Friday, September 30, 2011

Red Velvet cupcakes

Spurred on by descriptions of long French lunches and dinners from the book I've been reading, I had a bit of a cooking frenzy yesterday afternoon. One of the things I made was the much-heard-about-but-never-tried red velvet cupcake.

After tasting, The Child and The Husband declared me baking genius. I, however, don't really get what the fuss is about, but cupcakes don't really get me excited in general. Here's the very easy recipe, should you be interested.

I feel a burst of pastry making upon me and am thinking lemon tarts, should we ever get through the cupcakes.

NB: The photo taken from Caffe Positano in the last post was snapped by The Child, who also happened to be the only one of us who managed to take a decent photo of the Eiffel Tower.

I've now finished reading A Family in Paris and mostly very much enjoyed it. If the publisher had labelled and marketed it as a memoir, the fact that the Paris stay was quite some time ago wouldn't have been a problem as someone's experiences aren't necessarily diminished by time. The problem was the expectation that the story was a recent one and then you quickly realise the young children you're reading about would actually be adults now, which is confirmed at the end of book.

I think the publishing company has done the author a bit of a disservice in this respect.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Armchair travelling

This time last year was our first trip to Europe as a family and, so, each day I've been telling the others exactly where we were one year ago. (Today it's Positano.) This has The Child slapping her forehead declaring she's jealous of her one-year-younger self.

As that sort of trip is far from our normal holiday fare, I'm dabbling in a bit of armchair travel instead this year, and picked up these two new books from the library yesterday. I actually considered buying both of them last week but am glad I didn't. I haven't delved into the Stephen Clarke one yet, but I'm pretty sure it's one I'll enjoy at the time but not feel the need to hang onto.

While A Family in Paris is entertaining because I like the sensation of someone conjuring the city up for me again, it's just that I'd rather not have the author along for company (more the problems an ex-pat faces than joys of the city, for my tastes). That's travel for you, though, can't always choose who you sit next to on a journey.

I also get the feeling that the two-year Paris stay was quite a while ago as while some of the photos show receipts and tickets where the currency is shown in French Francs rather than Euros. I'm pretty sure I spotted one with a 1999 date on it as well. There's also been at least one 'NB' after a piece of copy, where the author explains that smoking is now banned in cafes.

Smacks a bit of the publishing company, rather than the author, jumping on the Australians-abroad bandwagon.

All that doesn't detract from the feeling of being in Paris again, but it certainly would if I'd paid $50 for the pleasure. So I'll just enjoy the free ride.

In the meantime, I'll remember the view from the restaurant we ate at last-year's tonight with people whose company I always treasure, including our then-14-year-old nephew.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mini break

During the school holidays I'm not going to blog every week day as I usually do, as these are lazy days, and I'd probably have little more to say than what we're having for breakfast (muesli, weekdays, toast and marmalade, weekends, for the record).

So I'm going part-time and will post Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Just letting you know in the unlikely event that anyone would actually wonder where I'd gone.

See you soon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Birds of a feather

Walking down William Street, Paddington on Saturday I noticed a new shop. A shop selling a mix of new-and-vintage homewares. A shop called I Like Birds.

How could I not go in?

And there on a chair was a cockatoo cushion made from a vintage teatowel. I couldn't elbow the browser next to me out of the way fast enough.

Slapped $45 on the counter and came home.

If only today's foray into the city to stock The Child's wardrobe with summer clothes that actually fit had been as quick.

I think I'll make a cup of tea and rest my weary head. On a certain cushion.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Coffee break

Today I'm putting to good use the old tin I picked up last weekend as it's time to tidy up the home office in preparation for the school holidays.

While I have quite a lot of freelance work due, I've organised it so I can take the next two weeks off.

We've got time on our hands, the weather is stunning and there's a camping trip in the wind.

Work is the last thing I want to think about right now, which is why I love boxes. Out of sight, out of mind.

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chocolate caramel squares

I've been working a lot lately so not had a lot of time for baking, and The Child was starting to taste the difference in her lunch box. Can't have that so needed something easy yet impressive. Choc caramel squares it was. I use stoneground wholemeal flour, because you can't taste the difference and makes me feel like there's some goodness in there. I'm pretty sure all the other stuff cancels out the good stuff, but what the hell.

The recent dearth of home-cooked cakes and biscuits means these were pounced on before the top layer of chocolate even had time to set.

