

I got this from the gorgeous Kimmie at Over the Moon With Joy. Thanks for the tip, Kimmie!

You Are a Double Espresso

Hey Energizer Bunny Girl! Do you ever slow down?
You're a mix of high energy and ambition, perfectly matched with strong espresso
When you want something you get it - by any means possible
You're driven, determined, and no nonsense. Which is just how you like your java.

For those who don't know, I am a horrible coffee snob.

My husband and I grind our beans every morning and make our coffee using a stovetop espresso maker. I don't add sugar although I do foam up my milk, when I have it.

I won't even try any of the flavouring syrups on the market for fear they will corrupt my coffee.

And I never buy coffee at any of those places that sell it in paper or foam cups -- not just for environmental reasons but because I think that foam and paper ruin the coffee drinking experience. I also don't like coffee sold in mugs. It is usually too milky, weak and insipid.

I do buy my beans at the supermarket mostly, and I don't roast them myself, so I am not quite as extreme as some, but I do come pretty close!

Feel free to shoot me down in flames if I have offended your coffee-drinking sensibilities!

Monday, 26 November 2007

Preparing the Christmas Boxes

Let me tell you about a little Christmas tradition at our red house.

All four children have Christmas boxes. Every year I buy each child a particularly nice Christmas decoration for their box. The children use their decorations to decorate our family tree now, but by the time they leave home they will have enough decorations to start their own trees.

This year, both because I am trying to be more thrifty and also because I have begun to teach myself some crafts, I decided to hand-make the decorations.

So far there are three, this gingerbread man, this round one,

and this little cross stitch Christmas tree. Here is the front.

And here is the back. The pattern for the tree can be found here, along with other Christmas craft ideas.

Apart from some blue and red felt that I purchased, I am using materials I already owned for the decorations. They are filled with strips of an old T shirt. The tartan fabric comes from an out-grown pair of boys' shorts.

Our daughter will have her birthday party on Saturday, then our tree goes up on Sunday, along with our other decorations. I will tell you about our tree-raising traditions as the day approaches.

Do you have any family traditions that you would like to share, whether recent or ancient? I am always looking for ideas and I am sure others are too.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Cherry Time

Nothing signifies the beginning of Summer like cherry season.

Cherry-Time by Robert Graves

Cherries of the night are riper
Than the cherries pluckt at noon
Gather to your fairy piper
When he pipes his magic tune:
Merry, merry,
Take a cherry;
Mine are sounder,
Mine are rounder,
Mine are sweeter
For the eater
Under the moon.
And you’ll be fairies soon.

In the cherry pluckt at night,
With the dew of summer swelling,
There’s a juice of pure delight,
Cool, dark, sweet, divinely smelling.
Merry, merry,
Take a cherry;
Mine are sounder,
Mine are rounder,
Mine are sweeter
For the eater
In the moonlight.
And you’ll be fairies quite.

When I sound the fairy call,
Gather here in silent meeting,
Chin to knee on the orchard wall,
Cooled with dew and cherries eating.
Merry, merry,
Take a cherry;
Mine are sounder,
Mine are rounder,
Mine are sweeter.
For the eater
When the dews fall.
And you’ll be fairies all.

(Note: I didn't grow these cherries, although I am enjoying eating them!)

Federal Election Day

Today is Federal Election Day in Australia. We have compulsory voting for all adults over 18.

Election Day means cake stalls, sausage sizzles, raffles and jumble sales all across Australia. My husband is barbecuing at the local scout hall as I write.

I wonder whether our next Prime Minister will be Mr Rudd, Mr Howard, or perhaps Mr Costello. I suspect this election may be a close one.

Labor or Liberal, I wonder if a new leader will make any difference.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Creative Bits and Pieces

Some gentle craftiness has been happening at our red house.

We have started making felted Christmas decorations.
My daughter has been knitting a doll-sized scarf on tiny needles.

She has also been working hard on her first cross-stitched design of a young girl with a dog.

I have made a little progress on this cross-stitch on linen. This one has taken a long time because I struggle to work it under dimmer evening light.

Finally, here is something you really don't want to see. I'm showing it just so you don't think everything I make turns out. It doesn't. This is some bread I made and (oops) over-cooked. The recipe said one hour and I followed it without checking often enough. I think I need to work on this one some more, don't you?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

A Tale of Three Little Birds

Today I would like to tell you a story which comes from the back garden of our red house, amongst the ferns beneath the old magnolia tree.

