Monday, 31 March 2008

A Soft Boiled Egg for Breakfast



Sometimes nothing else will do, and all I want for breakfast is a soft-boiled egg with toast soldiers -- preferably served with a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice. On days when I am tired or unwell, or simply in need of more real nourishment than cold cereal can provide, an egg with toast soldiers always hits the spot.

An egg with toast soldiers has always been one of my favourite comfort foods. Others include freshly made chicken noodle soup and oozy, starchy risotto.

Part of the satisfaction is preparing my egg in the same way every time.

First I boil enough water in a small saucepan to cover an egg (or eggs). I reduce the heat to simmer, gently deposit my eggs in the water using a spoon, and set my kitchen timer for 7 minutes.

For the next 2 or 3 minutes I squeeze my juice using my old-fashioned hand juicer and collect my dinner plate, egg cup, knife and teaspoon.

I then pop 2 or 3 slices of bread in the toaster and wait.

By the time the timer goes off for the egg, the toast is ready to be buttered, and my meal can be assembled. I like my egg to have a soft yolk and a firm (not watery) white. Seven minutes is the perfect length of time to produce such an egg, assuming the egg is around 60 g (2 oz).

I then take my breakfast to the table and enjoy several minutes of blissful eating. Delicious.
Do you have a favourite comfort food?



Saturday, 29 March 2008

Earth Hour, and an Award




I have limited time to post today because it is currently 7.26 pm and at 8 pm all our lights are going off for an hour.


Why, you may well ask?


The reason we are turning our lights off is because we are participating in the second annual Earth Hour. This is what Wikipedia says about it:


"Earth Hour is an international event that asks households and businesses to turn off their lights and non-essential electrical appliances for one hour on the evening of 29 March at 8 pm local time until 9 pm to promote electricity conservation and thus lower carbon emissions. It is promoted by World Wide Fund for Nature Australia (WWF), an environmental lobby group, and the Sydney Morning Herald. The first Earth Hour was held in Sydney, Australia between 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm on 31 March 2007. The 2007 Earth Hour is estimated to have cut Sydney's mains electricity consumption by between 2.1% and 10.2% for that hour, with as many as 2.2 million people taking part. A second Earth Hour, in 2008, is planned to be an international event held in Sydney, many partner cities, and individuals around the world participating."

Why not join in, wherever in the world you are. Perhaps light some candles and enjoy a candlelit dinner, take a long, candlelit bath, or go to bed early with that special someone. There are lots of creative ways to spend an hour of darkness!



One of the best things about blogging is all the lovely people I have 'met'. Today I would like to thank two of those special people, Maggie and Lisa from The Tin House, for honouring me with a "You Cheer Me Up" award.


Here are the instructions for this award:


"If you are a recipient of the "You Cheer Me Up" Award, please find the blogs that cheer you up, copy the code to post on your sidebar and pass Ethel and Lucy across the blogosphere. You can use what cheers you up in your post, or copy this one, but please send your award recipients back to the original post on A Nice Place In The Sun to get a copy of the award code, post the image and read the instructions. I want to try to maintain a page of original and ongoing award recipients, so feel free to let me know if you've received an award when you pick up the image code."



I have decided to pass this award onto some relatively new blog friends, some of who are also fairly new bloggers. The people I am passing this award onto are (dum-de-dah):


Joyce, The Secret Gardener


Tracy at Sunny Corner Farm


Tracy at Beyond My Picket Fence


Missy at Chloe's Corner and More


Emma at It's a Mum's Life


Diane at Majestic Mountains, Rolling Hills, Gentle Streams


Do go and visit these lovely ladies. I am sure you will be as cheered by them as I am.



Thursday, 27 March 2008

Rain, Further Evidence of My Obsession with Grass, and a Trip to the Hairdresser

Please forgive my continuing obsession with rain and grass. A more than a decade long drought does that to even the sanest gardener.


I just want to tell you one thing: it poured last night.
I know because I was up at 5 am, awakened by the racket and checking my ceilings for leaks.

This afternoon I toodled down to the plant nursery to buy grass seed and lawn fertiliser. I then spent hours raking our mostly dirt front lawn, then fertilising, over-sowing, and aerating it all with my garden fork. I am so excited that I may have a lawn again, especially as even more glorious, wonderful, beautiful rain is predicted between now and Saturday.