Here's the recipe should you also wish to deceive yourself that these are good for you:

. 1 cup stoneground wholemeal flour
. 1 cup coconut
. 1 tsp baking powder
. 1/2 cup raw caster sugar
. 120g unsalted butter

. 100g unsalted butter
. 100g brown sugar
. 395g tin condensed milk
. 2 tbsps golden syrup
. 1 tsp vanilla extract

. 150g semi-sweet chocolate (I use one that's 61% cacao)

Set oven to 180 and grease and line a 30cm x 20cm baking pan.

. Melt butter for the base.
. Mix flour, coconut, baking powder, sugar and melted butter into a bowl.
. Press into pan and bake for around 10 mins, or until golden.
. Leave to cool.

. Put butter, brown sugar, condensed milk, golden syrup and vanilla into a saucepan.
. Stir and cook for around 5-10mins.
. Pour over base and bake for 10mins.
. Set aside to cool.

. Melt chocolate and pour over top.

. When chocolate is set, squares can be sliced. Don't rush the setting of the chocolate by putting the pan in the fridge as it can cause the chocolate to go cloudy.

See what others are making today here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dress circle

The seasonal changeover continues here.

As there's not enough room in our bedroom wardrobe for all our clothes, the out-of-season stuff is kept in a wardrobe in another room. Out go the heavier things and in come the lighter dresses and skirts.

Have a lovely, sunny day.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pillow talk

It's time for the changing of the seasonal guard, so to speak. The duvets have been washed and/or drycleaned and aired and replaced with cotton quilts and blankets perfect for spring nights. What I'm also hoping is perfect for spring nights is this pale warm-grey pure-linen bed linen I bought at the weekend from Miss Molly, who had a one-off stall at Rozelle Markets to see how the product would be received. By early afternoon Saturday, I'd been the only buyer so they won't be coming back but they are online, if you're interested.

The lack of sales didn't have anything to do with the product, I don't think, but Rozelle Markets is all about vintage so the environment wasn't quite right.

I've washed the sheets and pillowcases and like the softly crumpled look that comes naturally with line drying and will try it on the bed this weekend. I'm assured the fibres will soften with age, as linen inherently does.

Any bedding that needs drycleaning but is small enough to fit in the dryer, such as feather pillows, I'll clean with this product and leave in the sun for an extra dose of natural bleach. For our large dry-clean only wool duvet I use a local drycleaner that offers a 'Green Earth' drycleaning method that is vastly preferable to the conventional process which uses the rather hideous chemical and suspected carcinogen known as 'perc'. No thanks.

Lastly, the bedside rug has been removed, cleaned and stored.

We're ready for summer.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sunshine on my shoulders

Spring hasn't just sprung in Sydney. On Saturday it smashed into the city like the Terminator in charge of a Mack truck. Winter is no more. Absolutely gone. Rozelle Markets on Saturday was full of bare shoulders, floaty dresses and brightly coloured pedicures which have been hidden away for months.

Luckily for me, four of these lovely vintage glasses had also been hidden away patiently waiting for me to come and find them and take them off the stallholder's hands for $10. They came home with me, as did two of the dishes with the Australian coat of arms on them, that must be a hangover from colonial times as they were made in England.

The glasses were put to good use over the weekend, as they were filled with iced water all Saturday afternoon before being toasted with crisp white wine for our first barbecued dinner of the season. The Husband is old-school when it comes to barbecues - it's charcoal in a deep kettle-style barbecue all the way - and cooks a very fine shoulder of lamb.

Happy, sunny days.

If you're reading this...
Stephie, my local shop only stocks the straws in grey otherwise I'd happily buy The Child bright ones! I'm not that mean! I don't think...

Linking up vintage finds here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Big sky


Our little world looks different today. The sky seems bigger. Three houses up was a massive tree that took up most of the eastern sky.

Next door to the owner of the non-native tree lives a family with four small children (three of them are under 5) and one of the branches fell into their back garden, which could have been a disaster if one of the kids had been outside playing. The owner of the tree had planted it himself many years ago but today he had it cut down.

Good man.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Short straw

The Child drew the short straw when it comes to mothers who'll buy, well, straws.

I'm not adverse to buying frivolous stuff, quite the opposite (unfortunately), but I baulk at buying plastic made to be thrown away. So, of course, The Child developed a bit of an obsession with them. I relented once and bought a bulk pack for a party a few years back and she was so happy you'd think I'd done a lap around the world to fetch them rather than just throwing them in the supermarket trolley.

I know there are waxed paper ones online, but they seemed to be too small an item to be paying delivery for so The Child continued to miss out. Until now. Happily for her, I've found a local shop that stocks boxes of the somewhat-odd-number of 144 for $10.