Once upon a time there were three baby birds who lived in a nest.

Their mother visited them every day and brought them food. Sometimes they slept and sometimes they lay awake, looking at the world around them.

On Tuesday it was very hot, so the biggest, strongest baby bird lay on top of the others, which helped him to stay cool.

On Wednesday it was cold and rainy, so the biggest, strongest bird wriggled down beneath the others, to stay warm and dry.

On Thursday, the biggest, strongest bird decided it was time for him to go and see the world.
So off he went.

Later, his little brother and baby sister decided that they would like to explore too. So they climbed up to the edge of their nest.

And off they went.

Now there were no more baby birds in the nest.

***THE END***

*HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all our American Friends!*

Wednesday, 21 November 2007


It is raining. It was raining when we went to bed last night and has continued most of today.

I am so happy. I bet every garden lover in Melbourne is dancing a little jig for joy.

This morning found me outside in the rain looking at my smiling plants and taking photographs.

Bedraggled. Nothing looks as sad as a wet chook, don't you think?




Not only have we received lots of glorious rain, but today was mercifully cool after the past week's heatwave. Perfect for some knitting, and reading, and making jars of fruit mince for Christmas.

This is my "Jewels" shawl, inspired by the pattern shown at Jewel's Eyes of Wonder blog. Jenny has an update from Jewels over at Little Jenny Wren, for those who are wondering how Jewels is faring since she closed her blog.

a basket of books

My grandmother made her own fruit mince every year and it tasted much better than the bought product. I have lost her recipe but today tried to copy it from memory. Anything soaked in brandy has to taste good, right?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

Have you ever wanted to make something using condensed milk, only to realise you had none in your cupboard?

Have you ever wanted to save on the price of condensed milk?

Here is a recipe for homemade sweetened condensed milk from The Complete Tightwad Gazette. At first I was sceptical but it really does taste like the commercial product. The recipe makes about 1 and 1/4 C which is less than a standard tin (in Australia), so you may need to double the quantities.

This post links to Kitchen Tip Tuesday at Tammy's Recipes.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 C instant skim milk powder (ordinary milk powder is fine)
2/3 C sugar
1/2 C boiling water
3 T melted margarine (I use soft butter)

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor (or whisk well, after melting butter in the boiling water). Process until smooth. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
image is from

A Garden Surprise

Look what we found in the garden last night.

A nest with three little chicks. My children were delighted.

The chicks' mother clearly isn't worried about predators as the nest is barely at waist level.

What kind of bird are they? Blackbirds perhaps?

Please don't tell me that they are a verminous pest whose necks I should wring. I really couldn't do that.

Besides, they make a great nature study for the children, and that has to have some merit.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Victory Gardening Today

I have a confession to make. Last week I was struck with a nasty case of garden-envy.

What caused it? I read Rhonda's wonderful post at Down to Earth about saving money through gardening and saw the glorious pictures she posted of her vegetable garden.

Rhonda is an inspiration to so many of us here in Australia. She shares her wisdom through her blog and through her pseudonym 'Forest' at Aussies Living Simply, both of which I highly recommend even for non-Aussies.

However, after viewing Rhonda's pictures I looked out the window at my own parched garden and wondered at what pointI might have a productive, flourishing garden. I even posted a rather envious comment about how we have only had about 50 mm (2") of rain this Spring, so it's very difficult to get anything to grow here at all.

Soon, however, I began to think about the Victory Gardens of World War II. In many of the Allied countries people were encouraged to grow and preserve their own food so that there would be ample provisions for the civilian populations and the troops abroad. I thought about how rationing and the perils facing family members in the armed forces would have provided an enormous motivation to do well at growing food at home. Many of those people would not have had perfect growing conditions; they just did what they had to do.

Today we have such easily accessible food in the shops that many of the old growing and preserving skills are being forgotten.

Thus I have decided not to complain any more about how difficult it is to grow backyard vegetables and fruits in the drought, and start counting my blessings. I am blessed to have a little patch in which to grow things that taste good and nourish us all. Instead of complaining I am going to try to find more creative ways to keep things alive.

We are allowed to water using a trigger nozzle hose two mornings each week between 6 and 8 am, although I try to avoid doing that. To water the fruit trees we have a pipe connected to the downstairs shower. We don't have a water tank yet because we are planning to build a deck next year and will install tanks underneath that. I also keep a plastic tub in my kitchen sink for watering the roses. The vegetable garden struggles on with mulch and minimal watering; I am unsure about using unprocessed grey water on it.

