Monday, January 31, 2011

Brownie points

Yesterday we baked, even though it was scorching outside. We baked because the Child starts high school today and she needed a little home comfort in her lunchbox as everything, apart from one old friend, will be new.

Here's how to make the brownies that are the Child's absolute favourite treat:

100g milk chocolate, chopped
100g dark chocolate, chopped
225g butter
1-3/4 cup light brown sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
3/4 cup brown rice flour

. Melt chocolate and put aside
. Cream butter and sugar
. Add eggs, one at a time
. Stir in vanilla
. Fold in chocolate
. Fold in flour
. Bake for 20-25min in a 180 oven
. When cool, cut into squares
. Sprinkle with icing sugar

Tip: Ordinary flour is fine in place of the rice flour. We just like to mix our grains up a bit. These are extremely fudgy brownies so add a little more flour, up to a cup, if you like yours drier.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Soap star

I've bought lots of soap dishes in my time, and got sick of all them. So I made my own.

Found this soapstone dish at Vicino, the little homewares shop next to Fratelli Fresh in Danks St, some time ago. Was only about $10, I think. Filled it with some garden rocks, which let the water drain away from the soap to keep it dry.

The only thing I now change is the soap.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bear neccessities

To avoid the soup of Sydney's atmosphere today, the Child and I decided to stay indoors and get on with a few neccessary jobs, such as taking up the hems of new school uniforms required on Monday (me) and making a dress for a teddy bear (child).

This is Silver in her new dress. Silver was mine when I was a baby and was enthusiastically adopted by the Child before she could talk. So definitely a family favourite. The Child named her Silver as in my day she had been unimaginatively called Teddy and, I believe, left sartorially wanting.

We passed a good hour and a half around the table with our sewing machine, needles and threads. Very, very nice it was too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Vintage storm

I like vintage things. I like new things. I like rustic things. Which lead to a bit of a schizophrenic look. So I decided to collect only things that fell under a loose modern-rustic umbrella and leave it at that. If it sounds a bit prescriptive and limiting, it's actually the opposite as it takes a lot of the guesswork out of decisions.

So out went the pastel teacups, girly vases and cushions and in came vintage bits and pieces in stormy colours and naturals. Everything seems to work together now and I'm free to roam markets without worry of picking up something that just looks wrong when I get it home.

Latest buy was from Rozelle markets last weekend. It's the bottom plate in the first pic, that came as a set with bowls and side plates for just $15.

There are a few rose tins and paintings around the place, but every rule needs an exception. Right?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chair lift

Found this chair dumped on a footpath just before Christmas. Only difference being it was orange then. Quite a nice 50s beach-house coral, in fact, but I don't live in a 1950s beach house so I gave it a lick of Farrow & Ball's Oval Room Blue.

Farrow & Ball isn't available in Australia, but I'd been sent a sample pot last year when Jo Malone produced some candles in Farrow & Ball colours. I finally found a use for the paint yesterday. It's a beautiful blue-grey, not unlike Porter's Explorer Blue.

The end result is a bit blue-green grey thanks to the all-purpose clear sealer I applied over the paint. Not as clear as you'd imagine but was I fine with the eucalyptusy effect it was producing so went with it.

The jug was an impulsive buy on Saturday when I popped into the Granny Square in Newtown to pick up some more cotton for the hexagon rug I'm crocheting. Was lured into the nearby Kerrie Lowe Gallery on King Street by all the ceramics twinkling at me in the window. Left with the jug, by Meredith Stewart. Handmade loveliness for just $39.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Today was crochet day. A dear friend and I spent four and a half happy hours making a start on putting together all the granny squares she'd crocheted to turn into a rug. 'Glad I'm not home,' said the Child, calling from Canberra. A sentiment shared by the Husband and Dear Friend's partner.