She doesn't even care that the only colour available is grey.

I have, for the moment, been crowned best mother evah.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bird brain

This little blue wren is pretty, but has no mercy.

He flits about outside my office window while I sit inside buried in work.

Enjoying lunch, which I've not yet found time for.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mint condition

The best cup of herbal tea I've ever had was in an upmarket country restaurant in Ireland the year before last.

It was a work trip and I was travelling with three other journalists as Tourism Ireland was looking to promote Northern Ireland as a holiday spot. One of our crew, a male journalist from a Melbourne newspaper, always ordered peppermint tea when we were out, which was strange in itself as male newspaper journalists generally like a drink. Turns out he actually did fit the general mould, but was using this trip as a bit of detox.

Now, just the smell of peppermint tea is usually enough to involuntarily make my lip curl. But then, in a really lovely restaurant, he was presented with some fresh mint leaves and boiling water in a cup. Absolutely nothing more to it. It smelt so good I ordered one.

I'd forgotten all about this until I saw our mint had gone a bit haywire in the garden and tried a cup last night. Just as good as I'd remembered. Sweet, light and refreshing.

Not everything has to be complicated.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunshine in a cup

When I last had a moment to myself (that'd be Friday evening) these potted tulips were still closed.

The three of us ran around like mad things all weekend as there was so much on. No complaints. It was lovely to catch up with friends and help celebrate birthdays. Wouldn't change a thing.

What the flowers reminded me of, though, is that down-time is also important. Having time to appreciate the small moments in life that are easily missed if you're always rushing. Taking a moment to sniff the roses, or, in this case, tulips.

As rejuvenating as sunshine in a cup.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Playing dress-ups

I went shopping yesterday. Nothing particularly unusual about that apart from the fact that I came home with:

. one coat
. one dress
. one skirt
. two tops
. one vest
. two silk slips
. one cotton slip
. one pair of leggings

and all for just over the same price I paid for one full-priced item instore at the beginning of winter.

Lee Mathews warehouse sales are the best. If you live in Sydney, put yourself on their mailing list and you'll be sent an email when they're on.

I'm off to rearrange my wardrobe. Have a lovely weekend.

Images via Lee Mathews

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Washed up

Sometimes I'm quick on the uptake. Sometimes not.

The husband and I share the cooking in our house. I'm on Monday through to Thursday and he takes over on Friday night. As we both enjoy cooking, we like this arrangement.

What we don't share is the cleaning. He works full-time, while I work part-time from home and don't mind housework (odd, I know). What I've just woken up to is that I've got the timing all wrong. For years.

I'd clean the kitchen on Fridays so it was all sparkly for the weekend. Lent an end-of-the-week celebratory feel to the house. Downside is The Husband is not the neatest of cooks so I'd get the kitchen back on Monday morning looking like it'd been used as a small abattoir over the weekend.

Now I clean the kitchen early in the week. Most times. Being a creature of habit I forgot again this week.

I'm learning.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Crafty jewellery

Have You Met Miss Jones is an online shop stylists love to plunder for all sorts of homewares, particularly bone china goodies such as cockatoo and squirrel lamps and skycraper-shaped vases.

Now they've added a jewellery range designed by Australian Gareth Hughes aimed squarely at the stylish end of the make-do-and-mend brigade, or, at least, those who like the idea of it anyway. Each piece is handmade in Australia, made from either sterling silver, silver plate or 18-carat gold plate and priced from $60 to $299.

I think it's pretty, but make up your own mind.

I couldn't find the range on their website yet but it can't be far away as the press release I received today was marked for immediate release.

Not an ad, promise. I do have one of the aforementioned squirrel lights - used as a nightlight for The Child - but I bought it many years ago at full price. If only the cockatoo lamp was available back then...

Images via Have You Met Miss Jones

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bottled charm

Would you believe me if I told you these were my latest market finds? Well, the cotton lace tablecloth is but the set of six little milkbottles tied together with string are from Bed Bath N Table, $14.95.

The lovely shop assistant told me someone had come in and bought a bunch of these to use as centrepieces for a vintage-style wedding they were organising.

As I'm not planning a wedding any time soon, I'll either use them for cut herbs in the fridge, for pens and pencils on my desk or, of course, filled with small flowers cut from the garden.

Or maybe The Child will get a jasmine/pen organiser combo surprise on her desk when she comes home today.