Does anybody have any other suggestions? I would love to hear from you.

Here are some of the food plants that are surviving well.

zucchinis: we ate the first one for the season yesterday

oregano: loves dry weather

spearmint: all the books say mints like damp, moist conditions but this is doing fine

potted Kaffir lime: I use the leaves in curries

pineapple sage: I made some delish herbal tea with it yesterday. In summer it will have long spikes of vivid red flowers

rhubarb: although it likes lots of water (which it isn't getting) this plant is growing brilliantly

To conclude, I want to share a quote I read at Donna's Art:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more.
Melody Beattie

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Getting Organised for the Holidays

In my meanderings around blog land I have been highly impressed with the all the Christmas decorating going on out there. One of my favourites is Robin's Bitter Sweet Punkin. Her whole blog has taken on a seasonal theme and it's gorgeous.

Yet while I admire the handiwork of others, I have to confess that so far I have done no holiday decorating at our red house at all. Not a jot.

I think seasonal differences play a part. For in northern climes where winter is closing in and life turns indoors, decorating one's nest must truly lift the spirits. In contrast, here in sunny Australia, with the mercury climbing and the days lengthening, all I want to do is lie on a banana lounge by the pool and have my sweet husband ply me with cool drinks. Seriously.

However, today I have decided to bite the bullet (you can tell I am feeling lethargic by the number of cliches in this post). Having read Jen's post over at Keeping Up With the Jones', and seen her utterly delicious holiday planner, I have decided to start one for myself.

Because I am feeling so very lazy, 'starting a holiday planner' means printing out Flylady's Holiday Control Journal and putting it in my Pink Folder. Well, to tell you the truth, I haven't actually put it in my folder yet but will as soon as I get off the computer. I was a little non-plussed to discover that Flylady is already up to day 25 of her Holiday Cruising Missions. I really have missed the boat this year (oops, another cliche, sorry).

Anyhow, I'd better get off the computer before the day gets any hotter and I decide I really want to sleep.

Happy holiday planning, and I hope you all have a great weekend!
Image is from

Friday, 16 November 2007

Christmas Giving to Make a Difference

This post is inspired by Lisa over at Lightening's Thoughts, Musings and Happenings. Over the past week Lisa has written a number of posts about simplifying Christmas, making it less overwhelming and more reflective of its Christian origins. Well worth a look.

One suggestion Lisa makes is to try charitable giving this year. A number of aid organisations will let you give to someone in the third world on behalf of a friend or family member. For example, using the Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue, a $10 (AUD) gift provides a chicken for somebody in an emergent nation. What a great, clutter-free and feel-good gift idea for the person who has it all!

I always struggle with gift ideas for my children's teachers as I feel they receive the same sorts of things year after year, so this will be perfect for them.

Here are some links to try:

Happy giving!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Raspberry Cupcakes Revisited

Here is the recipe for the raspberry muffins I baked the other day, as requested by Lisa at Altered Cutlery.

Let me tell you a little secret. My raspberry muffins and cupcakes are exactly the same thing; I just change the pan size sometimes, and change the name accordingly.

A batch of this cake mix can also be baked in a round cake tin in a moderate oven for 45-50 minutes as a cake; a skewer through the centre that coes out clean will tell you if it is cooked.

Any kind of berry can be substituted for the raspberries.

Sometimes I ice these cakes with white chocolate. Yum.

Raspberry Cupcakes
1 1/2 C self-raising flour
2/3 C sugar
125 g (4 oz) butter, softened
3 eggs
1/4 C (2 fl. oz) milk
1 t vanilla essence
200g (7 oz) raspberries, preferably frozen. You can add more, if you wish.

Method 1 (for a leisurely Sunday)
Line 2 x 12 deep patty pans with paper cases, or grease pans if you don't have the cases.Cream butter, vanilla and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Sift in flour and fold in with the milk. Gently stir through raspberries to avoid 'bleeding'. (Unthawed raspberries bleed less and hold their shape better.)Spoon into paper cases and bake for about 20 minutes in a moderate oven. Cool before icing.

Method 2 (for when time is of the essence)
Place all ingredients apart from raspberries in a food processor or electric mixer (butter must be soft). Mix for 2-3 minutes until pale and well-combined. Stir through raspberries and bake as in method 1.