As we were joining rows using the double-crochet method, a size 5 hook was required for the wool she'd used. I had to use an old bamboo one I had. It was hard, though, turning my back on my beloved Clover Soft Touch hooks as I didn't have one in a size 5. Bit like flying economy once you'd tasted the delights of the pointy end of a plane.

Have learnt that bamboo hooks don't set the metal detectors off at airports, as I managed to get one on board a long-haul flight last year, which is a good thing. Would be a tad embarrassing having my Soft Touch confiscated as a lethal weapon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cord to death

The decluttering continues. I have to confess I bought this shoe organiser last year to store all those cords that usually get shoved and tangled in a drawer. We have so many cords that I was thoroughly sick of getting hot and bothered every time I wanted to recharge the phone, the camera, the Child's camera (different cord required, of course), the portable DVD player, the laptop, the DSI, etc, etc, etc. So very boring.

This particular organiser has 20 pockets and, unbelievably, they are now all full.

I hung it on the back of our old pantry door, as this pantry is used for storage, and have used the underside of laminate samples as tags and attached them with safety pins. However, there's lots of pretty or just practical tags out there that would do the job beautifully.

Even the Child uses it. Success.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pantry challenge

With the Child away for four days (her first unaccompanied minor flight, eeek) visiting her best mate who's holidaying in Canberra, I chose to spend the whole of yesterday clearing out cupboards. Out went piles of magazines, cushion inserts, lamp bases I must have thought would become not ugly if shut away. It felt good. Very good. The Martha Stewart high point of the day was to dedicate a shelf to nothing but vases. I'm easily pleased, obviously.

Anyway, thought I'd also clear out the pantry and fridge by challenging myself to only cook with food that was already in the house before the Child comes back. So far, so good.

Lunch was guacamole with a side of baked and broken Mountain Bread which basically turns it into homemade wholemeal chips. To do the same line a baking sheet with paper, tear the Mountain Bread into pieces and spray with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. The spray distributes the oil evenly, not that you can really have to much olive oil on anything. Put in a moderate oven and bake until golden, which takes only about five minutes.

Dinner last night was zucchini pasta and tonight we're having homemade fried rice, made with some left-over free-range bacon I found in the freezer so things are looking good.

With the husband and I both eyeing off the last piece of fruit, a lone peach, tomorrow's another day...

Tip: Mountain Bread chips make a great substitute for crackers on a cheese board.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Top shelf

When the GFC hit, libraries found business booming as households tried to cut costs. I was slow to jump on the bandwagon, mostly, because ours, even though within easy walking distance, is small so I figured it wouldn't have much to offer.

I was then talking to a friend about how I'd tried and failed to get hold of the new Peter Temple novel online from the Book Depository, as it was always out of stock. She'd already read it and returned it - from my local library. I hadn't actually stopped to think that my little library has access to the much bigger ones in our council area. So I'm actually lucky as I get a small friendly branch with wide-reaching borrowing capabilities.

The Child and I are now card-carrying members. I've happily been reading the Summer chapter of Maggie Beer's wonderful Harvest and have bought new season baby zucchini and flat beans to do something intesting with olive oil and garlic. I'll return the book soon and borrow it again when autumn rolls around.

Reading that costs me nothing and adds no weight to my already over-burdened shelves is something I'm very happy with. There'll always be books I prefer to buy and those I'm comfortable handing back. Best of both worlds.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Basket case

I used to lug this bag to and from the local pool many years ago when the Child was having 'water-appreciation' classes. As she was just four months old at the time, appreciating it was about all she could do until it came to her first dunking. Anyway...

This bag then became a grocery bag, until the strap broke. It then sat in cupboards around the house for ages just taking up space, and was almost thrown out on more than one occasion. Until I saw a tote bag with jute webbing handles for sale. I had jute webbing. I had a bag. Now I also had a solution.

Whether as a repair job or to sew on a bag you make yourself, jute webbing is a great alternative as it's nice and sturdy. Not to mention good looking.