Halleluia!

While my afternoon was spent in my grubbiest gardening gear, my morning was spent at the hairdresser with my 11 year old daughter.


I love going to the hairdresser. My hairdresser has chairs with little moving massage buttons for when we get our hair washed. My daughter and I sit, side by side, having our heads massaged, washed and otherwise anointed, while our backs are soothed by those delightful, reclining chairs. My hairdresser also has a cappuccino machine, and lots of lovely, gossipy magazines to read.


As I don't colour my hair (it's a natural dark red) I don't have to visit my hairdresser very often, but when I do I wish I did have more reasons to visit. I never need to tell her what to do either; I let the magnificent Maria decide and she unfailingly does a great job. Today I had my shoulder length hair cut into a short bob with a little layering. Tres chic!




I am way, way, way behind with acknowledging memes and blog awards, so I have decided to do one or two per post until I catch up.


My meme for today is the "Six Word Meme" and I was tagged for this by Kristen the Christian Crafter and Rosie from Rosie's Whimsy .


The rules for this meme are as follows:


1. Write your own 6 word memoir

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you want to

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post

4. Tag 5 more blogs with links

5. Remember to leave a comment on the tagged blog with an invitation to play


My memoir is

"Joy in Family, Joy in Life"


I won't tag anyone today as I have limited time with all the children at home for the autumn holidays, but if you would like to consider yourself tagged, please do so.

Oh, before I forget, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing The Other Boleyn Girl, and recommend it. The lead performances and sets were wonderful. My only criticism is that the film barely acknowledges the wider political and historical events taking place at the time. For example, Anne Boleyn, I understand, had spent some years at the French court and was instrumental in smoothing Anglo-French relations once she became queen, yet none of that is mentioned. I am sure that Henry the Eighth had more on his mind (at least some of the time) than his latest, err, conquest.



images are from www.allposters.com

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

A Yearning for Grass, a Movie, and Lemony Leeks with Rice

In a few blogs I have read recently, snowbound northerners have written how they yearn for lush, green, grass.

I feel the same way, not because of snow, but because of the drought that has turned my front lawn into dust. Watering grass is banned in Melbourne, so it is rare to see the lush expanses of green that you can find in Australia's more northern cities.

However, last night it rained, and I believe more is to come, so I spent my morning digging up grass runners that have been spreading into the garden beds in my backyard, and planting them out in the dirt-that-is-the-lawn in our front yard.

Misguided optimism perhaps, given our recent record of rain, but this is certainly a thrifty (if slow) way to get some grass started.

In a few minutes, however, I will be removing my dirty gardening tracksuit and showering, making-up and otherwise beautifying myself to go out with some girlfriends for coffee and a movie. We are seeing The Other Boleyn Girl, which is based on the novel by Philippa Gregory of the same name. I liked the book, even if some of its history is rather speculative, and am greatly looking forward to seeing the film.






Before I go, I'd like to share the recipe for "Leeks and Rice" that I mentioned on Easter Sunday. The recipe comes from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian and it is absolutely delicious. It is a lovely, lighter alternative to a risotto, and makes an excellent side dish. It is also a good choice if you are feeding vegans as it is dairy, egg and meat free.



This is what it looks like, served with grilled salmon and some of my homegrown tomatoes.


And here is the recipe



Leeks with Rice



900g leeks (2 lb)
1/2 cup Italian risotto or any medium grain rice
1/2 cup (120 ml, 4 fl oz) olive oil
1- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice



Cut off and discard the dark green section of the leeks. Cut the remaining white and pale green parts into halves lengthwise and then crosswise into ¼-1/3 inch slices. Wash thoroughly in a sink filled with water; put in a colander to drain.


In a wide pot, combine the leeks and 3 cups of water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the leeks are tender. Add the rice, oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and another ½ cup (4 fl oz) of boiling water. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring now and then for another 15 minutes, or until the rice is just tender. Serve hot. Serves 4.







image of lawn mower is from www.allposters.com


Sunday, 23 March 2008

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to you all.