Or maybe I'll cut the string and have 6 little bottles to add to the collection hanging above The Child's bed.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sew sunny

Now, I may not have a dedicated sewing space in our house - it's just not big enough - but that counts for little when, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the rest of the famiy are out and I can turn our deck into a temporary outdoor sewing room. Which means, the placemats and the sack are finished.

I'm never going to love the sack, but it's fine. The fabric is beautiful, the hem worked out (I made it tiny) and I really like the shape around the arms. What this experience has given me is the confidence to unpick a similar dress I have, one with more shape and a zip, and try to copy that pattern. It was that dress that sent me searching for a pattern in the first place.

That dress has always been slightly too tight under the arms, and therefore rubs me up the wrong way so if Project Sack II or Slim Sack doesn't work out, I haven't really lost anything.

Not sure where all this new-found sewing confidence is coming from. All this sunshine must be going to my head.

How good is spring?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Birding around

It's First Friday Column Club time again. A reminder of what this is all about here. Over to The Husband...

I have had the pleasure of living with and being married to The Author of this blog for quite a while now. During this time she has revealed herself to be funny, very smart, stylish, creative, a loving mother and partner, fiercely independent and touchingly tender.

She is also completely nuts about animals. And I don’t mean nuts in a cute adorable way, I mean nuts in a way that could see one admitted to an institution for the bewildered. Too harsh? Perhaps. Read on.

Let’s start with The Cat. They have no greater mutual pleasure than snuggling down in bed together for half an hour before getting up, both of them purring loudly. She believes she knows what The Cat’s thinking, and helps her out by verbalising her wishes.

When The Cat is eyeing me angrily for some mystery slight, as she does increasingly these days, The Author will helpfully say “I hate you,” on her behalf.

But that’s nothing compared to birds.

The Author has always been completely bananas about birds, especially cockatoos. In most of our family photos we sport a cockatoo on our heads. The Author has always carried a bag of birdseed in her car, in case she should spy a flight of cockatoos which she can lure down from the trees so they may sit upon her head.

The other day The Child (that would be The Cat’s sister) and I were discussing The Author’s love of all things avian. “Yesterday she made me listen while she listed every species of bird she spied from the deck in the afternoon. There were 10,” I said. “Mum’s quite mental, isn’t she,” said The Child observed happily.

On the table on our deck are The Author’s bird tools. There’s her beautiful copy of What Bird Is That, a pair of ancient and brilliant binoculars once owned by her father, a spud gun, a spud and a nerf gun.

You see, we’ve had issues with currawongs raiding the nests of “our” doves.
They’ve tried to raise two families this season and the currawongs have eaten the babies both times. Mother Dove’s nest is right outside The Author’s home office window, which is not good.

When Mother Dove settled down on the nest again, cooing, after losing her first offspring, The Author said, firmly, that this time she wasn’t getting involved.

Not getting involved meant spending three hours photographing the nest-building procedure and showing me the series of “cute” photos.
She also chucks handfuls of birdseed around the backyard every morning as Father Dove must be tired and hungry after all that flying around with nest twigs.

She made me purchase the spud gun to scare away the currawongs, which didn’t work at all. The big black birds just tried to catch the little pellet of tasty spud coming their way. The nerf gun works but requires frequent trips out into the lane to retrieve the foam bullets. The garden hose is often brought into operation, but to no avail. Mother and Father Dove lost family two yesterday.

The Author’s also become quite birdlike in her mannerisms, cooing about the place, nesting and arranging twigs. When The Child and I see her out in the garden, scratching around, The Child will comment mum’s “birding around”.

Crazy as a crested bulbul she may be. But I love coming home to the nest every night, twigs in my beak.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Last January I picked up a French linen placemat while holidaying on the South Coast. It wasn't just the rough texture of it that caught my eye, but the square shape. Instantly loved it but, at $30 each, came home with just one to use as a French-style doily.

Well, that didn't last long as I'd beat my cutlery on the table if my place wasn't set with my favourite placemat. Of course, I exaggerate my toddler-like behaviour. A bit.

I also have a table runner I made - if you can call buying it off the roll and just hemming the ends 'made' - a few years back. Love the vintage-style fabric but soon realised table runners don't really do it for me.

So this morning, using my French placemat as a shape template, I cut the table runner up. By the end of the day, I'll either have six new placemats, slighty undersized napkins or more padding for the don't-know-what-to-do-with-it drawer.

Not sure these are the sort of budding possibilities to celebrate the first day of spring. But they'll do.

Beats shooting the currawongs with my trigger hose (more reach than a nerf gun), but possibly not quite as much fun.

See what others are doing today in their creative spaces here.