If you've never come across it before, jute webbing is made to tie small trees and shrubs in place. Look for it at hardware and garden shops where its sold by the roll (roughly $15 for about 20 or 30 metres from memory; I've had mine for ages), or by the metre.

Tip: The most common jute webbing comes in just the one colour but there's also some with two red stripes, which would make great handles on an otherwise plain Frenchy-style tote.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Wardrobe revamp

This wardrobe was bought for $10 at an auction for a photo shoot. Having done its duty it ended up at my house as I had grand plans of putting shelves in and then painting as it would make fantastic storage.

It sat around for a while as I wasn't sure what the best way to put shelves in was. Enter extremely handy father-in-law visiting at Christmas. He took note of the internal dimensions and then popped into Bunnings to have two big shelves cut to the exact size. He also picked up some more wood measured to the depth of the cupboards and then came home and sawed what would be four batons that would hold the shelves up (Bunnings wouldn't cut the wood that small).

He then put PVA glue on the back of the batons and screwed them into the sides of the internal space. The shelves rest on top.

Painted the inside of the wardrobe white and the outside in Resene Westar.

I now have a lovely craft cupboard and an invaluable DIY lesson that I'll put to use on a similar small wardrobe I have.

Here's what it looked like before:

Tip: Once the batons have been cut, hold them in place and make sure the screws you're going to use are long enough to go through the baton and into the wardrobe wall without breaking through to the outside.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Smell of summer

We used to have a reasonably large frangipani tree in our front garden but when the neighbours subdivided their property to squeeze another house onto their land to sell, it was badly affected and just looks a bit sad now.

Practically losing the tree turned out to be a small price to pay as the people who bought the house are lovely and we're very happy to have them next to us. But I do miss the frangipani and the scent that would drift into the house on a summer's afternoon.

During the week, a big truck of arborists turned up to trim the trees that grow in our street. For some unknown reason there is a smallish frangipani growing in among them on the nature strip and the guys got to work and starting chopping a few errant branches. Even though it was 7am, I nipped outside and asked for some offcuts, which I was happily given (the crew had cut them cleanly so they could be planted if someone wanted them, wasn't that sweet?).

I'm now going to try and grow a couple from the cuttings, starting in pots. The trick with frangipani cuttings is to let the cut heal by leaving them to dry for a week or two before planting into sandy soil. If I'm lucky, I'll end up with nice neighbours and a good frangipani. Win, win.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Brown paper packages

I love biscuits. I love eating biscuits. But I hate throwing away sturdy cardboard cylinder biscuit containers. Particularly ones that can be covered with brown paper and tied with a ribbon and then live on my kitchen benchtop soaking up pens and other bits and pieces.

To do the same, cut a piece of paper to a size that will wrap easily around the container, leaving a good 5cm that will fold over the top. While this can be done with scissors, I like to use a rotary cutter to get a really clean edge so that the paper sits perfectly against the bottom rim. Spray container with adhesive and stick on paper. Smear some craft glue to the inside top of the container and fold paper down. Finish with ribbon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Ikea vanilla-scented tealights have always been my small candles of choice but, increasingly, I'm uncomfortable using petroleum-based waxes. Today, after a Sushi-Train lunch, the Child and I popped into Stacks of Wax in Newtown on our way back to the car.

I hardly ever buy beeswax candles, even though they're my absolute natural favourite, unless for a treat or a present as they're expensive. Not so today. I fell upon a box of Australian-made 10 eight-hour beeswax tealights for just $12.

Here's more options direct from the makers, The Bee Whisperer.

Monday, January 10, 2011

South Coast sojourn

There are two great things about spending some time at a South Coast beach house. First, obviously, is the beach. Second is the shopping. Particularly at Milton, three hours south of Sydney, which a shop owner told me was 'the new Berry'.

Mornings in the surf, afternoons in the shops. Perfect.