This morning, my husband and I were awakened to the sound of very excited voices downstairs. For while we were asleep, or so it seems, packages had appeared on our kitchen table. As a centrepiece there was a large basket filled with wrapped Easter gifts from my mother. Moreover, in each bowl (the table was set for breakfast), there were some smaller packages, and Easter eggs in several different sizes. Each child received one of these sweet ceramic eggcups, although as you can see, most of the chocolate eggs that were in them have disappeared.



My youngest son is convinced that the Easter bunny has been, while the older ones keep mum (largely because their mouths are full of chocolate).

I was given this dark chocolate Easter bilby by my sweet husband, who knows dark chocolate is my favourite. Bilbies are an endangered native Australian marsupial and a few years ago some clever person had the idea of marketing chocolate bilbies at Easter to raise money for the Save The Bilby Fund. My bilby came with some extra little eggs, though of course bilbies don't lay eggs (unlike our platypuses and echidnas).


After breakfast we attended a beautiful Easter service. The children were encouraged to decorate then attach cardboard butterflies to a twig 'tree' as a colourful symbol of resurrection, transformation and new life.

During the service a young girl of 18 was baptised by full immersion. She was given her baptismal certificate by an elderly gentleman who was baptised on Easter Sunday 1943. Beautiful and so lovely to see traditions continuing.


Our Easter dinner was a scallop and tomato pie, accompanied by my favourite leek dish in the whole world, lemony leeks and rice. Dessert was a cherry and vanilla trifle I made and popped in the fridge yesterday. Yum.

I had to stagger upstairs for a siesta after eating all of this food, but it was worth it!




This weekend I have harvested the remaining pumpkins, and have discovered that some of the cammelias are coming into bloom. Even better, we may be about to have some long-needed rain, up to 10 ml (2/5 inch), according to the weather bureau. This may not sound like much but it is good for us.




I hope Easter Sunday gives you peace and joy.


Friday, 21 March 2008

Hot Cross Buns for Easter


For me, Good Friday is the saddest day of the year, as I remember the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet it is also a family day, a day with important traditions. In Australia, Good Friday is a
true public holiday, like Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, when almost all businesses shut including the big shopping centres (an increasing rarity).

Many people who don't usually go to church will attend a service on Good Friday, and many will also choose to eat fish for their evening meal. Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) is one of the busiest days of the year for fishmongers.


On Good Friday each year I make a double batch of Hot Cross buns to last us over the Easter weekend. They take a few hours, on and off, to make, but I enjoy the meditative slowness on this, the most sacred of days.


Here is the recipe I used today, which is a combination of three other recipes. These quantities make 12.


These buns are delicious toasted once they are a day or two old.



Hot Cross Buns



4 cups plain flour
2 x 7g (1/4 oz) sachets dried yeast or 30g (1 oz) fresh yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 t cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit (a commercial blend or any combination of candied citron, raisins, currants, glace cherries and sultanas)
300ml milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten


Flour paste

1/2 cup plain flour
4 to 5 tablespoons water


Glaze

1/3 cup water

1 t gelatine
2 tablespoons sugar




Combine flour, yeast, sugar, mixed spices, salt and dried fruit in a large bowl. Heat milk for 1 minute, or until lukewarm. Add warm milk and eggs to currant mixture and mix with a wooden spoon, finishing with your hands to make a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, or until dough is smooth. Add a little extra flour if the dough is too sticky. Place into a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and set aside in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.

Grease a large baking tray. Punch dough down to its original size and knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into 12 even portions and form each portion into a ball. Place balls onto lined tray, about 1cm apart. Cover with a damp tea towel. Set aside in a warm, draught-free place for 30 minutes, or until buns double in size. Preheat oven to 190°C (380 F).

To make flour paste, mix flour and water in a small bowl until smooth, adding a little more water if paste is too thick. Using a piping bag or platic bag with one corner snipped off, pipe flour paste over tops of buns to form crosses.


Bake for 20 minutes, or until buns are golden brown.

To make glaze: Place water, gelatine and sugar into a small saucepan over low heat. Stir until sugar and gelatine have dissolved. Brush warm glaze over hot buns.



This is what they look like straight out of the oven with their glossy glaze.


And here is how we eat them, split with plenty of butter. Delicious.


Be blessed on this holy weekend,



Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Autumny Goodness


Please be patient with me today, dear readers. For although the weather has been exceptionally hot, and there have been no autumn rains so far, I really, really want to believe that autumn is here. My heart longs for chilly nights and misty mornings, apple crumble and steaming pumpkin soup.

