Monday, 29 September 2008

Wonderful Wisteria

One of the great joys of moving to a new house is discovering the secrets of the garden.
We moved here in winter and have eagerly anticipated spring for the revelations it would bring. As bare branches have come into blossom, I have discovered a quince tree, a couple of plums, and at least one apple (I think).

Bare, grey, snaking vines covered the pergola outside our back door when we arrived two months ago. We thought they might have been grape vines but they weren't, of course. They are wisteria.

This is a different variety to the blue-ish purple one with which I am familiar. It is mauve rather than violet, and the flowers when fallen are like little, puffy balls of confetti. The scent as we walk out the door is exquisite, and the intense colour draws the eyes upwards to the heavens.

The wisteria bower is a little taste of heaven on earth.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Q is for Quince

In our front garden a quince tree is blooming and how pretty it is. The blossoms are perfumed and white with fine, pink veins providing a delicate blush around the edges. Unlike stone fruits such as peaches and plums, the quince flowers after the leaves have appeared, not before.

I would not have known that the tree was a quince had our landlord not identified it for me. I have never cooked with quinces but I am looking forward to making quince paste and quince jelly next autumn, if we are still living here.

According to Stephanie Alexander, "the quince (Cydonia oblonga) was sacred to Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love, and a symbol of love, happiness and fertility in Greek and Roman times." (The Cook's Companion, 1996)

Perhaps more of us should eat quinces!

The picture below is of mature quinces, and they will sit large and yellow on the tree until you are ready to pick them. I understand that they are often horribly astringent when raw but are delicious cooked with honey, or in pickles or preserves.
Quince by Michael Alexander

Even if you have never eaten a quince, you are probably familiar with Edward's Lears poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat". It was certainly one of my favourite childhood poems.

In the poem, the owl and the pussycat marry and at their wedding breakfast they dine "on mince, and slices of quince which they ate with a runcible spoon".

What is a runcible spoon, you ask? Well, even if you didn't, I did. The fact is, nobody really knows, though Lear drew one that looks like a ladle. Lear liked to use words that sound wonderful, like 'quince', and 'runcible', leaving their meaning up to his readers' imagination, just as Lewis Carroll did in "The Jabberwocky".

I think the words sound wonderful, anyway.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat Went to Sea in a Beautiful Pea- Green Boat by Edward Lear
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,'
O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
From the official Edward Lear website.

Friday, 26 September 2008

American Readers, Tell Me the Truth

Dear Red House readers,

I have decided to leave this post up for another day or maybe even two as the comments are so thought-provoking and detailed. Your comments have reiterated for me how complex the situation in the US is and how many people are suffering.

Thank you to everyone who has left a reply. Comments are still open if you would still like to have your say.


The Bear Market by Steve Greenberg
The Bear Market

I just read on Cluttercut that Mr McCain has deferred his election campaign because of the deepening financial crisis in the US. I have read conflicting reports over the level of US government debt, which seems to be somewhere between 3 and 10 trillion dollars and which will get much bigger if the Wall Street rescue package goes ahead. On the other hand, if the rescue package doesn't go ahead it looks like the US economy could crash, taking the rest of the world with it. Our Australian stock market and the European markets have already suffered significant losses.

I am probably committing the "mommy blogger" version of Hari-kiri by even raising these issues, but I want to know how you feel about what is going on. When I look at my favourite American blogs I see lots of tips about how to decorate the house for autumn, but little about the impact all of this is having on you, apart from references to rising petrol and food prices.

So tell me, have property values dropped in your area and has unemployment risen? Has someone you know lost their home because they borrowed more than they could repay? Do you feel that we are all on a downward slide? Or is life pretty much as usual? How do you feel about the level of government debt and the impact this must eventually have on all Americans?

Please tell me your story.

If you are not American I would like to hear from you too. How are you affected by the current financial meltdown?

We recently sold our red house in Melbourne and will receive the money in a couple of months. My biggest fear is that we will put the money in the bank (until we buy a new home) and the bank will collapse, taking our life savings with it. I heard Prime Minister Rudd on the radio a couple of days ago saying that the government will not guarantee bank savings if Australian banks fail.