Melt about 300g (10 oz) white chocolate. Spread on cooled cakes.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Columbines, and the Language of Flowers

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that's for thoughts .... There's fennel for you, and columbines. There's rue for you, and here's some for me. We may call it herb of grace a Sundays. You may wear your rue with a difference! There's a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died."

Hamlet, Act IV, scene II.

Have you ever studied the language of flowers? According to tradition, columbines mean folly, which is surely why distressed, grieving, angry Ophelia mentions them in the passage above. Yet despite negative literary connotations, I was very happy to see that my columbines are flowering and have survived the drought for another year.

Columbines, also known as Aquilegia and Granny's Bonnets -- this last clearly being their most apt title -- are perennials in my southern climate, although elsewhere they are grown as annuals.

They die back over winter only to surprise me each year with their bright faces.

In the Victorian era the language of flowers grew in complexity far beyond what Shakespeare could have imagined. As an article from 1882 says:

"Flowers have a language of their own, and it is this bright particular language that we would teach our readers. How charmingly a young gentleman can speak to a young lady, and with what eloquent silence in this delightful language. How delicately she can respond, the beautiful little flowers telling her tale in perfumed words; what a delicate story the myrtle or the rose tells! How unhappy that which basil, or yellow rose reveals, while ivy is the most faithful of all."

This fascinating article lists dozens of flowers and their significance.

It seems appropriate to end this post with a picture of this rose, which currently blooms in my front garden. Why? The rose is William Shakespeare, by David Austin. And in the language of flowers, red rosebuds mean "pure and lovely". Very fitting.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Fabulous Ideas for Make-and-Take Lunches

Making lunches at home and taking them to school or work is one of the most effective ways we can save some money and ensure that our families eat nutritiously. Even if we are at home most of the time, planning ahead can provide much more appetising lunches than might otherwise be available.

My primary school-aged children must take their lunches each day as there is no school canteen, but my husband and eldest son almost always take theirs too.

This year, tired of stinky lunchboxes that had been sitting in schoolbags overnight, I told my children that if they failed to give me their lunchboxes the night before, I was no longer going to make their lunches for them. They would also have to clean out their lunchboxes themselves. To my surprise and pleasure they discovered that they like making their own lunches. Moreover, they are more likely to eat food that they have packed themselves.

Note: Many Australian schools now have nut-free policies because of student allergies so none of the ideas in this article use peanut butter or other nut products.

Use of Leftovers

Leftovers make some of the best lunches.

After our evening meal I package any leftovers in meal-sized portions and freeze them. My husband takes these to work and heats them in the microwave. This way he gets a hot lunch almost every day. They are useful at other times too, such as when I feel like a hot lunch!

Leftover Tips

Plan meals with thought for possible leftovers

  • a slightly larger roast will provide extra meat for sandwiches
  • soups and stews make excellent frozen meals. If no microwave is available a thermos can be used.
  • leftover salads can be packaged in tubs for the next day's lunch
  • leftover crumbed chicken or veal makes delicious schnitzel sandwiches
  • Some dessert leftovers make good lunch snacks if packaged in a small tub e. g. chocolate blancmange, fruit salad, any canned fruit, jelly, apple or rhubarb crumble. Don't forget to pack a spoon!

Cold Lunch Ideas

All these lunch ideas have been trialled in the red house test kitchen and have proven popular.

  • try a range of breads including sliced, pitas, tortillas, rolls, muffins, whole wheat crackers, fruit breads
  • keep bread in the freezer and use frozen. By lunchtime it will have thawed and will still taste fresh
  • children love little tubs of snacks such as yogurt, sultanas, raisins and dried apricots
  • try a hard-boiled egg with a tiny paper twist of salt and pepper
  • my daughter loves a small tub of hommus with pita bread and carrot, celery and capsicum sticks for dipping. Other kid-friendly dips include salsa and plain yogurt mixed with diced cucumber (a pinch of sugar takes the edge off the acidity of the yogurt)
  • Pureed fruit can be used as a dipping sauce for other fruits.
  • bake muffins and slices and wrap in individual portions before freezing. In the morning, family members need only to grab one out of the freezer. I baked a double batch of raspberry muffins today with this purpose in mind.
  • little children like little fruit. A whole apple might be too daunting but a small child will devour strawberries or melon pieces.
  • It's all right to keep some commercial snacks in the back of the cupboard for days when homemade is just not going to happen!
I hope these ideas help you to make your lunchtimes fabulous!