Easter is just too early this year, don't you think. In fact, I have it from the reliable authority of my mother on the phone this morning, who heard it on the radio, that this is the earliest Easter in 100 years. So we are not just imagining it; it is actually too early.


I am making-believe that autumn is here by putting little autumn reminders throughout the house. So my little autumn leaf plate and my grapevine dish are out on the sideboard filled with Easter eggs -- though not for long, I expect.




I have dried beans from the garden in a saucer on my kitchen bench. They are scarlet runner beans and I think they are the prettiest of beans with their purple and black splodges.

In my kitchen there are also pumpkins that need cooking, tomatoes ripening and new red apples simply being their glossy, red selves.



My little boy and I even spent some time this morning frolicking amongst the autumn leaves on the footpath outside our house.







Do you like decorative window displays as much as I do? I saw this half-chocolate-egg-eared bunny at Fleischer's cakeshop on Glenferrie road and just had to take his picture. I think the little bunnies underneath are made from marzipan.



I hope you have a lovely day, whether you are celebrating spring or autumn,




Monday, 17 March 2008

Cold, Gooey Chocolate Blancmange for a Scorching Hot Day



hot weather ... again

Today is going to be another scorcher. The weather bureau predicts 39 degrees C (102 F).

Last night I was grumpy and miserable. I was just so tired of the heat, and angry that my garden is dying through lack of rain and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Self-pity is not a productive emotion, is it? I gave myself a good, hard shake and told myself that I have to look at the heat as an opportunity and even a blessing, not the soul-destroying monster I usually regard it as.

So, this morning I rose early with the intention of washing all the household bedlinen and towels, and especially those things that normally take a long time to dry. It is 10 am and two loads are already out on the line, with a third on its way. (By the way, if you currently use a clothes dryer and would like to learn how to hang your washing outside, here is a tutorial I wrote last year.)

I also think I might take the opportunity to cut some of the lavender that has dried naturally on the bushes along our driveway, and turn them into some lavender sachets.

By 3 pm I am sure I will feel like screaming at the heat again, but at least the day will have been productive!



another pumpkin

Just thought I'd show you the first Queensland Blue pumpkin I have harvested. I grew it from seed having had no success in previous years from seedlings. There are plenty more where this baby came from, and I also have all the Grey pumpkins I have harvested over the past few weeks. If only it were cool enough to cook anything with them!




two little chooks

Missy at Chloe's Corner and More has asked for pictures of our chickens (or choockens as my youngest calls them).



Here is Miss Honey




and here is Feather Brown. They are just about to celebrate their first birthday, except I don't know exactly what day they were born as we bought them at six weeks of age. Imagine having to wear those thick feather coats in all this heat!




chocolate blancmange for dessert

Finally, early this morning I made a nice big batch of chocolate blancmange. This lovely, gooey, chocolate, custardy pudding is a perfect way to end a meal on a hot day. I often package it up in little containers for my children to take to school. It is very similar to pre-packaged kiddie snacks such as Yogo that can be bought at the supermarket. And with home-made at least you know what the ingredients are.



Chocolate Blancmange

1 L (2 US pints, 35 fl. oz) milk

1 C sugar

3/4 C cornflour (cornstarch)

1/3-1/2 C unsweetened cocoa (depending on how chocolatey you like it)

1 t vanilla



Blend cornflour with a little of the milk in a small bowl or cup. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk continuously until mixture turns thick and starts to bubble (it will look like bubbling lava). Remove immediately from heat and pour into one large bowl or individual serving dishes. Chill. Delicious with a little whipped cream on top.



Tip: To avoid a skin developing on top of the cooling blancmange, cover with plastic wrap with the wrap touching the blancmange.



This recipe links to Kitchen Tip Tuesday at Tammy's Recipes


Sunday, 16 March 2008

Palm Sunday


Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Zechariah 9: 9-10
painting is by Giotti

Friday, 14 March 2008

Sweet Southern Iced Tea

Today is hot. Too hot. It is close to 40 C (104F) as I write this, which is w-a-y-y too hot for March. Which is supposed to be autumn.

Yesterday was just as hot, and the heat wave apparently has several days left in it. Yikes!