I'll get back to the prettier side of life shortly...

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The Rainbow Connection

Because today would have been Jim Henson's 72nd birthday, and because I am feeling melancholy, and just because I can, today I am posting Kermit and "The Rainbow Connection".

One of the truly great songs about yearning.

Monday, 22 September 2008

How to Create a Sensational Salad

Model Tossing Salad Wearing Latest Sweater Fashion by Nina Leen

If you, like me, have a row of vintage cookbooks on your shelf, then you have probably looked in horror at the salads of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Tinned peas, pineapple and asparagus and vividly-hued cocktail onions were popular, and a 'mixed salad' was composed of everything that needed using up on a Friday night, often shrouded liberally with cubed or grated cheese.

In stark contrast is the elegant modern salad with a few carefully chosen ingredients at the peak of freshness.

One of the reasons mid-20th century salads used canned and tinned goods was that fresh ingredients were not available year-round back then. Yet even though greens can be bought fresh all year now, the best salads are made from fresh, seasonal produce.

Indeed, the world's most famous salads come from ingredients that ripen at the same time and have flavours that harmonise beautifully. Think of the combination of sweet basil, vine-ripened tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella that tastes gloriously of an Italian summer, or the autumn Waldorf salad made from crisp apples, celery and walnuts.

In this article I am not going to provide salad recipes, but rather create some guidelines that will help you to create salads that will have your family clamouring for more.

How to Create Sensational Salads

  1. Think seasonal: use ingredients that are in season, as suggested above.

  2. Use fresh ingredients: if your lettuce is limp, don't turn it into a salad, compost it. As with all cooking, fresh ingredients give a much better result.

  3. Don't use too many ingredients: A good salad can be made from as few as two or three base ingredients, a scattering of herbs and a dressing, or as many as 5 or 6 base ingredients, but will tend to be a bit cluttered after that.

  4. Don't follow the recipe slavishly or worry if you don't have all the ingredients: while a souffle may require the exact measurement of ingredients, a salad does not. Salad recipes are merely guidelines, so don't be afraid to substitute or adjust quantities.

  5. What is the purpose of the salad?: an entree or palate -cleansing salad may be very simple and small, while a main course salad will be more substantial and may call for a protein such as grilled chicken

  6. Consider the blend of flavours and textures: While it is quite possible to have a salad where all the ingredients are either soft or crisp, a combination adds interest

Flavours and Textures

Here are some types of flavours and textures to consider. Of course, many ingredients belong in more than one category, and there are lots of choices that aren't included.

  • crisp: iceberg and cos lettuce, carrots, radishes, peppers, celery, and many other raw veggies

  • soft: cooked potatoes, pasta or rice, soft-cooked eggs, avocado

  • crunchy: nuts, croutons

  • salty: anchovies, capers, feta cheese, bacon

  • sweet: red apples, pears, red peppers

  • acidic: citrus fruits, tomatoes, green apples

  • bitter: radicchio, some olives, many 'cleansing' spring herbs and greens, chicory

  • pungent: blue cheeses

  • peppery: rocket (arugula)

  • aniseed: basil, fennel, dill

How to Make a Simple Vinaigrette

While some salads, such as Caesar or potato salads, call for a creamy dressing, many salads are loveliest with a simple vinaigrette. Why purchase an expensive commercial dressing when you can make one at home simply and easily? I make mine by putting the ingredients in a jar and shaking. What could be more simple?


1/4 C oil

1 Tbsp acid

1 tsp sugar

salt, peppers, herbs and spices to taste

Put in a small lidded jar and shake.

  • The oil: I mostly use olive oil, but you could try any other edible oil that suits your recipe

  • The acid: Don't use strong, white vinegar unless you want puckered lips! Instead try balsamic or cider vinegar, orange or lemon juice

    Further Tips

  • Brush foods that brown, such as apples and avocado, with a little of your acid before using

  • If you are planning to have leftovers, serve the dressing in small jug on the side so that the ingredients don't go soggy overnight

  • Only use enough dressing to moisten the ingredients, not drown them.