This post is linked to Kitchen Tip Tuesday at Tammy's Recipes.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Home Organisation Series: Morning Chores

Today is Monday, which means that today is laundry day. I have a massive amount of laundry to do as we have just returned from a camping trip. Fortunately, the day is warm and sunny, so several loads should be achieved easily (we dry all our washing outside).

I find that knowing what I need to do each day is an enormous help and a great stress-reliever.

Today I would like to talk about morning chores and routines. We all have routines whether we regard them as routines or not. For example, one person's routine might be:

8 am: Get up, race around to dress, yelling at everyone else to hurry up.
8.15 am: Dash out the door with a snack bar in one hand for breakfast.
8.20 am: Catch the bus just as it is departing. Realise that you will need to buy your lunch again because there was no time to make it.

Another morning routine might be:

Get up.
Yell at children to get ready for school because everyone has slept in as usual.
Hand out lunch money.
Breathe a sigh of relief as everyone else leaves, make some coffee and sit in front of the computer for a couple of hours in your pyjamas catching up on overnight blog additions.

I know that there are days when life seems out of control, or days when a late night or illness causes us to sleep in, but it is these occasions precisely that routines are there to help. Routines can also help us to save money, because plans are in place to make lunches at home, or pay bills on a set day, for example.

Flylady has excellent suggestions on how to set up routines. She suggests beginning by getting up each morning and dressing to your 'shoes, hair and face'. Do have a look at her website for further information.

In order to think about setting up an effective routine, start by writing down what currently happens each morning at your house.

Next, think about what tasks need to happen each morning.

Write a list of essential tasks and post it somewhere obvious, such as on the fridge.

If necessary, set your alarm a little earlier to help you get it all done.

Don't forget, delegate if you live with others.

Keep the tasks as simple as possible to make getting started easier, and think about what you and other family members might do the night before, to ease the morning rush. Examples might be to set the breakfast table, pack school bags or iron clothing.

Our morning routine goes as follows (though not in this specific order):

  • get up and dressed
  • make beds (the children theoretically do their own)
  • breakfast (table is set the night before)
  • empty dishwasher (Miss 10 does this)
  • feed the fish and let the chickens out to free-range (another kid-job)
  • make lunches (most of the children prepare their own)
  • clean up the kitchen
  • wipe over downstairs bathroom if necessary
  • start washing machine
  • hang washing on the line
  • sweep/vacuum downstairs where and if necessary

Every morning I also check my diary and write a list of anything I need to remember to do that day.

My next Home Organisation post will be on make-and-take lunches.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Wilson's Promontory: Landscapes

We are now home from our camping trip, and despite being tired I continue to feel a sense of awe at the extraordinary natural beauty I witnessed over the weekend. No picture I could ever take does justice to such wonders. We live in an amazing world.

We could not have wished for better Spring weather; hot, clear, windless days and cold, clear nights. The night sky burst with millions of stars, so many more than are visible in the city.

Despite my sore throat and difficulty speaking, I had a wonderful weekend, and feel so blessed that I decided to go with my family and not rest at home instead. Thank you to those who left such kind comments after Friday's post. Although I failed utterly to rest my voice -- too many lovely people to talk to -- it is improving steadily now. In fact, I rather like my present husky voice better than my normal one.

Wilson's Promontory is a National Park, which means it is for all to share. It will never be owned or developed. Campers can stay there, and there are cabins to rent, but no private dwellings. If you look at a map of Australia the Prom is the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, on the bottom right-hand side. It is about a 2 1/2 to 3 hours drive from Melbourne.

Here are some of the landscape photos I took.
Morning mist on the hills.

This massive boulder looked as if cleft in half by a giant wielding an axe.

Crystal clear water, seen over a cliff whilst bushwalking.

The hiking track to Squeaky Beach.

Squeaky Beach. The pure, white sand of this beach squeaks when walked on. We hiked there yesterday afternoon and the children swam. The Bass Strait water was far too icy for me but the children did not seem to mind.

This is Tidal Creek. The water looks like a stream of Coca Cola. It is not dirty; the colour is caused by tea tree oil from the native tea trees (also called ti-trees) on its banks. You may have tea tree oil in your cupboard. Plantation tea tree oil is harvested for its anti-fungal, soothing and disinfecting properties.

Whale Rock. Can you tell how it got its name?

Mount Oberon reflected. This area experienced major bushfires a couple of years ago and now the landscape is regenerating beautifully.