My poor little bantams are wandering around the backyard panting. I hate it when chickens pant. I have put bowls of water in all their favourite shady spots but mostly they are too dopey to drink. Even when I refresh the water. They just like panting, I guess.

Today is also my eldest son's 14th birthday. Yes, I know, three birthdays in less that two weeks. Does your family have a run of birthdays like that, then nothing for ages? Our next birthday is in September, 6 months away.

While I normally give my family their favourite foods all day on their birthdays, I had to draw the line today. No baking. My kitchen faces west and is a furnace, even with the outside blinds down. Our upstairs is air-conditioned but unfortunately that is not where I do my cooking. So we are having homemade burgers for the birthday dinner with some expensive ice creams (Drumsticks, currently on sale at Coles) for dessert. A good hot weather compromise, I think!

Today I've done a spot of googling, looking for recipes for Southern Iced Tea. People in the southern states of the US apparently live on the stuff over their hot summer months. And we're even further south, right? So it should be just as refreshing here. My husband really likes iced tea, so this should be a pleasant surprise for him when he arrives home from work.

I combined a few ideas I read and here is what I did.



Sweet Southern Iced Tea

3 family teabags or 5 ordinary ones (Nerada is a good, pesticide-free Aussie brand)

1 L (2 pints) water

1 C sugar



Boil the water and add teabags and sugar. Steep for 10-15 minutes. Remove teabags and pour into a large jug (I used a 2 litre Tupperware jug but most recipes say to use a 1 US gallon jug -- about 3.7 L) and top up with more water. Chill. Serve over ice with lemon slices and a mint garnish.



Here is a link to a Yahoo page with many suggestions for making iced tea. And here is another site with several recipes.

According to my reading, some iced tea makers prefer to boil their sugar into a syrup before adding it, and some add a pinch of baking (bicarb) soda to the water.

I don't pretend to be an expert at making iced tea as I am mostly a coffee drinker, so if you have any tips to improve this recipe, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend,

image is from www.googleimages.com

Thursday, 13 March 2008

My Country

Twelve Apostles, Victoria


A couple of readers have requested that I publish in full the poem from which I quoted yesterday, "My Country", by Dorothea Mackellar.

The second second stanza is probably the most well-known piece of poetry in Australia. Most Australian children will at one time or other have to memorise and perform all or part of Mackellar's poem -- at least they did when I was at school!

"My Country" was written in 1904, when the 19 year old poetess was homesick in London. It was first published as "Core of My Heart" in the London Spectator. At that time Australian Federation was a mere three years old and most Anglo-Australians still regarded England as 'home'.

Miss Mackellar, however, was part of a new generation who saw Australia as her true and only home.

Here is the poem in its entirety, and it's enough to bring tears to the eyes of even the most jaded and cynical Aussie.

My Country
The love of field and coppice
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance,
Brown streams and soft, dim skies
I know, but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!
The stark white ring-barked forests,
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon,
Green tangle of the brushes
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops,
And ferns the warm dark soil.
Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.
Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine
She pays us back threefold.
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze…
An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand
though Earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.



Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Early Autumn Flowers

pink rose (Queen Elizabeth)



icebergs


lemon blossoms



sweet basil




blue salvias






I took these photos last week after a brief shower which gave the garden a little refreshment.



Overall, however, the whole garden is depressingly dry and ugly at the moment. Our front 'lawn' is dirt with deep cracks, and there are several dead trees that need to be removed.



We are desperate for some real rain, as we are in our twelfth straight year of drought here in Melbourne. The country people have it much, much worse, as they try to raise crops and lifestock under these conditions.



Please pray for good autumn and winter rains for the southern areas of Australia, from Perth in the west through South Australia to parts of Victoria and NSW which missed out on any significant summer rain. Many of these areas are suffering from extreme heat as well, despite it now being autumn. Our water storage levels continue to fall.

Ironically, many folks in the tropical north have suffered from devastating floods over summer. Please pray for them too as they seek to reorganise their lives.



Australia is a wonderful, wonderful country, but we do suffer from extreme weather conditions!

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror -

The wide brown land for me!



Dorothea Mackellar

I had planned this to be a pretty post then felt I was portraying something that just isn't real, whereas the drought is very, very real and confronts us every day.