Pictured at top are two (very generously sized) Bianca Lorenne French-style linen teatowels, $25 each, and one French linen placemat, $28, from Basque Country, Milton; Allowrie Honey jar, $12, from Nikki B's, Milton; and Nana Huchy linen teatowel, $15, from Huckleberry Home, Berry.

Pictured at bottom is the Child jumping at The Gantry, Bawley Point, and Butter London nasty-chemical-free nail polish in Thames (wishful thinking, I believe, as I don't remember the Thames looking quite like that. More South Coast mermaid to me...)

Tip: Soak pure linen in cold water overnight before first wash as it relaxes the fibres and hastens absorbency.

Friday, January 7, 2011


How pretty is she? I know it's a she because the print is called Showgirl.

I bought Showgirl from Amber Alexander's etsy shop just before Christmas and she landed in Sydney today. I love a bird and now that I've seen how beautiful these prints are in the fine-art-paper flesh I'm going to get a couple more to be framed and hung on the wall.

At just $AUD24 for Showgirl, including postage, how can I not?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Raspberry and white chocolate muffins

The Child baked our favourite summer muffins while I took down the Christmas tree (sniff). These are always a hit with both adults and kids. They freeze well too. Makes 12.

. 1 cup of chopped white chocolate
. 3/4 cup of caster sugar (raw or white)
. 2 cups plain flour
. 4 teaspoons baking powder
. 1 punnet raspberries
. 1 egg
. 1/2 cup macadamia oil
. 1/2 cup yoghurt
. 1/4 cup milk
. squeeze of lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180.

. Put dry ingredients into a bowl and mix with a whisk.
. Mix wet ingredients separately in another bowl.
. Pour wet ingredients into dry and gently combine.
. Fold in berries (or turn to mush a la The Child.)
. Sprinkle demerera sugar on top.
. Bake for about 15-20 minutes.
. Eat.

These muffins are meant to be moist so err on the side of undercooked rather than overcooked.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Domestic lipstick

Just before Christmas I tidied the front garden by washing windows, dusting down doors, weeding, trimming and sweeping and mopping down the path. Even got rid of the spiderwebs from the fence (for a day or two). All set for Christmas, I thought, as I went to walk back inside. Then it struck me. The doormat was way past its use-by-date. It would have to wait. I had a turkey to fiddle with.

It's often the hard-working little things that are used every day that we forget to notice. Stuff like doormats, the ironing board cover, tea towels, even pegs. The finishing touches, or lipsticks of the domestic world.

Mat, $59 on sale, Early Settler Recollections.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Miroslav Sasek

Discovered the most beautiful books today when the Child and I popped into the city to exchange some of her Christmas presents. While she was ensconsed in the teen section of Dymocks, my eye was caught by This is Rome by Miroslav Sasek. Unbeknownst to me, back in the late 1950s Sasek began writing and illustrating what would amount to 18 best-selling children's travel books that, going by the Rome edition, deliver each city in a beautifully wrapped nutshell. I felt like I was back walking the cobblestones of Rome and breathing in the beautiful people flying by on scooters, not underneath George Street surrounded by vampire books.

This is Rome was re-released in 2007 and others have follwed. Each page is absolutely framable (not that I'm going to cut them up) and I've decided to collect the books of all the cities I've been to.

Today I paid $29.95 but when I came home I ordered This is Paris from the Book Depository for just $18.44. There's even a This is Australia.

Sasek died in 1980 but is being embraced by a whole new generation (or two). If you like Charley Harper, chances are you'll also fall for Miroslav Sasek.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New Diary

Using fabric to cover plain diaries and notebooks is easy. The method is basically the same as covering school books. The only diffence being that the inside of the fabric needs to be sprayed with adhesive and rather than using sticky tape on the inside cover to hold the paper/fabric in place, use craft glue instead.

Once that's done, glue the first and last pages of the diary to the front and back covers to hide what you've done. Purists may wish to use fraystopper where the fabric has been cut at the top and bottom of the spine but I never bother - and I've never had a problem.