If you have any more ideas or tips to add, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Buttery Pecan Slice

If you like pecans and pecan pie you will love this slice.

It is perfect cold as a snack or warm with cream or vanilla ice cream as a dessert. It is one of my husband's favourite slices and he is lucky that none of our children like pecans or it would disappear in a flash. (I do, though, and have been cutting myself slivers all week.)

The original recipe comes from an old Australian Women's Weekly cookbook from the 1980s, the Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits, which I stole from my mother when I left home in 1991. Mum, if you want it back, I'll give it to you at Christmas.

Pecan Slice


3/4 C plain flour
1/4 C self-raising flour
90 g (3 oz) softened butter
1 egg
185 g (6 oz) pecan nut meats


60 g (2 oz) butter
1/3 C golden syrup
1/4 C brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
2 Tbsp self-raising flour



Preheat oven to moderate (180C, 350F).

Sift flours into a bowl. Rub in butter, then mix in lightly beaten egg until a soft dough forms.

Press dough evenly over the base of a well-greased 28 x 18 cm (11 x 7") lamington tin (rectangular cake tin). Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, sprinkle evenly with pecan nuts, pour topping over, bake further 15 minutes.

Leave to cool in tin before cutting.


Melt butter, remove from heat, stir in golden syrup, sugar, lightly beaten egg and sifted flour. Stir until mixture is smooth.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

T is the Tunnel
After many hours today working hard at fixing my (totally crashed) computer, it looks like my wonderful, fantastic (add your own adjective if you like) husband and son may have finally done it.

Tomorrow I should, fingers crossed, be able to start blogging again as usual. All my photos are on that computer, which is why I haven't shown you any of my pictures for a few days.

Thank you all for your patience and tips over the past few days. Your feedback has been invaluable.

I have lots to write about so keep posted!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

I am going Insane! Help!!!

Barry Nelson Watching Barbara Bel Geddes Getting Angry in Play

Do you ever want to throw a hissy fit, stamp your feet or scream at your computer? I do. Frequently. I am battling a number of problems that Spy-Bot and my virus scan can't seem to eliminate.

Every time I do a Google search the results come up on the screen as they should, but if I click on any of them the computer goes to an ad. sight called 'Jump'. This is driving me crazy and Spy-Bot has done nothing to fix this.

Also, I can't read the comments on any blogs, including my own, thanks to Spy-Bot's enthusiatic cleaning-up of my computer. That is why I haven't been replying to any comments. Because I can't. Sob.

I am hoping to make a break-through tomorrow when I am more wide awake.

I can still read comments by email, so if you have any tips, please, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Sunday at the Adelaide Botanical Gardens

While Sunday's weather was not as exquisite as Saturday's, it was still good enough for us to continue exploring the city, in-laws in tow.

I am sure a couple of my sons thought I was like the Amazon in the statue above as I dragged them away from their computer screens and out into the fresh air for the second day running. However, the Royal Botanical Gardens beckoned, and who am I to ignore the call of a beautiful garden?

My sons were somewhat appeased when Grandad took us all out for lunch at an Italian restaurant in Rundle Street ... that is, until I made them walk back to the car through the other side of the Gardens, stopping regularly to admire the plants. Muahahaha!

Murdoch Walk

(When Sir Keith Murdoch, father of Rupert, died in 1952, he owned a controlling interest in News Limited, an Adelaide company publishing an afternoon newspaper called The News. Thus began a dynasty.)

The Palm House

This beautiful vista across the lake ...

... is dedicated to the American servicemen in Australia during WWII.

A goddess

I half expected to come across a hobbit when I walked along this path.

Thank you for sharing my garden tour with me.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Gorgeous Glenelg

One of the nice things about living in a new, unfamiliar city is that one has an excuse to act like a tourist. And when international visitors come to stay, there is even more reason to explore the town.

Over the weekend my parents-in-law came to Adelaide for a visit. They live on the south island of New Zealand although they often winter in Queensland. Sounds like a great life, doesn't it? We took advantage of their visit, and some glorious weather, to visit Glenelg on Saturday.

Apart from the fun of tourist-ing together, it was delightful to spend time with people we have known more than six weeks. One of the newcomer's laments is that there is nobody with whom one shares a history.

My children of course love Glenelg for its palindromic name. They had heard of Glenelg long before we came to live in Adelaide.

For lunch we enjoyed fish and chips, followed by ice creams, on the lawn near the beach.

Some brave souls entered the water, but not I. Remember, we are only two weeks into spring.

The view from the pier.

A recovered anchor from a 19th century sailing ship.

Tomorrow I'll share what we did on Sunday.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Five Things That Are Free

Musician in The Rain by Robert Doisneau

1.Water harvested from rain or snow and used to grow a summer garden

Teenage Twin Girls Hanging Laundry on Clothesline by Nina Leen

2. Sunshine used to dry the washing outside.

Close Up of Boys Flying a Kite by Thomas D. Mcavoy

3. Exercise from going for a walk, swimming at the beach, climbing a tree, or flying a kite.

White Flower by Nelson Figueredo

4. Beauty from picking some flowers and bringing them indoors

Kids kissing

5. Happiness from telling someone you love them, or giving them a hug.

What are your favourite freebies?

For more frugal tips visit Frugal Friday.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

A Touch of Magic

George the Supreme Master of Magic

Abracadabra! Bippety-boppety-boo! The world of magic has come to our red house.

Today is my second son's tenth birthday and one of his presents is a magic kit. All morning before school and ever since school ended this afternoon, I have been required to be astounded and amazed by a series of magic tricks. Excitement is growing as we anticipate the magic show Master 10 will perform after dinner tonight.

My daughter and youngest son are getting involved too, practising card tricks and discussing costumes. There is whispering in corners, stifled laughter, and suddenly innocent faces when I come near.

The evening meal, as always on birthdays, is chosen by the birthday boy. He asked for home-made macaroni cheese and home-made chocolate ice cream covered in whipped cream from an aerosol can (he insisted!) and strawberries.

I'll add a salad and bread to this repast, then on with the show!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Free Water Saving Shower Head

I saw this offer on Lightening's blog and thought it worth sharing.

Since we moved to Adelaide in late July I have been reminded many times that I live in "the driest capital city, in the driest state, in the driest continent in the world". On the radio I hear daily about the plight of the Murray-Darling Basin and the desperate battles between the states over water rights and irrigation requirements.

What a great thing, then that Save Water Today! is giving away a free water-saving shower head to anyone who fills in a brief survey. Even if you live in a part of the country with good rainfalls, a water-saving shower head can save you money. And if you are in an area affected by the drought you have even more reason to wish to save water.

While this offer is only open to residents of Australia, others may still like to visit the Save Water Today! website. They have tips for saving water both inside and outside the home.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Royal Adelaide Show

Yesterday was hotter and sunnier than the first Saturday in spring has any right to be. The perfect day to go to the Royal Adelaide Show, we thought. Unfortunately, the rest of Adelaide had the same idea and the crowds were enormous.

I am not going to share pictures of us battling our way through the showbag pavillion, constantly losing each other, then needing our phones to find each other again. You also don't need to see me hiding in the canine pavillion rather than brave the queues to go on any of the rides.

However, there is much that I did like at the Show, though I do prefer small country shows to the big, crowded city ones.

Here are some of the things that took my fancy.

This quilt won the 8-10 year old age group section and I think it is terrific!

hand-made dolls' clothes


Prize-winning cupcakes; they don't look too difficult, do they?

A witch cake

This black and white cake did not win its category, but it was my fave.

glorious show-jumping; he got a clear round

Babe, or is it Wilbur?

And finally, the Grand Parade.

What do you like best at the Show, or the Fair, or the Carnival? Are you a fan of the rides, or the crafts, the cooking, the fruit and vegie displays, the animals or something else?